I’ve been slow to embrace Mad Men, AMC’s drama about ad executives in the early 60s, but I think I’m ready now. I loved the scene in last night’s episode where anti-protagonist Don Draper drains his beer and casually hurls the non-recyclable can across the park. And seconds later, when his wife Betty cleans up the family picnic by simply lifting the blanket and letting the litter tumble to the grass. In a couple of minutes, that scene captured the spirit of the age better than 40 pages of dialogue: it was the American way to use it up and move on, preferably in a ’62 Coupe De Ville.
For me, the charm of this series is not the stories so much as the period detail. I was around 10 years old when people were driving cars the size of PT boats and tossing their trash out the window, but I vividly remember it was a time when that sort of thing was acceptable. I remember when every adult worthy of the title smoked a pack a day, when those Maidenform bra commercials were so titillating and when Rubenesque women like Joan Holloway were the feminine ideal. I don’t know if they still make Vitalis or Brylcreem anymore, but checking out the gleaming men’s hairstyles on the show, you can see why it was the stock to own in 1962.
The writing is good too, although I don’t get a sense that these are stories heading anywhere in particular. Mostly this show is a series of sharp character studies, placing timeless archetypes in a setting that is both much more and much less forgiving than the world we know today. I laugh at the rampant sexism on the show, even while I cringe.
The Sopranos and The Wire have moved on to that big DVR in the sky, but for me, Mad Men looks like a worthy successor. Anybody else love this show, or hate it? Let’s discuss.