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Depuis 15 ans, la télévision américaine vit ce que Brett Martin appelle un « troisième âge d’or ». Son livre raconte comment un média jadis méprisé est devenu objet de toutes les passions avec des séries comme Les Soprano, The Wire ou encore Mad Men. Il dresse le portrait des « hommes tourmentés » grâce à qui cette révolution a été possible.


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Depuis 15 ans, la télévision américaine vit ce que Brett Martin appelle un « troisième âge d’or ». Son livre raconte comment un média jadis méprisé est devenu objet de toutes les passions avec des séries comme Les Soprano, The Wire ou encore Mad Men. Il dresse le portrait des « hommes tourmentés » grâce à qui cette révolution a été possible.

30 review for Des hommes tourmentés: Le nouvel âge d'or des séries : des Soprano et The Wire à Mad Men et Breaking Bad (NON FICTION)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    Damn, could that sub-title be any longer? This is the second book published recently that takes a look at the wave of shows that changed television since the turn of the century, but there’s a couple of key differences from Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised. Sepinwall gave a wider overview about the shows and their cultural impact while Brett Martin’s focus is more on the men considered the new auteurs of TV drama who were both the main creative forces and showrunners of their project Damn, could that sub-title be any longer? This is the second book published recently that takes a look at the wave of shows that changed television since the turn of the century, but there’s a couple of key differences from Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised. Sepinwall gave a wider overview about the shows and their cultural impact while Brett Martin’s focus is more on the men considered the new auteurs of TV drama who were both the main creative forces and showrunners of their projects. Another difference is that Martin only includes cable shows so some that had distinctive creative voices and broke new ground like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost or Friday Night Lights aren’t covered in his book. Essentially this is an extensive behind-the-scenes look at how David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon (The Wire), David Milch (Deadwood), Alan Ball (Six Feet Under), Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad) were given unprecedented creative freedom due to the changing dynamics of the business and then delivered a new Golden Age of TV. What I liked most about this was that Martin has a strong conviction that all of these guys are first and foremost writers, and there is a great deal of time spent on the process that each show uses to generate ideas and turn them into scripts. Martin also takes pains to point out how the cable format of shorter seasons allowed these shows to develop as stories closer to novels created via the vision of one person rather than traditional TV shows. It also isn’t hard to see where he came up with the title of Difficult Men. Frankly, several of these guys come across as people you’d never want to work with. Chase seems like a grumpy old bastard who thinks he wasted his time in television even while making The Sopranos because he considers the medium inferior to the art films he loves. (Almost every quote from Chase in this book further convinces me that the The Sopranos finale was him showing his contempt for the audience.) Weiner has the arrogance of Don Draper combined with the people skills of Pete Campbell. Milch’s OCD tendencies and chaotic story telling methods probably guarantee that he will never be able to successfully finish a series although he can start one brilliantly. Simon has a tendency to let his stubborn and argumentative nature get in the way of telling the story. Fortunately, Ball, Ryan and Gilligan all come across as generally decent guys or I’d be convinced that only assholes can make good television. Martin doesn’t skimp on letting everyone explain themselves or at letting the people they work with have their say. As a big fan of George Pelecanos’ crime novels, I particularly enjoyed the story of how he came to work on The Wire and how he became one of the most important writers on the show. Since Martin’s introduction to behind-the-scenes television came when he was writing a companion book for The Sopranos, it’s not too surprising that most of the book is dedicated to it and Chase as well as stories of James Gandolfini being difficult too. (This was published before his recent death.) I understand that since The Sopranos is generally credited as the one that made the rest possible, it’s always going to get the lion’s share of attention. I still wish that he had downplayed it in favor of giving us more time with Shawn Ryan or Vince Gilligan, or that he could have worked in Ron Moore from Battlestar Galactica which aired on Syfy and should have met his criteria of a cable show created and run by a single auteur type. It also seems very odd that Joss Whedon, who was one of the first showrunners known by fans, is ignored. (And what’s with leaving Adam Reed’s Archer out when talking about the FX’s groundbreaking comedies? I will tolerate no disrespect of Sterling Mallory Archer!) Despite those minor misgivings, this was another insightful book that again makes it seem like the stories behind these shows are sometimes just as interesting as the plots they put on the screen. One final note, there are extensive spoilers for all of the shows so don’t read it if you haven’t watched but plan to someday.

  2. 4 out of 5

    James Thane

    As the subtitle of this book suggests, Brett Martin sets out to describe the story of a creative revolution in television that began in the late 1990s and early 2000s and produced what Martin describes as the third Golden Age of television. This revolution occurred principally on cable and was led by the amazing success of "The Sopranos" on HBO. In the wake of that success came shows like "The Wire," "Deadwood," "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "The Shield," "Six Feet Under," and others. These shows we As the subtitle of this book suggests, Brett Martin sets out to describe the story of a creative revolution in television that began in the late 1990s and early 2000s and produced what Martin describes as the third Golden Age of television. This revolution occurred principally on cable and was led by the amazing success of "The Sopranos" on HBO. In the wake of that success came shows like "The Wire," "Deadwood," "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," "The Shield," "Six Feet Under," and others. These shows were riskier, more literate, and more challenging than most of the television shows that preceded them, although glimmerings of what was to come could be seen earlier in shows like "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue." The characters that populated these shows also differed dramatically from most of those that had inhabited earlier shows. The leads in these programs were almost exclusively male. They were often seriously flawed, morally complex, deeply human characters who looked nothing like traditional leading men, save perhaps for Jon Hamm who portrays the advertising executive, Don Draper, in "Mad Men." In another departure from tradition, viewers were often expected to sympathize and root for the bad guys--people like Tony Soprano, Al Swearengen, Walter White, and even Vince Mackey, a seriously corrupt cop who cold-bloodedly sets up and murders another cop in the very first episode of the series. The men behind these series (and those in charge were nearly always men) were often almost as troubled and as complicated as the characters they created. These were the powerful writers and show runners like David Chase, Ed Burns, David Simon, David Milch, Alan Ball and others who were given the power to create and develop these shows. Many of these men imagined themselves as auteurs, along the lines of the great film directors that many of them idolized. Martin suggests that while most of these men were gifted writers, producers and directors, they could be, at times, impossible to work with. Martin tells a very engaging story, that will appeal to the large numbers of fans of these various shows. He has interviewed virtually all of the principals involved in these programs, along with a host of other people, and one finishes the book feeling like he or she has been given a look deep inside this revolution. One caveat: Inevitably in a book like this, there are a lot of spoilers. In discussing and dissecting these shows, Martin gives away a lot of important plot points and so if you are late getting to some of these programs and still intend to do so, it might be a good idea to save this book until you've actually finished watching them.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Phil Simon

