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Showdown: The Cast of Mad Men (Season 5) vs. The Cast of SNL (Season 18)

June 19, 2012

This past season of Mad Men was my favorite. Every episode was riveting. The last three episodes could all have been season finales. After Peggy left the firm and Lane took his own life, I came to the conclusion that Mad Men had more character depth than any other show on television. What other show in television history could lose two main characters and seemingly not miss a beat? After some percolating, I came to the conclusion that the 5th season of Mad Men had the deepest cast in television history since season 18 of Saturday Night Live (1992-1993).

Season 18’s cast of SNL was extremely deep. Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, etc. were comedic juggernauts. If the cast were a major league baseball team, they would have won over 110 regular season games that season. I started to think about what would happen if these two casts went toe to toe. Who had the deeper cast? Like a prizefight, I put together 12 matchups to represent 12 rounds. My criteria for determining who won the individual matchups was predicated on which cast member had the greater overall impact on their respective show. Here are the matchups and the results:

Matchup #1: Pete Campbell vs. David Spade

These two guys are fairly similar. Pete Campbell is that preppy prick that Spade seems to play in most of his movies. David Spade’s Brad McPherson character in PCU could easily have been a descendant of Pete Campbell. Season 18 of SNL was a mini breakout for Spade. His “Hollywood Minute” sketch became a fixture on Weekend Update. He also was key member in the Gap Girls sketch with Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. In season 5, Pete Campbell cemented the fact that he should win the Craftsman Award for being the biggest tool on television. He was punched in the face by the normally unflappable Lane Pryce and then punched twice more on a train. Nobody likes him, including himself. Pete Campbell is the guy everyone loves to hate. Having said that, he can carry a scene. David Spade rarely owned the screen with his own sketch character. He was dependent on others.

Advantage: Mad Men

Matchup #2: Peggy Olson vs. Dana Carvey

These characters have a lot in common regarding their impact. Carvey left SNL midseason fairly unceremoniously. His sendoff in season 18 didn’t produce nearly the same fanfare that Phil Hartman’s departure produced at the end of season 19. Peggy Olson left SCDP fairly unceremoniously as well. While the company was celebrating the Jaguar victory, Peggy quietly grabbed her belongings and left. Both were also instrumental in the development of other’s characters. Carvey had a huge year in 1992-1993. He served as President Bush and Ross Perot. Carvey’s Garth character was key to the success of Mike Myers and the Wayne’s World skit. His departure also left Kevin Nealon with less screen time as his Hans character constituted half of the Hans and Franz sketch. Peggy Olson was the only person who knew the depths of Don Draper as Dick Whitman. She also pushed him creatively and her success made the Joan making partner seem more plausible. She guided many other storylines. They are too close. I cannot declare a winner in this matchup.

Advantage: Push

Matchup #3: Don Draper vs. Phil Hartman

This is a clash of the titans. Both of these guys are the lynchpins of their shows. Phil Hartman was given the nickname “The Glue” by Adam Sandler for his ability to hold the show together. Season 18 was a big season for Hartman. It was a presidential election year and he played Bill Clinton. He also did an incredible Admiral Stockdale impersonation. His Unfrozen Caveman lawyer character was a comedic staple. In my view, he was the most versatile cast member. Don Draper is a creative genius. He is the backbone of SCDP and is also the logo of the show. In season 5, he started showing glimpses of the old Don Draper in the boardroom with his Jaguar pitch. SNL could have success without Hartman. There is no Mad Men without Don Draper.

Advantage: Mad Men

Matchup #4: Roger Sterling vs. Chris Farley

Both of these guys are naturally charming and indulged in their share of drugs and booze. Sterling could carry a scene. His LSD trip was classic. Nobody in SNL history could carry a scene like Chris Farley. Season 18 was a breakout year for him. In the second to last episode of the season with host Christina Applegate, he introduced the world to motivational speaker Matt Foley. It was a tour de force performance.

