DAVID BIANCULLI

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When Pete Campbell Starts Casting Himself
February 6, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 3 comments
 

No, that's not Peter Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) from Mad Men in AT&T's "It's Not Complicated" 4G network campaign, but if it walks like a Pete, and talks like a Pete, then it's a Pete...

If you haven't seen the AT&T spots, they feature a starched, clueless straight man interviewing kids as to why doing two things at once are better than doing one, why faster is better than slow, why bigger is better. The idea is that it's simple as to why AT&T's network is better. The unnamed interviewer is so stiff and devoid of any irony and natural rhythm he's genuinely pondering the simplest answers to the most basic questions.

When one kid demonstrates doing two things at once — shaking his head and waving his hands — Pete's doppelganger (actor Beck Bennett, who is reportedly finishing a pilot for Comedy Central) says "I've never seen anything like this," and as one kid is about to interrupt, "hold on ... I'm watching this!"

AT&T's Straight Man is generally oblivious, much like Pete. As the sixth season of Mad Men approaches this coming spring, (AMC, Sunday, April 7, 9 p.m. ET) one of the annual questions about the show is, how does an awkward stiff like Pete get to the top of a hip Madison Avenue firm?

And now, with the AT&T spot, how does his facsimile get the lead in a national campaign?

Well, maybe the suits at BBDO-Atlanta (the ad firm for AT&T) believe, like Pete, that it's not just the creatives or art directors who can launch a successful campaign. Suits are artists, too, eh? And besides, they make the rain. Why shouldn't they get their time on camera? If dancing Guinea Pigs can shill product, how hard can it be?

Mad Men's Pete man-boy character has been churlish and spiteful, a virtual cartoon for five seasons. But he's also been a crucial Mad Men puzzle piece, functionlly delivering the corporate accounts to Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce, and metaphorically illustrating the futility of corporate ladder climbing only to find an empty soul at the top. (And Pete's soul has never been emptier.)

At least Mad Men producer and creator Matthew Weiner gave us the pleasure of having Pete finally getting his comeuppance a couple of times in 2012. First, he got his ass kicked, old-school bare-knuckles style by proper Brit Lane Pryce. And in the season finale last year, he pissed off a commuter train conductor, and was getting thrown off the train:

Conductor: I'm about to throw you off.
Pete: Go ahead, you fat piece of crap.
Conductor: I am an officer of the New Haven line.
Pete: Well, I'm president of the Howdy Doody Circus Army.
Conductor: That's it, you're coming...

And then socko, right in the puss. Again. The finale was, in a sense, the second episode of The Pete Campbell Punch-Out Hour.

But all is well. The Peter Campbell action doll has healed and returned as the perfect spokesmen, now seemingly the star in one of his own corporate campaigns. However, the man-boy has made it only as far as the captain of the kid's round table.

And of course, only as the straight man.

 
 
 
 
 
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3 Comments
 
 
alex
i'm really confused. is AT&T paying you guys for this?
Feb 6, 2013   |  Reply
 
alex
lol. thanks for the reply eric. i do hate this spokesman as much as i hate pete they both seem like slimey dudes.
Feb 7, 2013
 
 
EG
Well Alex...a writer has to get paid somewhere. (But no, AT&T isn't paying anything. As a matter of fact, they didn't even give me a discount on my iphone service this month...)
Feb 6, 2013
 
 
 
alex
i'm really confused. is AT&T paying you guys for this?
Feb 6, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Eileen
You are making me long for Mad Men's return. I can't believe Vincent Kartheiser has yet to win an Emmy; he is definitely tv drama's best second banana bar none. Anyone who can make you want to slug them/hug them in the same hour is really doing some great acting. As irritating as Pete is, and he is plenty irritating, there is always something so sad and lost about him that you find yourself, against your own better judgment, rooting for him. Yes, he's devious, sneaky, cunning, cut-throat, smarmy, but somehow that just adds to his charm! He's Peggy -- if Peggy were a weasel.
Feb 6, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
Eileen -- Quite right; as cunning a weasel as Pete is, it's as convincing as Kartheiser makes him. All of the Mad Men characters are fully fleshed, complex individuals with some really unfortunate downsides –– human, that is. –EG
Feb 6, 2013
 
 
 
 
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