    Difficult Men is well written and researched and I did enjoy it. While reading it, though, something began gnawing at me roughly 50 pages in. Difficult Men feels like two separate books fused into one, and the result is ultimately unsatisfying. I'd wager that nearly 70 percent of the book is about The Sopranos, clearly the show that spawned what Martin calls "the creative revolution." No argument here. Matthew Weiner of Mad Men has a Sopranos' lineage. And Vince Gilligan has said that there would Difficult Men is well written and researched and I did enjoy it. While reading it, though, something began gnawing at me roughly 50 pages in. Difficult Men feels like two separate books fused into one, and the result is ultimately unsatisfying. I'd wager that nearly 70 percent of the book is about The Sopranos, clearly the show that spawned what Martin calls "the creative revolution." No argument here. Matthew Weiner of Mad Men has a Sopranos' lineage. And Vince Gilligan has said that there would be no Walter White without Tony Soprano. Additional kudos go to David Simon's The Wire, also a groundbreaking show. Unfortunately, however, Martin gives culturally significant series like Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, and others short shrift. For some reason, Martin keeps bringing everything back to The Sopranos, and often its creator David Chase. Difficult Men spends far too much time on the show that spawned the Creative Revolution and not enough on the other shows of that revolution. Yes, The Sopranos was important. We get it. As I read the book I kept asking myself, Why not just write a book about The Sopranos and another, more balanced one on what Martin calls The Third Golden Age of Television? Maybe the publisher recommended that Martin add popular shows to the subtitle of the book for SEO purposes? A few pet peeves: I lost count of the number of times that the author dropped words like auteur and tropes. Some of that seemed a bit gratuitous. And why Bryan Cranston is on the cover of this book is beyond me. This is mostly a book about The Sopranos and the impact it has had.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Teleseparatist

    This, to me, was a profoundly annoying book. It must be said that Martin indeed writes a compelling story of the so-called Third Golden Age of Television, full of anecdotes, fascinating tidbits of information and gasp-worthy moments. At the same time, however, his account of "how television became great again" is full of gaping holes and profoundly biased, based on an unexamined assumption of what constitutes good television. Sure, he starts off with disclaimers - he is interested only in 1) cab This, to me, was a profoundly annoying book. It must be said that Martin indeed writes a compelling story of the so-called Third Golden Age of Television, full of anecdotes, fascinating tidbits of information and gasp-worthy moments. At the same time, however, his account of "how television became great again" is full of gaping holes and profoundly biased, based on an unexamined assumption of what constitutes good television. Sure, he starts off with disclaimers - he is interested only in 1) cable, 2) drama [because that's where it's at]. Only in 3) 60-minute long shows with 12/13 episode-long seasons [because that's where it's at]. And if these precise restrictions coincide with the most male-dominated parts of television, that's merely a) because somehow tv about men is so much better (it's a pity but there you have it) and not b) biased on the level of constructing the sample. And if, even more aggravatingly, Martin so happens to summarise influence of female writers engaged in the process and the storylines of female characters, much more briefly than that of male counterparts, well, the title should have prepared me for it. (It did, but it didn't quite help.) Martin seems to regard such series as Sex and the City or Girls as obviously inferior to drama about mobsters or ad executives, or drug dealers. Whenever forced to mention network television, he's willing to do so in the broadest strokes (his one-sentence summary of Private Practice - a series I hatewatched - managed to actually make it sound much worse than it was). He says broadcast networks produce teen dramas and procedurals and "more family-friendly cable networks" offer "bland, populist, nominally 'quirky' shows", as though programmes such as Lost, Gilmore Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24 or Veronica Mars had had no influence on the television landscape, no effect on stylistic risks allowed showrunners on AMC, and as though The Shield and Rescue Me had nothing in common with Law & Order in its numerous iterations. The complete omission of The Closer or Saving Grace (or even Battlestar Galactica) - TV series that fit most if not all of his criteria - irked me in particular (perhaps he didn't want to branch out to TNT), as did the statement towards the end where he claims that in 2012 when all the Emmy Best Drama nominees (Downton Abbey excluded) were cable shows it was a foregone conclusion because broadcast networks no longer kept "a spot on their schedules for prestige, quality drama, even if just as award bait". That was the year NBC would try Awake, and the/a year The Good Wife (a definitive prestige quality network drama!) was snubbed (but still got an Emmy for Female Guest Star). TL;DR Networks tv is not as bad as Martin would paint it, cable not as universally good or pushing the envelope all on its lonesome. I'd rather watch Jane the Virgin, The Good Wife or even Hannibal than Game of Thrones or Dexter on any given day (I know these particular examples are more or less outside the scope, but still - would prefer Veronica Mars over The Sopranos, there, I've said it).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Meryl

    Difficult Men was a highly entertaining chronicle of the men who created, starred in, and were portrayed in the past decade of quality drama series. Showrunners, once unknown scribes, took on the role of "auteur" stamping each series with their own personal mark and agenda, and creating universes that showcase their preoccupations through flawed complicated characters. Reading this book as I watch Anthony Weiner, someone I know both personally and professionally, caught for the business of his a Difficult Men was a highly entertaining chronicle of the men who created, starred in, and were portrayed in the past decade of quality drama series. Showrunners, once unknown scribes, took on the role of "auteur" stamping each series with their own personal mark and agenda, and creating universes that showcase their preoccupations through flawed complicated characters. Reading this book as I watch Anthony Weiner, someone I know both personally and professionally, caught for the business of his alter ego, Carlos Danger in a second act of narcissistic hubris, I can't help thinking about Tony Soprano and Don Draper, who are doomed to repeat the same behaviors time and again without an arc or redemption. In Season 1 of the Sopranos, Christopher wonders what his arc is, Pussy tells him "You know who had an arc? Noah". These auteurs dared to show lead characters who did unlikable things time and again, and made viewers root for them, even when their actions conflicted with proper societal behavior. Although I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the many Davids (there is an alarming number of Davids who became showrunners) who used autocratic methods to create quality television, and understand that Martin wanted to concentrate on dramas about men, I take issue with the way that he turned the many quality television shows about women into footnotes of the era. He does state in the prologue that he is going to focus on men because they have made many of the hour-long dramas he wishes to discuss, while many women star in thirty minute comedies, but I think he may need to look at why he considers stories about men and masculinity to be more complex, richer and more classically American than shows about women. Emily Nussbaum defends Sex and the City against Brett Martin's condescension in her New Yorker column, for being just as relevant to HBO's rise as The Sopranos was. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics.... Later in the book, Martin mentions Lena Dunham, somewhat gratuitously, without giving her any credit for continuing HBO's commitment to difficult characters (some of which aren't men). In his epilogue, he snidely states "When the final polygamous Mormon of the underrated Big Love let the screen, we were left with the liberated pansexuals of True blood, the spoiled Brooklyn strivers of Girls, the twee Brooklynites of Aaron Sorkin's the Newsroom. Watching HBO, it seemed, was now less about discovering new worlds and hearing new viewpoints and more about seeing oneself." I am left wondering why he felt the need to be so condescending to these various worlds in his brief mentions of them, when he never wrote off Tony Soprano as a murderous villain. The sexism in the way that Girls, Sex and the City, and any other show that reflects the lives of complicated women is reinforced by this book. However, if you'd like to read a gripping account of some fascinating characters, which sheds light on the shows they created, I'd highly recommend it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Scott Wilson

