Sponsored by:
Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer DVD Club: "Mad Men"

The ad men of "Mad Men" have sold me.

Three episodes into the show's first season, and I'm beginning to understand why this AMC drama has scooped up 16 Emmy nominations in almost every category possible. The fictional drama, set in the 1960s Madison Avenue advertising world, is gloriously addictive, a retro loveletter to Americana that doesn't seem kitschy or whitewashed in historical hindsight.

First Impressions: I had been warned that the first few episodes are slow going, but the deliberate narrative pace is a welcome change from shows that are obsessed with cramming a character's life story into the first 30 minutes. For example, it takes all of episode one to reveal that Don Draper -- the womanizing creative director of the Sterling Cooper Agency played by Jon Hamm -- is married with two children. Sure, it seems like cheating to hold back a crucial detail, but you can't deny, it's a neat gotcha moment.

Mad (Wo)men: The show is called "Mad Men." Sexism flows as easily into the dialogue like whisky and old-fashioneds do in the corner offices of the Sterling Cooper agency. Despite the gratuitous (but enjoyable) scenes with Hamm shirtless and doing push-ups on the floor of his bedroom, it's the three lead women that I am fascinated by. They could easily have been caricatures -- the desperate housewife (Betty Draper as played by January Jones), the naive young secretary (Peggy Olson as played by Elisabeth Moss) and the voluptuous office hen Joan (Christina Hendricks) -- but thanks to great scriptwriting and good acting, they're more than just stereotypes. It's no wonder that Draper wonders out-loud during an episode, "what do women want?" It'd be miracle if he -- or any other guy on that show -- ever answers that question with these three women around.

What I Like: It would have been only too easy to gloss over the ugly details of 1960s America. Instead, the open sexism and blatant anti-Semetism displayed in the show (which comes off as harsh to our modern ears) is realistic by most accounts. Take for instance when a Jewish department store owner visits with the agency and boss Roger Sterling (John Slattery) questions Draper, "Have we ever hired any Jews?" Draper's answer is quick: "Not on my watch," adding "You want me to run down to the deli and grab somebody?" Sure, vaguely funny today if you're a member of the Aryan Nation, but acceptable behavior by most people during that time.

Then there's the obvious detail to the accuracy in music, decor and clothing that's making me vagely nostalgic for an era I wasn't even alive for. If the show continues to be successful, I predict a resurgence of pencil skirts and pointy bras.

What I'm looking forward to: I am clearly digging what I can sense is some mystery about Draper's past -- especially his military service. Then there's the will-they-won't-they-do-they flirtation between Peggy and newly married junior exeuctive Pete Campbell, a Draper-in-the-making, that has salacious fun written all over it.

Any other "Mad Men" fans want to share their first impressions of the show? Comment below or email me.

The first season of "Mad Men" is out on DVD. Season 2 episodes air on AMC at 9 p.m. on Sundays.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home