Amy and I have just caught ourselves up with Mad Men, the AMC series centered around a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the early 1960s. We watched Season 1 and Season 2 on DVD via Netflix. Season 3 premieres Sunday, August 16 at 9 p.m. Central.
Tomorrow (Monday, August 10), AMC is running a Season 2 marathon from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central — all 13 episodes. AMC is Channel 59 on Time Warner Cable in Racine and Kenosha.
We may be late to the party, but we’re finally big fans. It’s going to be difficult now that we can’t just watch a fresh episode or two whenever we want.
Mad Men stars Jon Hamm as Don Draper, a advertising executive at Sterling Cooper with a secret past, and the breathtaking January Jones (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) as his pent-up wife Betty. Elisabeth Moss is outstanding as secretary and copy writer Peggy Olson and Vincent Kartheiser is very interesting as account executive Pete Campbell — who, for some reason, occasionally reminds me of the peculiar John Hodgman.
This ad agency drama is not quite the TV masterpiece that Deadwood and The Sopranos were, but it’s in the neighborhood. The cast is strong, the writing frequently sparkles, and the production is beautiful. Some of the plot lines concerning marital infidelity and family squabbles do cross over into soap opera territory at times, and the insatiable boozing and smoking can look almost comical, but overall the world of Mad Men is intriguing in a way that makes you ponder it long after an episode has ended.
Two of the best things about this series are its sets and its wardrobe. Mad Men is loaded with Mid-Century modern furniture and clothing of that period, and in higher definition some of the vintage textures and patterns are really amazing.
The dialogue, unfortunately, does not always match. It’s incredibly difficult to authentically recreate the expressions and spoken rhythms of days gone by, and the Mad Men characters frequently use phrases and figures of speech which do not belong to 1960 or ’63. Also, there is virtually no New York City flavor at all.
Rather than faithful realism, the show’s atmosphere is more like reverie or an old memory. Wholesomeness of homes and families is exaggerated in an almost Dick and Jane style, with the completely unnatural Draper kids Sally and Bobby seeming to parody those characters. Plot developments shift, cross-fade, or trail off, and attention sometimes fixates on certain objects — like the book Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara, or the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck (of which “The Sun” also doubles as Matthew Weiner‘s production logo.) The laconic relationship between Betty and an odd neighborhood kid is downright eerie in an almost David Lynch way.
Apart from its dreamy style, the substance that makes Mad Men such worthwhile television is the moral conflict confronting all of the characters. Philandering, office politics, suburbia, peer pressure, family meddling, business ethics, the creative process, gender issues, and the art of selling all combine to make for some very challenging situations. The development of the Peggy Olson character in particular has been absolutely inspired.
If you haven’t seen Mad Men yet, you still have a week to get up to speed — and AMC’s marathon tomorrow could fill in half of the pieces for you.