Make it simple, but significant” – Don Draper…wise words – but has AMC’s Mad Men taken their own advice? Perhaps not, it’s doesn’t take much arguing to convince audiences that no matter how significant the story line, Mad Men is ANYTHING but simple.
Note: the following review was published when
Mad Men ( 2007 – 2015, created by Matthew Weiner)
was still in production. The series premiered on
July 19, 2007, on the cable network AMC.
After seven seasons and 92 episodes,
Mad Men’s final episode aired on 05/17/15.
“ Maybe hypocrisy in this case is a recipe for success. The world waited with bated breath for the show’s final season that premiered on April 5th 2015. But before we jump to the end of the story, we have to stop and remember the incredible beginning of Mad Men.
This show was AMC’s first original scripted drama – yeah – first. Which means, if this had tanked we may not have the other gems AMC has given us like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. So first let’s be thankful for that! Second, the network knew if they were going to start airing scripted content, it had to be captivating, infectious, and irrevocably addicting.
Yet rather than creating something outlandish, AMC decided to take it back – to 1960 to be exact. Mad Men offers the glamor of classic movies combined with the turmoil of the sixties. The gentlemen adorned with ties and brief cases, the ladies in cocktail dresses and pearls (where have the good times gone!!??). In a world consumed with images our eyes simply can’t help but overdose on the lovely fashion and décor of this show. To turn this into a perfectly set stage all we need are characters who are just as perfect. But what we get is even better – to contrast the beautiful surroundings with characters who are tainted, selfish, and tragically flawed. That is why this script is fascinating. It continuously upsets you, not because it’s bad or sloppy, but because Matt Weiner wants us to be upset. He has, in fact, ingeniously created a show that goads the viewer into alternately loathing and loving the right characters at the right time – and sometimes even feeling both emotions at the same time.
The show’s main character, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), is a charismatic “ad man” on posh Madison Avenue. Everything about him, including his office, tailored suit, drop dead gorgeous arm candy – even his drink order – reeks of manufactured idealism. But hey, we can’t all be perfect, right? Neither can Don, so he just chooses to look like he is. As the show moves forward, we see Don’s layers stripped away to reveal his compromising truth. We’re given something better than the discovery of his secrets, and that is a chance to sit back and watch him struggle to control them. Don is his own worst enemy. He concocts antagonistic forces which come to fruition due to causes of his own making. Most of all, Don is selfish and will use people to fill an inner void hollowed out by his own lies. But – that charm, that smile – you’ve just gotta love him.
But enough about Don, just as important are the ladies of Mad Men. Every female character is luscious – a sweet decadence that surrounds Don at any given moment. These women are no shrinking violets. They are not at all lacking in life force, and in that way are not quite the quietly suffering doormats that we often associate with mid-20th century American womanhood. They could, in fact, be placed in a modern day setting and still remain relevant. These characters have shown me that not much has changed for women – at all (speaking from personal experience). From the way we are treated in the office, to the way we are treated by our husbands/lovers, it seems the glass ceiling is still just as heavy.
First, we have Betty (January Jones) Don’s ex-wife. This blonde ex-debutante is ruled by vanity rather than a strong sense of family duty. Betty struggles with being the “perfect mother of the perfect children,” which contributes to her constant unhappiness. Despite how mean she can be, you can’t help but feel a little bad for her. Second we have Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Don’s secretary-turned-creative- copy-writer. At the beginning of the series we see Peggy as a very quiet and almost bitter woman. Rather than conform to the styles and flirtatious manner of the other women in the office, Peggy is determined to beat the men at their own game. She doesn’t pull any punches, and always plays by their rules. This leaves Peggy feeling alone, unable to wholly relate to either her male or female co-workers.
Third we have Joan (Christina Hendricks) head of personnel turned partner at the agency. Joan is a savvy red head with Marilyn Monroe’s body and Irene Adler’s strategy. Admired for her looks, Joan doesn’t always let on about her true capabilities. However distasteful the office climate is for a woman, Joan chooses to navigate it by coddling the men around her. With cynicism as her guide, Joan’s attention to detail ensures her extracurricular activities are never public knowledge. This keeps her in everyone’s good graces. And last but not least we have Megan (Jessica Pare), Don’s secretary turned current wife. Megan is vivacious and happy. She’s a passionate actress who truly loves Don. The struggle comes when she can no longer give up her own happiness to make Don happy. As her story unfolds we see Megan’s spark dull and her lust for life diminish ever time Don neglects her.
After learning about all these characters, the show just sounds like a hot mess. Yet it really isn’t. The show is timed and patient. It is the chaotic sound of a magnificently conducted orchestra. Yeah, it’s drama on top of more drama. But it’s good…so insatiably good.