    The big draw is Martin's access. He gets a lot of people to say a lot of things, some of which are jaw-dropping in their hubris. But even those quotes after a while blur together in a way that too conveniently supports Martin's "Third Golden Age of TV" thesis (a case he sometimes attempts to bolster by applying his own limited critical observations about the quality of this or that show, at jarringly arbitrary moments). His thesis is demonstrably true given the shows under discussion here, yet th The big draw is Martin's access. He gets a lot of people to say a lot of things, some of which are jaw-dropping in their hubris. But even those quotes after a while blur together in a way that too conveniently supports Martin's "Third Golden Age of TV" thesis (a case he sometimes attempts to bolster by applying his own limited critical observations about the quality of this or that show, at jarringly arbitrary moments). His thesis is demonstrably true given the shows under discussion here, yet there are only so many times, even in a book this swift-moving and easy to read, that you can stomach another "it takes a certain kind of hard-ass genius to entertain the world." We get it -- shows about difficult men come from men who are difficult. Which is why the most gossipy parts, late in the book, feel so good and come with so little guilt. It's almost a relief to know that we wouldn't want to work with (let alone *be*) these guys. Almost. Meanwhile, that appealing swiftness comes at an editing price. Someone should have cut about 65 percent of the instances Martin starts sentences with "as important," "more important" and "just as important." Maybe the paperback can just have a preface that reads: "Everything in what follows is equally and extremely important."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Girl

    This is a book about the TV revolution of the late 1990s/ early 2000s; but it is also about how much one can get away with when they are a male creator of a successful show. Now, the "difficult men" concept / conceit does not work equally well with all creators and creations under discussion. Sure, all of the shows described in this book were created by men (Martin believes that prestige drama is a male male male genre) and they are mainly about antiheroes; but Martin stretches his "difficult me This is a book about the TV revolution of the late 1990s/ early 2000s; but it is also about how much one can get away with when they are a male creator of a successful show. Now, the "difficult men" concept / conceit does not work equally well with all creators and creations under discussion. Sure, all of the shows described in this book were created by men (Martin believes that prestige drama is a male male male genre) and they are mainly about antiheroes; but Martin stretches his "difficult men" idea, applying it to everything from David Chase's anger management issues to David Milch's drinking problems to Matthew Weiner's narcissism to David Simon's ambitious ideas for subsequent seasons of The Wire. Apples and oranges. Overall, it's an interesting book of trivia, but the male-centric bias doesn't do it any favours; not to mention, Martin's enduring love for The Sopranos and David Chase makes this more of a "Sopranos plus some other series" showcase.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cora

    DIFFICULT MEN is one of two books about the prestige cable revolution in the past year (along with Alan Sepinwall's THE REVOLUTION IS TELEVISED). Martin is a reporter as opposed to a TV critic, and as a result his account focuses primarily on a behind the scenes account of the making of the standard TV drama canon (The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men, Breaking Bad). Martin's behind-the-scenes account is well reported and very interesting. It includes lots of information that isn DIFFICULT MEN is one of two books about the prestige cable revolution in the past year (along with Alan Sepinwall's THE REVOLUTION IS TELEVISED). Martin is a reporter as opposed to a TV critic, and as a result his account focuses primarily on a behind the scenes account of the making of the standard TV drama canon (The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men, Breaking Bad). Martin's behind-the-scenes account is well reported and very interesting. It includes lots of information that isn't well known (Sopranos creator David Chase was once considered to be the showrunner for The Wonder Years, for example), and Martin is entertaining in bringing the main creative figures to life, and trying to recapture the tense, competitive, emotionally fraught atmosphere of a TV writers' room or the business swordplay between rival networks. But circumstances forced some strange lapses even here: I have no doubt that Mad Men creator Matt Weiner is every bit the prick that he seems to be, but at the same time Martin's primary sources seem to be writers who were fired by Weiner. (A quick Matt Weiner story that I found very entertaining, though: Weiner was introduced to the producer of a big network show, and the two began to talk. As the conversation wound down, Weiner said to the man, "I'll see you at the Emmys." "Actually, our show wasn't nominated this year," the producer replied. "That's right," Weiner said tartly, "you weren't." Mad Men writer Chris Provenzano calls Weiner Queen Bitch, and it's easy to understand why.) But this kind of inside-Hollywood story is as old as the hills. Legendary director John Ford used to demean John Wayne during shoots, frequently reducing the star to tears by calling him a pinko or a homo. Hitchcock terrorized any number of leading ladies. Many comedy writers list working with Mary Tyler Moore as one of the worst experiences of their professional lives. I like gossip, at least to a degree, so I find tidbits like that fascinating and I want to know. But ultimately, it's not as important as the work itself: I defy you to watch Stagecoach and wonder how John Wayne was treated on set. And when it comes to appreciating the vices and virtues of the cable TV pantheon, Martin isn't well equipped. His opinions are often conventional wisdom, and his consideration of individual shows is often brief and a little shallow. (And I'm pissed at his dismissal of John from Cincinnati.) There's a more incisive critique to made here; Maureen Ryan wrote an excellent article in the Huffington Post demonstrating the architecture of the male anti-hero show can often reduce women to unlikable nags or distractions from the fun genre material that the audience is there to see. (See: Carmela Soprano, Betty Draper Francis, and Skyler White.) A related issue is the fact that many viewers of shows like The Shield watch for the power fantasy and find the critique largely easy to ignore. Alan Sepinwall's THE REVOLUTION WAS TELEVISED is probably a better book on this (now apparently waning) era of American televison. Unlike Martin, Sepinwall is a quite good TV critic, and even his appreciations of shows that I didn't much care for were compelling enough to make me want to give them another shot. (Sepinwall's focus is also broader, including 24, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica in his pantheon of shows; the Lost chapter will give you a lot of sympathy for Damon Lindelof even if you're still pissed at how the show ended.) I found Martin's book to be fun enough, but not particularly essential.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    I am a huge fan of The Sopranos and Mad Men so naturally I was happy to see another book that covers both shows (I had recently read The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever). This book covers The Sopranos in more detail since Brett Martin wrote a companion book for the series and had interviewed David Chase quite a bit. The Sopranos was the start of a new type of TV drama with anti-hero's like Tony Soprano and later Don Draper, and the me I am a huge fan of The Sopranos and Mad Men so naturally I was happy to see another book that covers both shows (I had recently read The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever). This book covers The Sopranos in more detail since Brett Martin wrote a companion book for the series and had interviewed David Chase quite a bit. The Sopranos was the start of a new type of TV drama with anti-hero's like Tony Soprano and later Don Draper, and the men who created them. This book also covers The Wire in great detail as well as The Shield and Sex Feet Under. It's interesting to me that all the creators and showrunners of these shows are men and they are full of neuroses that contributed to their success. He paints an especially unflattering picture of Matt Weiner. And David Chase doesn't fare much better. It saddened me to read how tortured James Gandolfini was, in light of his recent passing. It's also interesting that no female actress has been given the lead in a one hour show (see Weeds, Nurse Jackie and Girls which are all 30 minutes). In the early days of AMC, it was described as the place "where mediocrity came to die." Of course, the incredible success of Mad Men lead to Breaking Bad which is the last show covered in this book. This book is very well written and researched but should probably be read by those who have already watched the shows it covers since it contains many spoilers. I really enjoyed it but I'm a sucker for inside TV books like this!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Henderson

    I enjoyed this book, it was cool to see the back-stories of HBO, Mad Men & The Wire, etc. Like others have pointed out, 60% percent of it was about the Sopranos, it seemed like the Brett Martin actually wanted to write a book about the Sopranos, and although Walter White is on the cover, Breaking Bad was only briefly covered at the very end. The writer also frequently used an 'over-the-top' tone & language that gets old fast: "In some circles, to not have seen The Wire became a shocking breech of I enjoyed this book, it was cool to see the back-stories of HBO, Mad Men & The Wire, etc. Like others have pointed out, 60% percent of it was about the Sopranos, it seemed like the Brett Martin actually wanted to write a book about the Sopranos, and although Walter White is on the cover, Breaking Bad was only briefly covered at the very end. The writer also frequently used an 'over-the-top' tone & language that gets old fast: "In some circles, to not have seen The Wire became a shocking breech of social protocol." Really?

