Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mad Men

Earlier this summer, on a blog, somebody mentioned that Mad Men was a great show. At that point I had not even heard of it. It seemed like a good tip. My wife and I picked up Season 1 and ended up watching all the episodes within a few days. Soon afterwards Season 2 started and we watched every Sunday night. The season finale was a bit more than a month ago. So if you haven’t watched it yet, I hope to spread the word to you.

Much has been written about the show and it won eight Emmy’s this year. It centers around the lives of people working at an early 1960’s Madison Avenue advertising agency. They drink, they smoke, they sexually harass. Political correctness did not yet exist. The baby boomer left wing movement had not come about. America, during the late Eisenhower, and early Kennedy administrations was at its zenith of power.

I doubt there’s a guy out there who doesn’t wish they could spend some time in that era. A meeting with the boss doesn’t start until he hands you a scotch in a rock glass as you’re lighting up a Lucky Strike.

I'm not going to do an overview but want to write about some aspects of the show. (And don’t worry I won’t give plot spoilers.)

Don Draper, played by actor Jon Hamm (seen above) is the main character. He is the head of the creative department of ad agency Sterling Cooper. Draper is a throw-back; serious, deep voiced, square jawed, spare with his words. Like Gregory Peck (I can’t help but think of Peck in The Man with the Grey Flannel Suit). No modern day, sissy, metro-sexual here. In an interview with NPR,(click here, for your listening pleasure) Mad Men Creator and Executive Producer, Matt Weiner explains that they knew Hamm had an old fashion quality that didn’t go over very well these days. He was the type you’d cast as the boring tennis pro, as a foil to the livelier quirky guy like Adam Sandler. However, this made him perfect to be Don Draper.

Draper comes up with some brilliant angles for commercials. One account was Heineken Beer. The brewery was worried because it was Dutch beer and thought regular Americans would reject it. Draper realizes that the very fact that it is European will make it appealing to upscale consumers who want to appear classy and worldly. (Beer in general, particualrly domestic was considered vulgar and low class.) He tests his theory by strategically displaying the Heineken in the foreign foods section of some select upscale markets, including his own neighborhood in Ossining, NY. Unwittingly, his wife Betty buys some Heineken for an ‘around-the-world’ themed dinner party she puts on, showing it off to guests as “fine beer from Holland.” (I think how true, even today. In Europe Heineken is a common, cheapy beer. In North America it is considered upscale).

Betty is a housewife in the 50’s mold. She smokes cigarettes in front of the kids. Once Don and Betty were having a family picnic at a nice green park. When it was time to go home, Don tosses his empty beer can and Betty cheerfully shakes off the blanket full of rappers and packaging onto the grass. It’s a wink to the modern audience, where not recycling and littering is viewed as a crime akin to murder.

The domestic front can drag a little. Betty is a former model, who never quite made it to the big time and is bored of being a housewife. She has an insincere fake smile and Don is tired of her. (He makes up for it by spending a lot of time in Manhattan sleeping around.)

I prefer the action at the office. Silver-haired partner Roger Sterling is the old school boss. He’s rich, drinks and smokes, sleeps around with the better looking secretaries, and he’s racist. He’s still my favorite character and always has the best one-liners. (see comment section in Quote of the Day)

Mad Men exploits the style of the times. The suits with thin ties, the fedoras and Brylcreem. Fantastic shots, featuring the art-deco style of the Manhattan bars and restaurants. (I cringe thinking of Vancouver office workers with requisite golf shirt and kakis, drinking coffee at Starbuck's or Artigiano's.)

Character Joan Holloway, played by actress Christina Hendricks, is giving the modern audience an appreciation of womanly curves, the syle back then. She caused a sensation with the dress she was wearing at the Emmy’s this year. Hopefully Hollywood will re-think the anorexic waif look in actresses that it prefers these days.

I love how they can invoke the time and place. Rat-Pack humor was popular back in the early 60’s. People flocked to Vegas to see Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the gang’s stage act. This involved getting drunk, making obnoxious personal cracks about people’s appearances and ogling broads. In this spirit, Sterling Cooper hire the hilarious 'Don Rickles-like' insult comedian Jimmy Barrett to do a television commercial. Jimmy’s style of humor doesn’t go down well with the old money wasps whose company hired them. Painfully funny to watch.

It seems that for the last decade the only dramas worth watching are on cable. The shows that I actually looked forward to and watched religiously were HBO’s Band of Brothers, Sopranos, and Rome and now AMC’s Mad Men. Regular commercial television is so universally awful, I don’t think I can name a single network show that I watch.

Mad Men can be a somewhat of a soap opera but I look forward to Season 3. I'm not sure when that is going to arrive either, because AMC might not be able to afford to renew it.


  1. Add Deadwood to the list of amazing cable shows.

  2. I miss drama! And I don't get AMC. So the best dramatic show that I watch now is The Good Wife. I really enjoy it.