Mad Men is set at the turn of the 1960s at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency in New York City. According to the show’s pilot, the phrase “Mad Men” was a slang term coined in the 1950s by advertisers working on Madison Avenue to refer to themselves. The focal point of the series is Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the people in his life, both in and out of the office.
There are two things which strike you whilst watching the first season of Mad Men (first aired in 2007). Firstly, it is one of the most beautiful TV series ever put into production. The second, it is very slow. So slow in fact that by the halfway mark I was wondering when things would ‘kick-in’ as it were.
However, before you know it the characters and the seemingly small plot arcs seep into your consciousness, ensnaring you in the life and times of Don Draper, one of the coolest characters in recent TV history.
Many people had told me that Mad Men was/is as good as The Sopranos. Not true… well so far. Ofcourse, writer and creator Matthew Weiner had previously worked on the David Chase classic, and having watched Mad Men grow you can see the character development is just as good. The stories grow organically, the writing is smart and believable while the attention to detail for a drama set in the early 1960s is second to none.
The aformentioned Don Draper is a man who has it all. The perfect job, stunningful beautiful wife, gorgeous home and two perfectly charming and well-behaved children. The problem is, it’s just not enough for our lead character. Here is a man who says very little, except when pitching advertising copy to clients, constantly drinks and smokes, and womanises his way into as many women’s knickers as he can.
There’s an obvious backstory that explains Don’s behaviour but it takes a while for us to get even a hint of what this could be. When we finally get some sort of reveal you can perhaps understand how, underneath this perfect persona, Draper is not the perfect man.
You can tell he wants to be a perfect husband and father but whatever issues he has have been left to simmer over the years. While his wife Betty (played by the stunningful beautiful January Jones) attends therapy it is perhaps more appropriate that Draper should be attending sessions too. But I suppose it all adds to the growing tension and relationship angst felt by both parties as the season reaches its climax.
The supporting characters are quite a diverse bunch with equally interesting flaws. From the arrogant but deeply immature Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) to sexy office boss Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) who turns heads wherever she strolls, the ensemble cast provide a real sense of depth to the show as Weiner immerses us in their very closeted environment.
Mad Men is definitely a grower but a slow one at that. A character piece which has rarely been attempted before on television it takes patience to become immersed in this vividly beautiful but flawed world but once you do you’ll be rewarded.
I for one am looking forward to season 2, not so much to find out what happens following season one’s cliffhanger (there isn’t one) but to see how Don and Betty’s relationship inevitably changes over the coming episodes and how the look of the series develops as we move further into the 1960s. Perhaps the pace will pick up as well.
3.5 nerds out of 5