“Mad Men” (2007)

Before I get to struggling with a review, let me start by saying it’s brilliant.

I can’t believe that I sat on the 13 episodes of the first season as long as I did. Actually, I can — my estimation of AMC as a broadcast network is so low, that yes, I’d second-guess anything that they’d broadcast after 20 years of PG-edited, non-Turner ‘American Movie Classics’ — (‘ Quigley Down Under ‘, anyone?) — that we’ve enjoyed with commercial interruption for the past 5 years.

Somehow, AMC come into the epic bildungsroman that is ‘Mad Men’.

‘Mad Men’ is the story of Dan Draper (Jon Hamm), the creative director at Sterling-Cooper, a mid-level advertising firm on Madison Avenue, c. 1960. Draper is a successful man, keeping an office full of young turks from staking out his corner office, even while he holds down a picture-perfect family in Ossining and alternate in-town mistresses. He is also veteran of the Korean War and a man with a past, apparently risen from his dust-bowl roots by luck and willpower alone. As the show goes on, it peels away at Draper’s history even as it reveals the dynamic of his workplace, his co-workers, clients and other firms that would like to lure him over from Sterling-Cooper.

Now, I haven’t read any other reviews of this show — haven’t been curious until just now — but ‘Mad Men’ is the quintissential American story that The Sopranos was marketed as for so many years. But not all Americans are Italian, nor are all Italians involved with organized crime. David Chase’s 6 season, 8 year show was ultimately an homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s twisted metaphor for American manifest destiny, but again, most American are neither Italian, nor mafiosi.

Given the scope of both shows, it should be of no surprise that Weiner worked on The Sopranos for 3 years as both a writer and producer. What sets Weiner’s show apart from Chase’s is that ‘Mad Men’ takes place at the beginning of our modern era, when America’s white-collar professionals were still coming into their own.

As head writer and show-runner for ‘Mad Men’, Weiner uses the tropes of one genre as the set-piece of another. On one hand, the sunny rooms of suburban households were the setting for light comedies — “I Love Lucy”, “The Donna Reed Show”, and “Leave It to Beaver” – while the workplace portions of the show play like the filmization of some dog-eat-dog Ayn Rand novel. In general, the show feels like a serialized Douglas Sirk film — ‘Written on the Wind’(1956) or ‘Imitation of Life’ (1959) — brightly-lit set-pieces, full of crisp technicolor, an extraordinary accomplishment in terms of art direction, musical choices and period costume design.

But ‘Mad Men’ isn’t a racial melodrama as much as it speaks to the nascent sexism, racism, classism and antisemitism of the period.

As a show, Mad Men ‘s 1960 is a strange rear-view mirror to look upon a now-alternate Rat-Pack reality where America is once again in ascendancy, three-martini lunches are common, cigarettes mandatory, marital infidelity a contagion and John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism was a scandal compared to Nixon’s apparent corn-fed integrity.

“Mad Men” is especially interest in in 2008, given the forces that would like to see America return to a simpler, more ‘conservative’ time. It may be on AMC, but it sure as hell looks like HBO, especially if you’re watching it on DVD.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

“Mad Men” airs on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. EST/9p.m. Central. Season 2 started on July 27, 2008. Episodes are available on numerous OnDemand cable services and via iTunes .

An amazing scene from the Season 1 finale, just to whet your appetite:

One Response to ““Mad Men” (2007)”

  1. I’ve been watchin” it with wide eyed wonder. Love the hyper-real “snapshot “of that moment in history… played with no apologies for the wrongness of it all….

    And though the substance is scary in its believable bigotry, and blatant mass media manipulations, I can’t deny that I am really diggin’ the style. I LOVE the clothes, furnishings etc… So sue me….*


    p.s. For Musical self-mockery on the very same topic, time and place, watch “How to Suceed in Business Without Really Trying”.
    Also from the very same period, different Musical. Can you I.D. “Sue Me”? ;-)

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