August 10, 2011

MAD MEN review

When I first heard of the series Mad Men, I assumed it was an overly hyped show about pompous ad executives sitting around drinking, smoking talking about clients, with an over-emphasis on making the series super sleek, clean and stylish, with boring plots, stiff acting and very slow story development.

Man was I ever wrong...
The characters are multi-layers, the plots are intriguing and engaging, the sets, costumes and cinematography are top notch, and the casting and acting are tremendous. For some damn reason, I thought for sure this would be a boring show about boring people, I couldn't understand what all the hype was about. I'm hear to tell you it's well deserving of all the praise, it has shattered my expectations, I watched all four seasons within a month.


The show is set in the 1960s, initially at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City, and later at the newly created firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The focal point of the series is Don Draper (Jon Hamm), creative director at Sterling Cooper and a founding partner at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, as well as those in his life, both in and out of the office. As such, it regularly depicts the changing moods and social mores of 1960s America.


Mad Men has received critical acclaim, particularly for its historical authenticity and visual style, and has won multiple awards, including thirteen Emmys and four Golden Globes. It is the first basic cable series to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, winning it in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

I was constantly fascinated with the progression of the characters the gradual reveal of their individual back stories. With hilarious and realistic characters introduced portrayed, and the furniture, cars, sets, costumes, colors and lighting of the whole thing just transports you back to early 60s New York, just as Deadwood transported you back to 1880s small town western U.S.A.

The character development and the method in which they structure their story arcs are particularly unique. Somehow they make the characters evolve and yet stay the same. They turn seemingly boring content into compelling writing for the actors feed off of.

Most notably, in the concluding episode of Mad Men’s Season One, Don Draper (John Hamm) begins to realize the tragic consequences his actions have had on those he loves. This resolution, or change, comes with his successful pitch to the suits from their new client, Kodak:
"This device isn’t a spaceship; it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved."
He’s speaking of Kodak’s new gadget, but we know he is really speaking about himself. The problem of his philandering and self-centered approach has been solved, but only with a great emotional cost. Don returns home triumphant – only to find his house empty, his heart denied the usual emotional catharsis that comes when a problem is solved. Combining a change of heart with the crush of emotional turmoil contributes to the honesty and sincerity many point to as strengths of the show’s writing.

This first season of Mad Men is the exception to the rule that change (in character development) equals happiness. More often than not, the resolution of a Main Character’s problem comes with a greater peace of mind, a release of personal angst. Concepts like these and many others are explored as main characters in the series go through lots of personal denial and self-discovery and it leads to some compelling storytelling.

The first two seasons were my favorite, not that the following two weren't spectacular, new characters are introduced, old ones leave, characters evolve, sometimes in unexpected directions that some may find unsatisfactory,. However, as whole, the series is of the highest quality.  Not to mention the ever growing mystery surrounding the lead characters hidden past... it sounds chessy, but trust me, it's crazy and enigmatic. I highly recommend this series.

"Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay."   -Don Draper

1 comment:

Graeme said...

It's top notch, no doubt. I particularly enjoy the arc revealing Don's origin, the Pete Campbell confrontation, and Don's brother (that one was a real heartbreaker).

I still think it's the odd's on favorite for the Emmy this year, though I'm pulling for Game of Thrones (or failing that, Boardwalk Empire).