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    I'm a Sopranos and Breaking Bad fan. Interesting account of what it took for James Gandolfini to make his Tony Soprano character work. I'm a Sopranos and Breaking Bad fan. Interesting account of what it took for James Gandolfini to make his Tony Soprano character work.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Visit the writers’ rooms at The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men Chances are, if you have any tolerance at all for television, you’ve watched at least one of the signature dramatic shows that have cropped up on cable during the past decade. I certainly have. I’m a sucker for this stuff, and I didn’t fully understand why until I read Brett Martin’s Difficult Men, a superbly constructed tribute to these programs and their creators. Martin argues that The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Bre Visit the writers’ rooms at The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men Chances are, if you have any tolerance at all for television, you’ve watched at least one of the signature dramatic shows that have cropped up on cable during the past decade. I certainly have. I’m a sucker for this stuff, and I didn’t fully understand why until I read Brett Martin’s Difficult Men, a superbly constructed tribute to these programs and their creators. Martin argues that The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and a few other high-quality TV shows are “the signature American art form of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the equivalent of what the films of Scorsese, Altman, Coppola, and others had been to the 1970s or the novels of Updike, Roth, and Mailer to the 1960s.” His thesis is hard to argue with, and I say that having devoured much of the output of those filmmakers and writers. Difficult Men dwells largely on the creators of those four celebrated dramas—David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon (The Wire), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad)—plus a few others, especially Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and David Milch (Deadwood). If you’ve watched any of these programs, you will easily agree with Martin’s assertion that their protagonists “belonged to a species you might call Man Beset or Man Harried—badgered and bothered and thwarted by the modern world.” As Tony Soprano said, encapsulating the meaning of life for all these men, “’Every day is a gift. It’s just . . . does it have to be a pair of socks?’” The conceit in Martin’s title derives from the indisputable fact that Chase, Simon, Weiner, Gilligan, Ball, and Milch collectively possessed enough neuroses, inner conflicts, self-doubts, disappointments, psychological wounds, and personality quirks to match the six leading men of the dramas they brought to the screen. In short, Tony Soprano and Don Draper have nothing on these guys—and Martin amply demonstrates that by recounting the sometimes colorful but excruciatingly frustrating paths most of them followed to sell their shows to HBO, FX, and AMC. At least one of the six, David Milch, would qualify for the Neurotics’ Hall of Fame. Martin describes the time when a writer on one of his shows arrived for his first day of work “to see a man in the second-floor window peeing on the flowers below. ‘Oh, must be Milch,’ the receptionist told him.” Milch had (and presumably still has) a reputation as a genius, but he tended to drive everyone working with him around the bend. “At some point,” Martin reports, “Milch stopped committing scripts to paper at all, preferring to come to set and extemporaneously dictate lines to the actors.” Can you imagine being one of those actors? Martin draws an interesting parallel between these contemporary serialized television dramas and the work of the Victorian writers—Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and others—who gained the 19th century equivalent of superstardom on the strength of their serialized novels. In both cases, format enabled artistry, allowing the creators to develop complex, fully fleshed characters and story arcs that weren’t limited by the 42-minute stricture of today’s network-TV “one-hour” dramas. To my mind, the most fascinating chapter in Difficult Men is the last one before the epilogue. Martin describes sitting for days on end in the writers’ room for the show Breaking Bad along with creator (called “showrunner”) Vince Gilligan and his crew of very gifted and extravagantly paid screenwriters. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book. You’ll never look at TV drama again the same way if you read it. Difficult Men is a well organized, skillfully crafted, and insightful look at one of the most-watched cultural phenomena of our time. According to his website, Brett Martin is a correspondent for GQ. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and many others, as well as on public radio’s This American Life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    This book was good and made me feel good. It is very similar to The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall, which I read a couple of months ago: both feature basically the same set of dramas, and have the same basic point about how good TV has been lately. The difference is that while Sepinwall's book is more about the shows themselves, tracing the changing dynamic of TV drama since Oz, Martin's focuses more on the individual show-runners: the creators and writers (and sometimes actors) who This book was good and made me feel good. It is very similar to The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall, which I read a couple of months ago: both feature basically the same set of dramas, and have the same basic point about how good TV has been lately. The difference is that while Sepinwall's book is more about the shows themselves, tracing the changing dynamic of TV drama since Oz, Martin's focuses more on the individual show-runners: the creators and writers (and sometimes actors) who comprise the new generation of TV auters. I enjoyed both books a lot, but I think this one was even more readable. I don't know exactly who Brett Martin is, but he has access to amazing people and this book is filled with fantastic interviews, including the creators themselves (David Chase from the Sopranos, etc.). Not only that but he has terrible/awesome anecdotes related about these men. My favorite was a moment when David Chase told one of his fellow writers that he actually thought he would never be truly happy until he killed a man with his bare hands. I mean, WHAT. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes TV and reading about TV. You wouldn't have to have seen all the shows to enjoy it, although you'd have to be okay with major plot points being ruined for you (I personally feel that as a human who still hasn't seen the entire run of the Wire, it's my own darn fault if I find out who dies in what season). I don't know if it would be super interesting if you have seen NONE of the shows mentioned in the very long subtitle, however.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Edmole

    Without trying to be too dense with detail about the shows themselves (there are companion books for that), this book does a great job of summarising the key stories of the key shows in the '3rd Golden Era of TV', where a season was more 12 chapters of a dense novel than 24 chunks of filler between the ads. As someone who has derived tremendous pleasure from the four key shows explored, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, it was a pleasure to read the stories behind them. Martin has Without trying to be too dense with detail about the shows themselves (there are companion books for that), this book does a great job of summarising the key stories of the key shows in the '3rd Golden Era of TV', where a season was more 12 chapters of a dense novel than 24 chunks of filler between the ads. As someone who has derived tremendous pleasure from the four key shows explored, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, it was a pleasure to read the stories behind them. Martin has done well to bring new insight into these already heavily written about and discussed shows. He also doesn't hold back from painting the demagogic showrunners of shows about difficult men as being just as complex and difficult as the characters they created. (Matthew Weiner comes across as being just about as egotistical and vain as making something as great as Mad Men can justify). As with all great artistic leaps forward, it took a confluence of events and happenstance to allow the change to happen (frustrated geniuses + cable channels needing content + changes in viewing habits + new technology + HBO showing tits = ooh, just another episode, change the DVD). Definitely worth reading as a fan (but I would first point you to The Onion AV club's show by show write ups, especially on the Sopranos). But once you've watched and rewatched and sat on the sofa until you can't feel your McNultys, this is a great place to revisit the joys of long form quality telly. STUFFED with spoilers though, so don't read until you've watched the shows herein.

