Have you ever done that thing where you hear about a television show, think it sounds good but never watch it, only to rent it when it comes out on DVD and watch 25 episodes back to back to back? Oh, you never have? Well then I guess I’m a bigger loser than I thought.
I have gone completely ape shit over AMC’s Mad Men, which begins its second season this Sunday, July 27. Created by Sopranos writer and producer Matthew Weiner, it just got nominated for a whole bunch of Emmys, and I guarantee you it is the best show you’re not watching on television.
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When my friend Tamarie told me about it, I was intrigued as I’m an aficionado of all things retro. Set in Manhattan in 1960, it follows the delicious Jon Hamm as Don Draper, a creative genius at fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper. I rented the first few episodes via Netflix, then immediately got hooked and watched the entire first season in four days. By the end, I was ready to start chain smoking Lucky Strikes and hire a secretary so I could slap her on the ass.
Mad Men definitely has fascinating plotlines. (Who is the real Don Draper? What will secretary Peggy do with her love child and how could she not have known she was pregnant? When will Don’s wife Betty overdose on Valium due to the heart wrenching depression she suffers as a bored housewife?) The characters are well-drawn and events evolve in such a way that leaves the viewer wanting more at the end of each episode.
But what really makes Mad Men so incredible is its insane attention to detail. The set, costumes, and cultural references make watching it feel like you have been sucked into a time warp, and that’s both good and bad. While I can drool over Betty Draper’s gorgeous wardrobe and the chic modern décor at the Sterling Cooper offices, I can also wince at the blatantly racist, sexist, and homophobic atmosphere of the time. (In one episode, Don’s team is concerned about how they will appeal to a Jewish client, so they find a Jewish employee in the mail room just to have him sit in on the initial meeting…bizarre!)
Also startling are the glimpses into how we used to live. Pregnant women drink cocktails, no one wears seatbelts, and doctors smoke in their offices. In one memorable scene, Betty Draper finds her children playing “Space Man” by putting plastic dry cleaning bags over their heads. Instead of freaking out about their possible demise like most modern moms would, she admonishes them for dumping clean laundry on the floor. Ah, it was a more innocent and dangerous time, wasn’t it? Yes, it was, and Mad Men captures all the innocence and danger of the era in all its glory. You’ve gotta watch it. – Jennifer Mathieu