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Pop Culture Happy Hour: For 'Mad Men' And Letterman, A Week Of Goodbyes

A drawing of two clinking martini glasses.

This week's taping presented us with a few conundrums: Host Linda Holmes had already begun her vacation, while I know jack-all about the seven accumulated seasons of Mad Men, whose finale we were duty-bound to discuss. Our solution involved a pair of our most beloved guest panelists — Gene Demby and, from a studio in L.A., Barrie Hardymon — and a brief interregnum in poor Linda's vacation. (I stayed home and ate snacks.)

Linda, Barrie, Glen Weldon and Gene all had much to say about Mad Men's finale — most of it spoiler-filled, so be warned! — and the individual endings for Don, Joan, Betty, Peggy, Stan, Sally, Henry, Harry, Pete and Trudy. Along the way, they touch on the authenticity (or lack thereof) of Don Draper's personal journeys, defend the acting of January Jones, and debate how well the finale handled both its rom-com subplot and its much-discussed final epiphany.

Then, the gang moves on to a far-reaching discussion of David Letterman's retirement after 33 years on late-night television: Subtopics include the great Merrill Markoe, Letterman's weird daytime show, absurdism as an alternative to phony sentimentality, the difference between performing at 11:30 and 12:30, vinegariness vs. cheer, Letterman's Warren Zevon interview, controversies surrounding the host's interactions with female staffers, Larry "Bud" Melman, Rupert Gee, favorite jokes across history, the possibilities for Stephen Colbert in Letterman's spot, and the future of late-night in a world of viral video. (Also mentioned: a notable Amy Schumer bit, this Merrill Markoe interview on Julie Klausner's podcast, a Norm Macdonald encomium, and weird appearances by Brother Theodore.)

Finally, we close, as always, with What's Making Us Happy this week. Barrie, after shouting out Southern Charm and The Real Housewives Of New York City, praises this book. Gene is smitten with a 2009 film, newly released, by a great Iranian director. Glen is excited about a much-discussed CBS trailer, as well as a far less-discussed episode of Bionic Woman. And Linda, after praising the season finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, lists off the Murderer's Row that is her lineup of movies already watched on vacation.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)