  15. 4 out of 5

    G

    There's a great book to be written about what the rise of antiheroes like Tony Soprano and Walter White says about contemporary masculinity. This book isn't that, doesn't try to be that, and doesn't even claim to be that, but that's kind of what I wanted, so I came away a little disappointed. But that's on me. More objectively, the book tries so hard to back up its title that the result is a little lumpy. There's lots and lots about The Sopranos and The Wire, partly because they were groundbreaki There's a great book to be written about what the rise of antiheroes like Tony Soprano and Walter White says about contemporary masculinity. This book isn't that, doesn't try to be that, and doesn't even claim to be that, but that's kind of what I wanted, so I came away a little disappointed. But that's on me. More objectively, the book tries so hard to back up its title that the result is a little lumpy. There's lots and lots about The Sopranos and The Wire, partly because they were groundbreaking shows, but also because the creators fit the profile of the tough, auteur showrunner. Other writer/directors get short shrift: Alan Ball & Six Feet Under get only passing mention, despite being there at the very beginning of the HBO climb, and it feels here like checking a box. Breaking Bad gets its own chapter but, since Vince Gilligan is awesome and collaborative and not a jerk, it's like part of a different book altogether, and the disconnect goes unremarked upon. This was well researched and well written and definitely engaging -- there was no slog to the finish. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the late 90's/early-aughts HBO scene but doesn't know anything about the back story. Since it sets its boundaries at post-Sex & the City and pre-Girls, leaving out two hot topic shows by and about women, I wouldn't call this the complete story, though. Just a story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David Carraturo

    I think this was a great read, long winded at times, so that is why only 4 stars. However, the author provides great insight to the showrunner process, the pre production angst/pitfalls and also as the production is underway, the stress and creativeness of a successful show on the air. HBO, TNT, AMC...the changing of the guard is now at Showtime with Billions and Ray Donovan. Fascinating world. If you are a writer or thinking about a dip into Hollywood, a must read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    so, I went to college with brett martin and was friends with him, although we are not in touch these days. (everytime I write a review of a book that says (Goodreads Author) next to the title I worry that that means the author just trolls goodreads looking for reviews of their book. because I'm not always nice. but brett, if you're reading this, hi! but anyway, let's pretend brett's not reading this so it can be unrestrained, just like I pretend nobody reads my journal. well, hopefully no one do so, I went to college with brett martin and was friends with him, although we are not in touch these days. (everytime I write a review of a book that says (Goodreads Author) next to the title I worry that that means the author just trolls goodreads looking for reviews of their book. because I'm not always nice. but brett, if you're reading this, hi! but anyway, let's pretend brett's not reading this so it can be unrestrained, just like I pretend nobody reads my journal. well, hopefully no one does. ok, first of all, this book was totally not about what I thought it was going to be about. the title is not misleading, but I mislead myself. I thought it was going to be about a new kind of character, the difficult man. about walter white and tony soprano and how they were different from male protagonists we've seen before and what that says about men in society. I "majored" in sociology and popular culture, so that's what I wanted it to be about. what it was actually about was the "third golden age" of television, this moment of cable and dvds and streaming and the rise of big long dramas making social commentary through the lens of a story about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth dealer, or baltimore, or a contemporary jersey mob boss. it was about the showrunners/writers for the sopranos and the wire and mad men and breaking bad, and how they got their shows made. which is a much less interesting subject for me, but ok, I know the author. and I'll tell you what, it's really well written. I've been in this phase of reading a book in a day or taking three weeks, and nonfiction is more in the three week camp, but I read this in a week, and I enjoyed it. brett is a great writer. my only complaint is that he's not transparent about his authorship. maybe part of this is because I just read underground, where murakami goes on at length about why he wrote the book and his process, and sometimes you see the questions he asked in an interview. brett obviously did a ton of research and interviews, but it's all invisible. he did that thing of "so and so shows up to an interview and takes the reporter on a tour of his vegetable garden" where you have to think about it and realize oh, the reporter is the author. which is a traditional, normal way to write, and it makes it read more like a history by an omniscient narrator. sometimes, though, there will be a detail and I want to know, how does he know that? how did he come to know that simon's memos are legendary? did simon tell him, did everyone who knew simon tell him, did he read a bunch of them? so, a pleasure to read. it made the content seem more interesting than it seems like it should have been to me. my other beef with it was that every once in a while brett sort of throws feminism a bone. yes, they are mostly difficult men because men still hold most positions of power, including in the entertainment industry. it's sort of this aside of, "of course that's unfair, but anyway, these dudes did this cool shit and I want to talk about it without getting too much into the gender dynamics of it all, because that's not what I'm talking about". which, I get it. you want to write the book, you have to work with the realities that are there. but part of me still bristles against the glorification of a bunch of dudes romping around on their unfair playing field. like I said, this isn't what I thought the book was about and I guess I would have read it anyway, because I came across it in the thrift store and I know the author, but if I hadn't known the author and if I had known it was about what it was about, it wouldn't have been my scene at all. also, this was published and in the thrift shop before the #metoo movement became big and that is a pretty big shadow while you're reading it. there's a part where one of the more assholeish show runners gets busted for domestic abuse (choking his girlfriend in public, etc.) and loses his job and I was relieved to see that at least in there because that's another aspect of not the story that's being told, but knowing what we know about the entertainment industry I'm sure at least some of these dudes were sexually harrassing or assaulting. which at this point adds to my feeling of here are a bunch of men, who operate in a world of male privilege, so who knows if things were more equal if they would even be where they are telling the stories they are telling, and it's likely that some of them were abusing women (that one we know for sure) in the meantime, but we're not going to talk about any of that, and it feels like a glorification. I mean, that's not an attack on the book. you have to narrow the scope of what you're writing, you can't write about the female showrunners who aren't there. it's more of a comment about me, reading my friend's book all disloyally late after it came out and not even paying full price for it and now it happens to fall against a different historical backdrop. again, very well written. so there was this one part, about matt weiner, who created mad men, and his worldview. "I'm constantly putting on my armor," he said. "It's all about what you think you're entitled to, what your ambition is, what's in your way. I'm not somebody who tries to destroy people, but I am very conscious of these things. It IS combat. Do YOU ever want to give up feeling sexually viable? I don't. Do you ever want to give up feeling powerful? Do you want to look at a twenty-year-old kid and say, 'He can beat the shit out of me?' It's all combat." which I just find sad. first of all, it's insanely privileged to start with, it's this very aggressive competitive way of looking at the world, which I guess got mad men created but mad men is also about a world even more unfair than our world is now, in the end. I don't think it's a good way to live, frankly. but even past that, it's just stupid. it's a refusal to come to terms with the way things are. because hello, dude, you live long enough, you won't be "sexually viable". you might be able to delude yourself that you are, but actually, that's being "financially viable". because what dude is on about is feeling like he can score an attractive woman as an older dude. if you want to be having sex throughout your life, your best bet for that is through relationship, not putting on your armor and competing. I mean, yeah, you can be a rich guy and find someone hot to have sex with you, but s/he is actually competing with you. what can I get for what I'm giving you? it's all so empty. and the 20 year old IS going to be able to kick your 75 year old ass, sorry. that's going to happen. your whole worldview is delusional and empty and sad. you're basically operating at the level of a lion who rules the pride until he gets taken down by a younger lion. I mean, why even be human? you're a lion who made a show about other lions. anyway, nice job brett. I'm going to give this to my boyfriend to read because he's much more into what the book was actually about than I was and he'll probably fret less about the glorification of the privileged and I bet he won't even think "aren't they all?" every time he looks at the title.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    In the Third Golden Age of television (as Brett Martin calls it) things have changed drastically. With the rise of cable television, channels like HBO, Showtime and so on, are able to push the boundaries not afforded to network TV. Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men allowed the writers to offer something more complex or unpredictable. This saw the rise of the difficult men, characters like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Don Draper (Mad Men) offered a char In the Third Golden Age of television (as Brett Martin calls it) things have changed drastically. With the rise of cable television, channels like HBO, Showtime and so on, are able to push the boundaries not afforded to network TV. Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men allowed the writers to offer something more complex or unpredictable. This saw the rise of the difficult men, characters like Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Don Draper (Mad Men) offered a character study never seen before by viewers. Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men looks at the stories behind some of the greatest shows of our time, mainly focusing on The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire and Mad Men. This is a deeper look into the evolution of modern story telling. The male protagonist within the Third Golden Age tends to be an enigma; complex, impulsive and so much more real. The type of characters that frustrates you with their mistakes but you can’t help but continuously watching. The problem with this book is that it makes me want to watch all these shows. I have only gotten through half of The Sopranos and I haven’t found the time to try The Wire or Treme. All these shows look really great but finding time to binge watch them has become a real problem. I love reading about pop-culture and how it changes over the years and Difficult Men gave me everything I wanted. I enjoyed the insider information and the stories behind the stories. I can only hope that this evolution will start to extend toward better female leads. I would like to see the same treatment the Third Golden Age of television has give to men offered to woman as well. What I enjoy about these types of shows is not that the men are difficult but the way they tackle real issues and treat the protagonist as a real and flawed human being. They can explore ideas of life and death, love and sexuality, addiction, race and violence and the protagonist often struggles or makes mistakes. They often evolve as characters but it doesn’t mean they grow, there are times when I think Don Draper (Mad Men) or Hank Moody (Californication) have finally grown as a person but there is often slip ups or a spanner thrown into the mix, this makes for compelling television but also feels more real. A huge section of Difficult Men is devoted to The Sopranos and James Gandolfini which is worth checking out. Gandolfini, in his own right, wasn’t a stereotypical leading man and there was a big exploration into his mental state. Playing the role of Tony Soprano was a very taxing role and what made James Gandolfini great at the job is how he didn’t act the role, he became the character. This ended taking a huge toll on his psychological wellbeing and this raises some interesting thoughts about the effect a role has on the actor. Fans of television, pop culture or these shows in general will enjoy this book but I think a look into the psychological effect on the people involved will make this something to sit up and take notice. Hollywood is a complex industry and the effects can be damaging; all you have to do is walk down Hollywood Boulevard to see how it effects people. I am a big fan of the ground breaking changes these shows made towards the television industry but I didn’t realise the side effects. Brett Martin did a good job going behind the scenes and getting the back story. This review originally appeared on my blog: http://literary-exploration.com/2014/...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jaq Greenspon

