Why You Should Watch... Mad Men

Category: , , By Rev/Views

Mad Men:
- a term used to describe the advertising executives of Maddison Avenue New York. They coined it themselves.

Jon Hamm as Donald Draper
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson
Vincent Kartheiser as Peter Campbell
January Jones as Betty Draper
Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway
Bryan Batt as Salvatore Romano
Michael Gladis as Paul Kinsely
Aaron Staton as Ken Cosgrove
and Rich Sommer as Harry Crane

In 2000 Matthew Weiner wrote up a spec script pilot for a show called Mad Men. In 2002; after reading the script David Chase hired Matthew to write for The Sopranos and that could have been the end of it right there. The script was set aside and largely forgotten about until the final season of The Sopranos - the network AMC expressed an interest in it and so began a new chapter in televisual history.

There are several different layers of shows in media, they range from the lowest level (reality TV shows) upwards and branch out into different genres, but there are only a few shows that achieve something special. It's speculated that we stand on the cusp of "The New Renaissance" a time of culture that would rival and maybe even exceed the original renaissance, the height of Greek civilisation and the Roman Empire. It's clear that if this is going to happen the media and the Internet will be involved somehow - but for the most part the media industry is involved in prehistoric caveman battles against the changing tide of demand and churning out the next phone voting easy fix mass audience gormfest; while the Internet is busy trolling each other, posting pictures of cats with amusing text and answering multiple choice questions in quizzes that profess to tell them "What member of Desperate Housewives they are most like."

But every once in a while a show arrives that stands so tall above the rest that it's clear an evolution in the media is possible. These are landmark shows that change the rules previously accepted, shows that are often considered to be high risk or unconventional. Seinfeld changed the face of the sitcom, Six Feet Under brought us the beauty and spectacle of death contrasted with the joy of living, The Shield and The Sopranos revealed that shows did not have to be about good people, Homicide changed and challenged the convention of the police procedural, Arrested Development carved a brave new area of comedy that still hasn't been equalled, Firefly broke so many boundaries that it's still "before it's time" and The Wire revealed just how deep and real drama could become if the networks woke up.

Well, you can now add Mad Men to that list of landmark shows.

Starting in 1960; during a time where Nixon and Kennedy faced off for the presidency and when cigarette smoking was just beginning to be bad for you, Mad Men gives us the world before the swinging sixties hit. A time when men were still groomed, gentile and completely misogynistic; while women still struggled to find their new role in society, accepted in the work place yet not. The show is based around Maddison Avenue in New York, specifically the show is concerned with the goings on in the advertising company Sterling Cooper and in particular with the life of one Donald Draper, a creative director at the company.

Don is a man who's life is shrouded in a fog of his own devising. He's a brilliant creative director and capable of some truly magnificent ideas, but beyond what he does there is little to know about him. Even his wife Betty is largely in the dark with regards to both Don's past and his current actions. Don's brilliance is clear for all to see, but his failings are also many and largely held in darkness. In work he is a superb and talented executive, probably the finest at the company - but his home life is deeply flawed and dissatisfying for him.

The other core characters for the show include Don's beautiful wife Betty - who has everything she could want, or at least everything convention tells her she should want - but she still feels empty and lost inside. Don's new secretary Peggy Olson; who joins the company in the first episode and shows some talent as time progresses. Joan Holloway; the office manager and head of the secretarial pool, Joan takes Peggy under her wing and mentors her - sometimes well, sometimes badly. And Peter Campbell, a young and ambitious executive at Sterling Cooper with ideas above his station and ability - he provides a large amount of the antagonistic conflict for Don in work.

In appearance and authenticity Mad Men could be easily described as a period piece, the show is beautifully shot and is incredibly authentic in appearance, costume, dialog and characterisations. It manages to effortlessly bring back the spirit of the times - things that were a part of that time are not glorified or hidden away. Cigarette smoking, drinking, misogynist attitudes, adultery, racial bias and sexist actions are all present without any apologetic attempts to politically correct them or explain that they were wrong - there is no pandering/patronising the audience here. It's a blistering portrayal of how far people have come since those times, while also echoing how far we still have left to go... The show is also able to make use of known history to tie events solidly into reality, allowing characters to react to huge events in advertising and even be involved in some of them directly. It also references the gradual change in attitudes and lifestyles as it progresses.

Mad Men is one of the great shows of our time, it's a fantastic example of everything that's good about television. It'll captivate you from the very first episode and sweep you along in it's wake, the show's second season aired this year and the first season was recently released on DVD. This makes it an ideal time to get into this show, you won't regret the decision either. It's just sublime genius.

And if these words are not enough to convince you to try this wonderful show maybe the fantastic title credits will:


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