Mad Men is a hard show to fathom out. Watching it, you’re not exactly sure what it’s about. Ostensibly about advertising men in the early 60s, it could be about a number of things: how much life has changed in terms of social attitudes, women in the workplace, smoking, and so on; how much life hasn’t changed; how advertising works – the list goes on.
It’s starting to become clearer though. After a first episode crammed full of the insane bigotry that was perfectly acceptable at the start of the 60s, the show simmered down a little, and became far better for it. Now, it appears the show is looking at why social attitudes began to change in the early 60s.
We have the charismatic Don Draper, war hero and a man who has it all – wife, family, mistresses, money – wondering about what he actually wants from life. Unlike his boss, who knows it’s good to drink because that’s what men do and because it’s enjoyable, Draper isn’t so sure about his place in the world – but he’s more sure than those young whippersnappers coming up through the ranks beneath him, young men playing at being adults because they’re not sure yet what it means to be men.
Draper can also see that having affairs, not being at home with the kids, etc, has a bad effect on his wife and that bothers him – enough to send her to a psychiatrist (and in a breathtaking moment, he calls the psychiatrist for the results and the psychiatrist tells him! Mad Men is filled with “I can’t believe men got away with that sh*t” points that make you realise there are certain things we take for granted now). Even with a kind of societal absolute power, Draper slowly realises that a man’s lot isn’t a happy one, given the mores of the time. Something’s got to change and he’s going to embrace that change.
The show lovingly recreates the 60s, has a spectacular cast and superb writing. The last two episodes have been a tad slower than previous ones and the familial revelation in the fifth episode did reduce Draper’s ‘generalisability’ somewhat. It also feels just a little too slick at times: wonderful to look at it, but is it something that can actually be described as truly enjoyable?
Still as a kind of Great Gatsby for the 60s, Mad Men is a top quality entry in the drama stakes.
So The Medium is Not Enough declares Mad Men to be 1 or “Caruso free”on The Carusometer quality scale. A one on The Carusometer corresponds to a show in which David Caruso might try to appear, claiming to be able to embody the full masculine confidence of a war hero and advertising executive of the early 60s. However, when screen tests reveal that he’s unwilling to take off his jacket in any scene, can no longer show any emotions other than ‘mildly irritated’, refuses to touch actresses in case they leach away his acting ‘skills’ and chokes on even the weakest herbal cigarette, the producers promise to let him know ‘when their 1960s cell phone has arrived’ and hire Jon Hamm instead.
There is, incidentally, a great set of videos on the making of the show over here, if you’re interested.