    Many years ago, when Christopher Judge and I had a production company together, we met with executives at Marvel about doing a TV show. Now, this is back when Marvel was a non-starter, way before the MCU as it is today, and the executive we talked to was incredibly dismissive of the idea of writers actually writing about characters. As I recall, the conversation was about possibly doing a Ghost Rider series and the comment was something like “we can’t afford more than one transformation during a Many years ago, when Christopher Judge and I had a production company together, we met with executives at Marvel about doing a TV show. Now, this is back when Marvel was a non-starter, way before the MCU as it is today, and the executive we talked to was incredibly dismissive of the idea of writers actually writing about characters. As I recall, the conversation was about possibly doing a Ghost Rider series and the comment was something like “we can’t afford more than one transformation during an episode so you’ll have to be okay with more character stuff.” Needless to say, the project never got off the ground and Chris and I went our separate ways, but reading Brett Martin’s book Difficult Men reminded me of that long ago meeting. In the book, Martin chronicles what he calls the “Third Golden Age” of television, marked by the premiere of The Sopranos and, ostensibly, still going on. The reason I thought about the meeting was that one of the attributes Martin gives to this Golden Age is the idea of character depth approaching a novel-like intensity. Starting with Tony Soprano, Martin also traces the evolution of the TV patriarch along with the parallel evolution of the (almost entirely male) writer/producers who were responsible for bringing these Difficult Men to life (although, to be fair, the title could refer to either the character or the creator or, most probably, both. It’s a great read, and at times insightful, except for me, a writer, a lot of it felt like preaching to the choir. When that executive at Marvel said we’d have to focus on character, my initial response was “duh, what else would we focus on?” But evidently, that’s the mark of a prose writer and not a screen one. As someone who writes prose, I always have an unlimited budget for special effects so it’s not that big a deal to use them in service of the story. When something is readily available to you (like your folks give you a beer with dinner so you never have to worry about sneaking a bottle) you only use it when necessary. Therefore, the story, by necessity, becomes more about the transformation of the inner character and not the outward changing from guy to flaming skeleton. In much the same ways, these creators were taking a page from novels and giving us storytelling and linguistic pyrotechnics much more profound than any on-screen special effects. So as Martin is describing the revolutionary shows hitting our TV screens, I was saying to myself, they were just catching up to where good literature has always been. At the same time, they also pioneered the short season model, where a story could be structured around a close-ended 8,10 or 13 episodes (chapters) suitable for binge watching as they create one cohesive narrative, or what I’m going to call, the noTVel. So, a good book, full of minutia and details worthy of the time, even if the overarching theme seems to be something anyone with a degree in literature could have told you about years ago. Full review here: https://captainjaq.wordpress.com/2016...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dana King

