Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mad on TV

I finished watching the first season of Mad Men the other day. I love everything about this show. It is extra-stylish and fabulously written, acted, and produced. On its face, it's a drama about the freewheeling advertising industry on Madison Avenue (hence, "Mad Men") in the early 1960s, with career-obsessed, promiscuous, unfaithful husbands, and emotionally repressed, deliberately ignorant (as the law defines that term), long-suffering, passive-aggressive, pre-feminist wives. Who said the sexual revolution started with the hippies? Thanks to the show being on AMC, the sexual aspects of the storyline are not shown explicitly, though there is one hilarious shadowboxing scene in one episode, where a janitor sees the shadows of two characters going at it through a frosted office window. Also, as DW pointed out, there is very little strong language used in the show. IOW, any gentle readers who are concerned about such things can actually watch this show without waiting for it to be sanitized a la The Sopranos on A&E.

Underneath its glittering surface, Mad Men about how we restless Americans are to a certain extent able to invent and reinvent ourselves however we choose and present ourselves to different people in different ways, sometimes genuine and honest; sometimes cynical and dishonest; sometimes all of those things at once. Don Draper, the main character, has actually invented Don Draper from someone else of very humble origins, and has become very accomplished in the cynical advertising industry. He's an astonishingly complicated and comparmentalized character with massive flaws and hidden insecurities, arguably the most fully realized character in television history. As a viewer, you can't help but love him, even when he's catting around while his terrific wife is depressed, lonely, and isolated at home. There is also a strong theme of longing for approval and validation in the show--particularly men seeking approval from other men--and that theme is played with great subtlety by several of the main characters. I can't wait to get to Season Two to see how these characters develop. I may have to download it from iTunes to tide myself over until the DVD set comes out next July.

You know your show has arrived when it is parodied on The Simpsons.

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