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Mad Men - a slick, smart 60s drama
Mad Men - Season One (DVD)
Member Name: jesperado
Mad Men - Season One (DVD)
Advantages: Great performances, interesting setting, excellent period detail
Disadvantages: Slow to get going but worth the wait
I decided to watch Mad Men after a number of friends recommended it to me. I had seen clips of it before and thought its period setting (early 60s New York) and subject (the upper end of the advertising agency) looked really interesting. I usually begin my reviews of TV shows and films with the disclaimer that I may unintentionally give away spoilers; in the case of Mad Men, I have only watched the first episode so hopefully I won't give anything away! I wanted to do a review of the show at this point because I get the feeling that the characters are going to change a lot over the 3 seasons already filmed and I'd like to do another review (or add to this one later) to compare. It also gives me a chance to write without having to restrict myself to minimal details - I often forget what has happened at the very beginning of a series and don't want to spoil it for anyone who wants to watch it!
Mad Men is an American drama set in a New York advertising agency in the early 1960s. The period setting sets this apart from other American dramas stylistically and it really feels authentic. Everybody smokes everywhere - this is one of the most striking things about the show as smoking is so rarely shown on TV shows except to denote a 'bad guy'. But the series is set at a time when smoking was not only socially acceptable but actively encouraged. Indeed, the first episode sees the eponymous Mad Men (a term coined by the advertising executives of Madison Avenue to describe themselves) faced with a dilemma as research highlighting the link between smoking and lung cancer means that they can no longer get away with slogans that state that smoking is good for you.
Another aspect of the show that takes some getting used to is the way that the women in it behave in relation to men. This was an era before feminism really took hold - especially in this very male dominated workplace - and at first it is quite shocking to see how the secretaries of Sterling Cooper not only tolerate the way their colleagues objectify them but encourage it and use it to their advantage. One of the first things that Joan - an experienced secretary at Sterling Cooper - does is to impart some womanly advice to new secretary Peggy; this consists of telling her to show a little more leg and arranging an appointment with a doctor to get her on contraceptive pills! Although the women have to put up with a lot of flak from their chauvinist colleagues, they are not portrayed simply as victims or as robots. The first episode hints at the depth of each character rather than falling into easy stereotypes and shows that although women have to put up with a lot, the men are also struggling.
Some of the scenes are set in Sterling Cooper's meetings with clients and these scenes are really fun as the creative team headed by Don Draper come up with ingenious advertising slogans that mirror real ad campaigns of the time. Watching Draper come up with an inspired catchphrase for a tobacco company struggling in the face of damning scientific research is captivating to watch. The scenes also show the trickery and double-crossing perpetrated by the Mad Men to gain an edge over not only their rivals but also their colleagues. Although this is set in the 60s it is not much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that this kind of thing still goes on today. The 'boys nights out' to strip clubs and cocktail bars also seem like the kind of thing that may still go on today.
Having only watched the first episode, I can't give much more than first impressions but a few really stand out as characters that are going to be interesting over coming episodes.
Don Draper (Jon Hamm)
The first episode begins with Don Draper sitting alone in a smoky cocktail bar in New York. This immediately sets the tone of the show and marks Don as a major character. He is very dedicated to his work and is always looking for that next slogan which is going to make his clients rich. We also learn that he is very popular with the ladies and seems more respectful towards them than some of his colleagues. He is a man that knows how to 'play the game' and is well-respected as one of the best ad men in the business because of his great ideas as well as his charisma. He reminds me of a detective from a hard-boiled crime novel and has that same noir-ish edge to him which I find really interesting to watch. There are hints in this episode that there is much more to him than meets the eye, particularly at the end of the episode.
Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks)
Head of the typing pool and with an hourglass figure to rival Marilyn Monroe, Joan is smart, self-assured and knows how to get what she wants. As she takes the new girl on a whirlwind tour of the office, we find out that Joan knows exactly how to treat everyone in the office and as she points out one of her past mistakes (some kind of liaison with one of the junior executives) you get the feeling that there is something more beneath Joan's highly-polished exterior. Hendricks looks absolutely stunning with her flame-red hair and figure hugging outfits and I'm really looking forward to finding out more about her character.
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)
Peggy comes across as an innocent and somewhat naïve girl who is desperate to do well in her new job as secretary. She obviously has not become hardened as Joan has and will do anything to fit in - she goes along to the doctors to be prescribed the contraceptive pill but assure him that she is 'not that kind of girl'. She is played really well by Moss who manages to make a character that could be annoyingly naïve sympathetic. There is something about Peggy which hints that there is more to her than the cliché of the sweet girl who gets corrupted in the big city.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
A young, ambitious executive, Pete seems like the type of guy who will step on anyone to get where he wants to be and demonstrates this in more than one scene in this episode. He tries to get the upper hand but is outclassed by Draper in one instance and shot down by a woman in another. There is a menace to this character, which makes him really watchable and I can't wait to see what devious trick he pulls next.
After only one episode, I am really hooked! The writing is smart and sophisticated and the characters are well rounded. The period setting is a visual treat with beautiful outfits for the female characters and classic suits for the men. The show manages to tackle the social issues of the 60s without directly drawing attention to them. The dialogue is as snappy as you would expect and there are some really thrilling scenes as well as slow-burning character development.
Summary: A thoroughly engaging and interesting drama with snappy dialogue and thoughful character development