    Difficult Men is Brett Martin’s brilliant and entertaining look behind the key shows of what he calls the Third Golden Age of television, a period spearheaded by HBO with the prison drama Oz laying the foundation from which The Sopranos would become a phenomenon. The title has double meaning. The programs that make up the core of Martin’s third golden age focus largely on the lives of forty-ish men in crisis: Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, Walter White, Don Draper, and several cops, politicians, and Difficult Men is Brett Martin’s brilliant and entertaining look behind the key shows of what he calls the Third Golden Age of television, a period spearheaded by HBO with the prison drama Oz laying the foundation from which The Sopranos would become a phenomenon. The title has double meaning. The programs that make up the core of Martin’s third golden age focus largely on the lives of forty-ish men in crisis: Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, Walter White, Don Draper, and several cops, politicians, and drug dealers in The Wire. Those are the guys the public saw. The men responsible for their creation were forty-ish themselves, and they were, by and large, the truly difficult men. The biggest takeaway, for me, was, “Why would anyone want to write for television?” Even if you overcome innumerable hurdles and are lucky enough to get on a first-rate show, you may get to work for a David Chase, a David Milch, or a Mathew Weiner. Chase never got over the idea he was too good for television. Weiner comes off as an arrogant an asshole ever to draw breath. Milch is such a whack job he makes James Ellroy look as eccentric as Jimmy Carter. The stories of how all these men achieved their positions are fascinating. How events, timing, critical masses of people, and the pure luck of pitching the right idea to the right network at the right time came together to create something special. How HBO owned the franchise until it got a little complacent and FX leadership decided maybe that network didn’t have to be an afterthought at Fox, after all. AMC’s good fortune when looking for a program with gravitas, but not a crime show, which had done the heavy lifting to that point. Martin talked to a lot of people in position to know, and what they told him was too good to have been made up. Not all the showrunners were off the rails. David Simon comes across as argumentative, but fair, and extremely loyal to both his people and his vision, which could cause friction. Shawn Ryan (The Shield) called in personal favors from friends for his pilot and to keep the cast together—casting his wife as Vic Mackey’s wife because “I know I can get you back”—and using the guerilla film tactics born of budget necessity to create something special both onscreen and off. Vince Gilligan appears to be a mensch. So, no, one does not have to be a neurotic asshole to be a big success, though it doesn’t seem to hurt. Difficult Men is a great read for any fans of any of the shows cited, and for anyone curious about how shows get made—or, more often, don’t get made—in Hollywood. A quick read, written by Martin in an engaging manner with the perfect distance from the subject matter. Not so distant he looks down on his subjects, yet not so close he fails to recognize the lunacy. This is pretty much a pitch perfect tale. One last thing. Despite giving David Chase every opportunity to justify the ending of The Sopranos, when all is said and done, it was still chickenshit

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mickey

    Difficult Men chronicles the rise of the all-powerful showrunners of such iconic television shows as The Sopranos, the Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and other television shows of that era. Martin is able to make the byzantine landscape of television production intelligible to laymen. He presents a comprehensive and comprehensible history of the events and personalities that created the perfect conditions to allow for, as he calls it (somewhat reluctantly), The Third Golden Age of Televi Difficult Men chronicles the rise of the all-powerful showrunners of such iconic television shows as The Sopranos, the Wire, Deadwood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and other television shows of that era. Martin is able to make the byzantine landscape of television production intelligible to laymen. He presents a comprehensive and comprehensible history of the events and personalities that created the perfect conditions to allow for, as he calls it (somewhat reluctantly), The Third Golden Age of Television. In memorable prose, Martin records every detail of the rise and reign of these writers who are responsible for the overall vision of the shows. It’s an entertaining read, to say the least, as one television veteran said, “This isn’t like publishing some lunatic’s novel or letting him direct a movie. This is handing a lunatic a division of General Motors.” (pg 9) It’s clear that he has a good understanding of the layout and, furthermore, that he is skilled in providing sharp and penetrating portraits of these “difficult men”. The showrunners are properly analyzed. Their histories, personalities, creativity, leadership skills, motivations, egos, and cultural impacts are discussed. I particularly enjoyed hearing from the assistants and the other writers about how each one functioned. I think looking at a person’s employees is one of the best ways to really learn about what a person is like because of the amount of psychoanalyzing employees tend to do as a survival skill. Martin even discusses this idea about writers (who are prone to discussing motivations and habits anyway) learning how to work within whatever system the showrunner introduces (with Milch’s being the most bizarre) into the writing room. There is no question that this book is very Sopranos and David Chase-centric. But I find this almost necessary. As the prototype of the model, Chase set the standard for those who followed him. It’s unnecessary to spend much time on the machinations on getting other shows made. The reason they were made is because the network was hoping to have another Sopranos. Although Chase is such an obstinate standard-bearer. Martin once calls him the Moses of the era, and I have to say that this is pretty apt. It would be difficult to meet a man who has managed to accomplish so much but also to think so little of it (and not out of humility). Chase certainly never made it to the Promised Land. The aspect I enjoyed the most was probably the looks into the writing rooms. It is always interesting to see creative people in action, particularly when it leads to such quality work. Although it was tough to see what gets my vote for best television show (Breaking Bad) given only so much space in this book, the quality of the content makes up for it. A biography of Gilligan or a history of the show could be found in dozens of magazines, but I doubt you can find such an intimate look at how the it was made anywhere but this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    F.R.

    This third golden age of television has been great. An incredible time we will one day wax lyrical about to our grandchildren, where quality American TV show has followed quality American TV show (okay, CSI still exists, but you can’t have everything). This week my lovely fiancée and I have watched ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘True Detective’ and are gearing up for the new season of ‘Mad Men’ (that may give a terrible impression of couch potato tendencies, but rest assured that we have been going out as This third golden age of television has been great. An incredible time we will one day wax lyrical about to our grandchildren, where quality American TV show has followed quality American TV show (okay, CSI still exists, but you can’t have everything). This week my lovely fiancée and I have watched ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘True Detective’ and are gearing up for the new season of ‘Mad Men’ (that may give a terrible impression of couch potato tendencies, but rest assured that we have been going out as well), all of which are products of this new creative environment which has elevated television from simply being the idiot gogglebox to one of the dominant art forms. Brett Martin’s ‘Difficult Men’ is a whistle-stop tour as to how all this happened, the environment which created it and how this incredibly creativity was able to thrive. It’s aptly named, as not only were pretty much all these shows about difficult men, they were created and steered by some very difficult men. Seriously, few people emerge from these pages well: from executives to writers to the show runners themselves, this is a catalogue of shocking arrogance, bad behaviour and raging insecurities. But much like the shows which are covered, these difficult men prove compulsively entertaining. Starting with ‘The Sopranos’ kicking open the door and then focusing on the shows which sprung up thereafter – ‘The Wire’, ‘Six Feet Under’, ‘The Shield’, ‘Deadwood’, ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Breaking Bad’. This is a book crammed full of wonderful anecdotes and personality clashes. However the focus on one show and then another show and then another show does mean that there isn’t a huge amount of depth from one chapter to another. As entertaining as it all is, it does start to feel like a bunch of Sunday Magazine articles strung together. A good whistle-stop tour, but most of these shows deserve a far more detailed examination than the cursory one we find here.

