Review: Mad Men 1.1

Mad Men

In the US: AMC, Thursdays, 10pm/9c

In the UK: Not yet acquired

I imagine that during Klan rallies, there are moments when the bigotry has to stop. You just can’t spend your whole time proclaiming that Catholics are evil, that black people need burning religious icons on their front lawns, that Jews run the world, etc: after a few rallies, even the dumbest member will have worked it out and started to get bored. So things will move on and they’ll start discussing when the next bake off is happening, who hasn’t paid his membership dues, etc.

It turns out though that the advertising men of Madison Avenue during the late 1950s/early 60s – the self-proclaimed “Mad Men” – spent 24/7 dedicating themselves to destroying anything that wasn’t white, anglo-saxon and protestant.

“Peggy, get your sweet ass in here now!”

“Yes, Mr Albino!”

“What’s on my schedule for today?”

“This morning, you’re oppressing all women everywhere before heading off to put down the Jew man in the afternoon.”

“What? No time for lunch?”

“No, Sir.”

“God damnit! Peggy, once you’ve finished picking up my dry cleaning and baking me a cake, I want you to get me five packs of Marlboro extra-tarry. I’m running low and I’m going to need them.”

That’s the other odd thing about Mad Men. As well as wall-to-wall sexual harassment and bigotry, everyone smokes, every second of the day. Even when they’re asleep, their hand contains a smoking cigarette, just in case they wake up and need to have a drag on a fag.*

In many ways, Mad Men is like a period version of Thank You For Smoking, with much of the plot revolving around the Mad Men’s backstabbing attempts to win favour on the Lucky Strikes advertising account, finding new and better ways to overcome those foul rumours that cigarettes might cause cancer.

It’s hard to imagine that even at its worst times, the 50s was that unenlightened, all the time. Even when the men aren’t discriminating against women and trying to juggle 16 affairs each, the women are busy working on ways to get husbands and discriminate against each other. It’s also hard to work out why the show feels it needs to point out what was acceptable at the time – it feels a bit like a bunch of liberal producers slapping themselves on the back about high right-on they are and how their unenlightened audience is going to learn so much from the show about how far we’ve come since, even though we all had at least a vague idea of it anyway.

Nevertheless, Mad Men does act as a suitable counterpoint for slightly more rose-tinted TV views of the time (anything made during the 50s, Oliver Beene, etc) and when it isn’t busily trying to show you how bad things were, it does do a relatively good job of showing you what was good then – it turns out, people did actually have sex outside marriage then! Unbelievable!

There’s a universally fine cast that’s almost unrecognisable at times. Vincent Kartheiser (Angel’s son in Angel) I didn’t recognise until a few days after I watched the episode; Elisabeth Moss (Zoey Bartlett in The West Wing) is similarly chameleonic. And Jon Hamm is an excellent lead.

As a piece of prestige television, the first original drama that AMC has put out, it’s a great start, although it feels somewhat pointless at the moment. Hopefully, as the show develops, we’ll have more character and less political talking points. Plus it has a fabulous title sequence and looks fantastic. Here’s a YouTube trailer that shows you what I mean


Jon Hamm (Don Draper)

Elisabeth Moss (Peggy)

Vincent Kartheise (Pete Campbell)

January Jones (Betty)

Christina Hendricks (Joan)

John Slattery (Roger)

Rosemarie DeWitt (Midge)

Michael Gladis (Dick)

Aaron Staton (Ken)

Rich Sommer (Harry)

Maggie Siff (Rachel)

Bryan Batt (Salvatore)

* You know I put that in deliberately to amuse Americans, right?


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.