Advantage: SNL

Matchup #5: Joan Holloway vs. Julia Sweeney

Both of these red heads were the lead female characters in their seasons. Julia Sweeney was the lone female repertory cast member, a SNL primary cast member. Joan Holloway really came into her own professionally in season 5 by becoming a partner. Julia Sweeney was a one trick pony with her It’s Pat character. Joan proved that she was much more versatile than the lush secretary she played in season 1.

Advantage: Mad Men

Matchup #6: Ginsburg vs. Adam Sandler

Both of these guys are Jewish and highly creative. Sandler was only a featured cast member in 1992-1993, not a repertory one. However, it would be a breakout year. He performed as “Cajun Man” and “Opera Man” on Weekend Update. In October, he gave his suggestions for “crazy” Halloween costume ideas. In the Fall of 1992, he debuted his Thanksgiving Song and opened the floodgates for his many other musical performances over the years. In the episode hosted by Alec Baldwin, he also produced Canteen Boy, who may have been a distant relative of the creepy Glen character on Mad Men. Ginsburg came up with some creative slogans and definitely earned his keep for seasons to come but he didn’t dominate sketches like Sandler.

Advantage: SNL

 

Matchup #7: Harry Crane vs. Rob Schneider

Both of these guys received little respect with regards to office space. Harry Crane got dumped with Pete Campbell’s office while Rob Schneider’s “The Richmiester” got stuck next to the water cooler. Harry Crane went to a Rolling Stones concert, made a poor move on Megan Draper, and almost became a Hare Krishna with Paul Kinsey. I’m giving the edge to Schneider for his hilarious performance in the “Jiffy Express” commercial that season, his role in the “Belissima” sketch with Kirstie Alley, and for his lesser known character “Orgasm Guy” which was very underrated.

Advantage: SNL

 

Matchup #8: Megan Draper vs. Mike Myers

Mike Myers sat out the first six episodes of season 18 on SNL. He probably had a hangover from the success of Wayne’s World, the movie. It was produced in 1992 on a budget of $20 million and grossed over $183 million. Wayne’s World wasn’t a sketch. It was an institution. Mike Myers also had success with his “Coffee Talk” sketch that season. Megan Draper was good for sexy dancing on Don’s birthday and showed glimpses of talent as an actress and copywriter. I think the jury is still out on whether or not she does anything as an actress. Even missing a third of the season 18, I have to give the edge to Mike Myers.

Advantage: SNL

 

Matchup #9: Ken Cosgrove vs. Kevin Nealon

Kevin Nealon had the huge task of serving as the Weekend Update guy. His Mr. Subliminal act was an all-time classic. His “Bathroom Attendant” sketch with Harvey Kietel was absolutely brilliant. This would also mark the last season for his Franz character from Hans and Franz. Ken helped open up the doors with his father-in-law at Firestone. Kevin Nealon’s profound dry humor wins this battle.

Advantage: SNL

Matchup #10: Sally Draper vs. Tim Meadows

Sally Draper became a woman in season 5 and continued on her inevitable path towards becoming a flower girl. She always carries a scene. It would be take a few more seasons before Tim Meadows would have his own break out character in the form of the Ladies Man.

Advantage: Mad Men

 

Matchup #11: Bert Cooper vs. Al Franken

Both of these guys are senior members of their respective organizations. Al Franken started with SNL in 1975. Bert Cooper was a founding member of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Franken’s lone breakout character was Stuart Smalley. Bert Cooper generally doesn’t do much around the office but he made a monumental discovery when he found that Lane Pryce had forged a check. That move sent the season 5 script off in an entirely different direction.

Advantage: Mad Men

 

Matchup #12: Lane Pryce vs. Chris Rock

Lane Pryce has never been one to shy away from a fight as evidenced with by his spar with Pete Campbell. Lane was an extremely important character in season 5. He opened up the Jaguar discussions and his suicide was one of the most shocking moments in the show’s history. Chris Rock would go on to have a legendary comedic career but his impact on season 18 of SNL was fairly insignificant. He appeared as his Nat X character but that was just about it for him.

Advantage: Mad Men

 

Final Results: Mad Men Wins 6-5-1

 

 

 

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One Comment
  1. very impressed with how well you remember SNL that year….

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