  23. 4 out of 5

    A. R.

    Given that this book covers most of my favorite shows from the last 15 years, I was coming into this realizing I would likely be disappointed. It was actually a pretty good read. The organization and overall theme could have used some work. It very much reads like a collection of features on each show and then the author tried to jam some sort of connection between them on top of it. Martin does a good job with the background on the cable drama revolution, especially how it started at HBO and bra Given that this book covers most of my favorite shows from the last 15 years, I was coming into this realizing I would likely be disappointed. It was actually a pretty good read. The organization and overall theme could have used some work. It very much reads like a collection of features on each show and then the author tried to jam some sort of connection between them on top of it. Martin does a good job with the background on the cable drama revolution, especially how it started at HBO and branched out to other networks. The background pieces on the "showrunners" were very good as well. Where it fell a little short for me was on the discussions of the individual shows. There's a lot of stuff covered that we already know--story arcs, what the audience liked and what they didn't--as a fan, these are things I already knew. And the one big story about James Gandolfini going AWOL from The Sopranos during an expensive shoot was very interesting, but there was no real explanation of why he left and what he did while he was gone. I think if the book had just focused on the recent developments that lead to these shows getting made and the writers behind them, it would have been tighter and a better read. However, I think anyone interested in these shows will find a lot to like about this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    I realized about 100 pages in that, despite loving The Sopranos and The Wire, I only really picked up this book to read about Breaking Bad. I simply could not bring myself to care about the writing and production aspects of The Shield, for example. In the end though, I'm not sure why this book exists. It isn't long enough to really get very in-depth with any of the shows it talks about, and seeing what various writers did before they had their hit shows is about as entertaining as (and, in fact, I realized about 100 pages in that, despite loving The Sopranos and The Wire, I only really picked up this book to read about Breaking Bad. I simply could not bring myself to care about the writing and production aspects of The Shield, for example. In the end though, I'm not sure why this book exists. It isn't long enough to really get very in-depth with any of the shows it talks about, and seeing what various writers did before they had their hit shows is about as entertaining as (and, in fact, an almost identical experience to) reading somebody's IMDB page. There's no sense of narrative or cultural importance to this "Third Golden Age of Television" (a phrase which, by my count, the author uses 30 million times); writing (or showrunning or whatever) is just a career like any other. So I skimmed a lot of stuff about the FX network until I got to...a whopping 20 pages of Breaking Bad stuff, which didn't add anything beyond what one can glean from watching a single episode of the show with the commentary.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alex O'Brien

    If you're a fan of the third golden age of television and love The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, The Shield, and Breaking Bad, Brett Martin's 'Difficult Men' is a must-read. Martin reveals how these shows were developed and produced and probes the minds and creative processes of their brilliant and often difficult show-runners. I especially enjoyed how he described the workings of the writers' rooms. I spent the 2000s cheerfully carting my kids to sporting events and only caught up with these sho If you're a fan of the third golden age of television and love The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, The Shield, and Breaking Bad, Brett Martin's 'Difficult Men' is a must-read. Martin reveals how these shows were developed and produced and probes the minds and creative processes of their brilliant and often difficult show-runners. I especially enjoyed how he described the workings of the writers' rooms. I spent the 2000s cheerfully carting my kids to sporting events and only caught up with these shows over the past six years, but I didn't want them to end and was delighted to have this book to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Riley Hamilton

    Behind the scenes on all of the best tv shows of all time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Difficult Men is a history of a trend in turn-of-the-century broadcasting that saw serious dramas with troubled characters appear from a haze of episodic shows in which nothing serious ever really happened. The stars of the show are David Chase and David Simon, the first an innovative if edgy showrunner who initiated a revolution with The Sopranos, and the latter a journalist whose work took him to television, creating The Wire. Vince Gilligan also appears in the last section of book, with his e Difficult Men is a history of a trend in turn-of-the-century broadcasting that saw serious dramas with troubled characters appear from a haze of episodic shows in which nothing serious ever really happened. The stars of the show are David Chase and David Simon, the first an innovative if edgy showrunner who initiated a revolution with The Sopranos, and the latter a journalist whose work took him to television, creating The Wire. Vince Gilligan also appears in the last section of book, with his extraordinary stylistic creation Breaking Bad, but The Sopranos dominates. This was a first for me; other books I’ve read about television the past have been Star Trek related. I count The Sopranos and Breaking Bad as two of the best written shows I’ve ever watched, however – although the first was so violent that it took me ten years to finish the show’s six seasons . As I sometimes watch videos evaluating films and tv from a production POV – the use of shots, the development of character, etc – I thought I’d find this generally interesting, but as it was, only the bits on Tony and Walter’s respective dramas held my attention.

  28. 4 out of 5

    furious

    Decent book on peak TV (which he calls Television's Third Golden Age 🙄), specifically how the protagonists & creators were all a bunch of fucked up anti heroes, and coincidentally, white male baby boomers. Actually, Vince Gilligan seems like a decent guy. It drives home why I got so bored with these shows, they were all so similar. "I'm a successful white man who treats everyone around me like garbage, why o why am I so unhappy? Boo hoo." But, really, I only bought this book for the chapter on M Decent book on peak TV (which he calls Television's Third Golden Age 🙄), specifically how the protagonists & creators were all a bunch of fucked up anti heroes, and coincidentally, white male baby boomers. Actually, Vince Gilligan seems like a decent guy. It drives home why I got so bored with these shows, they were all so similar. "I'm a successful white man who treats everyone around me like garbage, why o why am I so unhappy? Boo hoo." But, really, I only bought this book for the chapter on Milch, which was somewhat lackluster. David Chase gets way too many pages of this thing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Adrien Lelièvre

    Great book. I would have liked to see some artists portraits in it. Very good read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Meaghan

    This is a "behind the scenes" look at what the author calls the Third Golden Age of Television, that is the cable and antihero dominated run of shows that began with The Sopranos. Martin focuses on seven of these shows: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad (all of which I've watched except The Shield). The book comes with a spoiler warning but it's actually not too bad -- you might learn a couple of major plot points here and there. The ending o This is a "behind the scenes" look at what the author calls the Third Golden Age of Television, that is the cable and antihero dominated run of shows that began with The Sopranos. Martin focuses on seven of these shows: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, The Shield, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad (all of which I've watched except The Shield). The book comes with a spoiler warning but it's actually not too bad -- you might learn a couple of major plot points here and there. The ending of The Sopranos is discussed, but is there anyone left who doesn't know about that? There is a fair bit of focus on the workings of the writers' room, which I found really interesting. Each of the showrunners profiled has a somewhat different style, and all have different takes on the role played by staff writers in bringing the showrunner's vision to life. They range from extreme control freaks (David Chase and Matthew Weiner) to very open collaborators (Vince Gilligan and Alan Ball). Every once in a while, Martin will provide insight into the workings of cast on these shows or executives at the networks, but largely, this is a book about the writers. I would probably not recommend the book if you're not a fan of The Sopranos, which gets by far the most coverage. Although, if you don't like The Sopranos but do like The Wire, you should still read this because the segments on David Simon and Ed Burns are very good and also fairly extensive. Six Feet Under, The Shield, and Deadwood probably get the least amount of attention. One thing I found a bit annoying is how dismissive Martin is of any show that doesn't fit in his definition of what makes a Third Golden Age show. He makes these offhanded snooty comments about other genres, seemingly oblivious to the fact that actually, there have been other good shows on TV during this era. For example, although he doesn't refer to the show by name, he seems to write off Andre Royo and Lance Reddick's work on Fringe as being far beneath them. He also makes a point of noting the lack of female characters in the Third Golden Age, while also spending very little time on the ones that do exist; he names Peggy and Joan as the only two good female characters on Mad Men, apparently forgetting about Betty entirely. Anyway! Ultimately, this does what it says in the subtitle. It's a quick read, and a fun one if you enjoy the shows profiled. I've come away from it itching to watch The Shield, which was already on my to-watch list, and having added Damages, another show that gets some peripheral coverage, to my list.

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