Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I’m Crazy About “Mad Men”

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Don Draper (Jon Hamm)

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a little late to the party. I didn’t realize that the TV series Mad Men even existed until recently. It’s not because I’ve been living under a rock, it’s because I never watch AMC as I don’t get the channel in HD, and also because AMC floods their movies with commercials.

But after watching a few episodes, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably the best real drama that’s come to television in a long time.

The show is set in 1960s New York, and the AMC web site describes it as a “sexy, stylized and provocative AMC drama [that] follows the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising, an ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell.”

The show centers on the lives of the people working at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. One of the main characters, top ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is fighting internal conflict and has a secret past. It seems that while in Korea, he switched his identity with another soldier who was killed. His secret was discovered by his brother, and, after Don rejects him, Don later is told that his brother hung himself. In the meantime, he keeps being a ladies man – despite being married – and has to constantly fight off younger ad men at the firm from knocking him off his throne.

There are more stories besides Don’s. There is plenty of cheating, smoking, drinking, dirty tricks, with some 1960s classic fashion thrown in. Women are treated badly, and some women act badly. It depicts very well the swept-under-the-rug 1960s family values, and it’s NOT Ozzie and Harriet. The show weaves in real 1960s history which adds even more depth to each episode. And with the 1960s being as turbulent as I recall, this can only made for a solid foundation for many stories to come.

What I also enjoy about the show is not just the stories, but it’s the whole look and feel of the 1960s. While I was only a teenager in the 1960s, Mad Men seems to describe the world of the early 60s that kids always heard about, but could never see on television. Those were the years that if even the hint of what happens in Mad Men were to happen in a movie, the movie would be considered “banned” for viewing by any Catholic adult, much less kids. While watching Mad Men, I get the feeling of being a fly on the wall, watching the lives of people as I thought they probably happened, but was never allowed to talk or speculate about as a kid.

Of course, one can’t mention the show without focusing on the fashion. There is something about the classic and clean style of the early 1960s that I’ve always liked, and this series has it down pat. In fact, I find myself wishing some of those styles would come back. Still, I have to laugh at one character that works at the agency, Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), who seems to wear those old style, almost pointy brassieres that lift and separate, in her case, mostly lift. It just looks so 60s that it makes me laugh every time I see her, although I don’t think that is their intent.

So if you haven’t had a reason to watch Mad Men, I suggest you look for any excuse to give it a try. After all, this is the summer doldrums where most shows are in reruns, so what’s the harm in setting your DVR the show to watch it wherever you’re looking to fill an hour? It’s great drama with a fantastic cast. And, as evidenced by the 16 Emmy Nominations the show received, you can’t go wrong, even if you did somehow miss the 1960s.

If you didn’t catch the first season, a link to the AMC site with a video that will bring you up to speed is here.

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