Oh sure, the AMC series “Mad Men,” set in the lavish world of a 1960’s advertising agency, may have wowed “real” critics and Emmy voters alike, but who cares? What I think most of you want to know is, does it meet the ever-so-high standards of us, the amateur hacks of Everyview?
“Mad Men” centers around the lives of the workers of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency at the beginning of the 1960’s. The central character of focus is a mysterious, and spine-shatteringly cool executive named Don Draper. Season One ended with Don dealing with a struggling marriage, as well as the suicide of his estranged brother; a suicide he is very much responsible for.
The biggest jaw-dropper of the season came via the revelation that Peggy, a fast-rising female copy writer, wasn’t simply gaining weight due to occupational stress, but rather because she was pregnant with the child of her adulterous office lover Pete. I know it sounds dumb, but anyone who says they weren’t surprised by this occurrence is lying.
“Mad Men” is a difficult show to review. Aside from giving solid screen time to literally dozens of characters, there’s also the depiction of a vastly different society in behavior, especially in terms of gender roles. So without getting into all that, I will just said it is easily one of the crowning achievements of the current crop of television programs.
The look of the show is extraordinary. From the art direction to the costume design, the show has the look of a colorized version of a black-and-white movie from the time it’s depicting.
As I mentioned above, literally dozens of characters are given a good amount of screen time, and getting the casting right must have been excruciating. Well, whoever was in charge deserves great praise, because there isn’t a bad performance to be found. If I praised everyone who deserved it, the already arduous task of reading this review would take weeks, so I will name just a few.
I was thoroughly impressed with January Jones, as Don’s embattled wife, Betty. This I think is one of the shows most complex characters, as Betty has to be phonily subservient, while keeping her frustrations inward, as letting them slip wouldn’t be very “lady like.” There is a great and awkward scene where Betty, while preparing for a dinner party, takes a chair with a short leg and smashes it to pieces. Even here, in a scene of great frustration, Betty smashes the chair in a surprisingly restrained fashion, as an emotional explosion would look bad in front of her kids. I truly believe Jones’ performance to be the best given by any female on TV right now, and for her to be on a sh0w that received 16 Emmy nominations, and not earn one of her own is disappointing omission.
Of course, no matter how interesting the supporting characters are, if your lead actor isn’t good, the show suffers. Luckily, Jon Hamm is more than up to the task of playing the enigmatic Draper. Draper (or Dick Whitman if you will) is the absolute personification of cool, and this has helped him get away with various misdoings, such as various acts of marital infidelity, as well as living with a secret identity. By the end of this season though, all the various demons that surround him are becoming more difficult to hide, and it was good to see Hamm expand his performance accordingly, as a man used to getting everything he wants is now starting to see the facade he’s created crumble.
As far as the shows writing, it’s loaded with great subtle plot twists and very crisp dialogue. It’s also a testament to series creator Matthew Weiner (FANTASTIC name) and his staff that they can introduce so many different stories for so many different characters, and never once do we feel bored. Aside from a silly scene where a gay man shows Maggie how to “be a more modern woman” there was not one moment of the season that was boring. An especially noteworthy accomplishment, seeing as how the show is almost entirely devoid of anything you would call action.
Also of note, the show is very meticulous in how it goes about advancing major plot points. If most shows went about handling cliffhanger moments like this show, every television that every transmitted the show into the homes of its fans would be smashed to pieces. And yet, I never felt antsy while waiting for major plot lines (details of Don/Dick’s past, Peggy telling Pete about the baby) unfold (though watching on DVD as opposed to having to wait a week for the next televised episode no doubt makes this easier).
By seasons end, both of these matters, plus others like the Draper’s marital woes and a merger at Sterling Cooper are handled not in a major way, but rather with the same understated brilliance that has made the show so endearing thus far.
If I were to lobby one complaint against the series, it would be that I’ve grown to hate its theme song. It’s not a bad piece of music, but there’s a real piercing quality to it that I think could drive a person to murder if they were forced to listen to it for long stretches of time. If every someone wanted to create an audio induced torture similar to the needle in the eyes scene of “A Clockwork Orange” this would be a great song to do it with.
Doing a condensed review of “Mad Men” is a very difficult task (hence all the rambling above), becasue there are so many issues to tackle. Sexism, ego and success at the expense of others are just a few of the in-depth subjects one could tackle when reviewing this show. All that aside, there’s really only one reason to watch it:
It’s very, very good.
I used to insult the AMC network because saying you show “American Movie Classics” is an embarrassingly false claim for a network that airs “Lake Placid” three times a day. Well, with this show and the great “Breaking Bad” they are well on their way to establishing themselves as a major player in television. “Mad Men” is sharp entertainment, and I give it a very high recommendation.
- Well acted
- Well written
- Well paced
- Looks amazing
- Theme song could drive one to kill
Final Score: 8.5/10
The Season Two DVD is in stores now. Season Three premiers Sunday, August 16, at 10 p.m. on AMC.