I was late to the party for MAD MEN, but I’m having fun with it, having just finished season 2. The show at times feels a bit like a soap opera, but overall I’m enjoying this depiction of the birth of advertising and the joys and sorrows of life in the early ’60s.
The show follows Don Draper (the fantastic Jon Hamm), a handsome, confident advertising whiz who works at a prestigious New York advertising agency. He’s the perfect man with the perfect wife, kids, and house in the suburbs. Other characters include his wife, who is suffering from boredom and angst about her security, and various people working at the agency. They live in the early 60s, a relatively utopian era of social order and prosperity, but everything is not as nice as it seems.
I love how the show presents the era from the viewpoint of its conventional wisdom, that everything is perfect, nobody should protest or rock the boat, homosexuality is demonized, women have no real security without men, women take care of house and kids but men call the shots, kids are largely ignored yet expected to behave perfectly, and that real men drink hard, fool around on their wives, compete with each other in an endless alpha male game, and otherwise rule their world. Everybody in the show seems happy with the way things are, not knowing any different; most of the characters are likeable but heavily flawed right to the edge of being detestable, and yet a product of their time. The show then presents the consequences of this society’s norms, letting the viewer judge the era for themselves.
The writing has a good pace with some nice if on-the-nose symbolism, the sets and costumes appear rendered in the era’s technicolor, the acting is strong, and the dialogue is witty. Besides the social commentary–not social commentary, really, but the invitation to the viewer for such–my favorite aspect of the show is seeing the birth of advertising. America enjoyed a healthy middle class at the time, people with money to spend and wanting to have it all, and corporations and their ad agencies delivered not only by providing products and new marvel gadgets, but by defining what a perfect life looked like. Besides an excellent summary of the principles of marketing, the show also presents fantastic commentary about the art of business. Even here, the show presents the consequences of this consumer utopia, showing people gaining a perfect life only to continue aging, feel empty, and suffer the malaise and uncertainty of midlife crisis.
Overall, I’m enjoying MAD MEN as an excellent period drama that captures the zeitgeist of the era, and look forward to continuing on to the next season. However, I don’t recommend it if you’re quitting smoking.