Starring Jon Hamm, January Jones, and John Slattery
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release Date: July 1, 2008
With Mad Men Season 2 underway, I given the task of reviewing the first season of Mad Men. The series is set in the 1960s at the fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper located on Madison Avenue. Focusing on the lives in and out of work of the Madison Avenue Ad Men (aka “Mad Men”), the audience gets a snap shot of just how things were way back when in the 1960s.
When I started to watch the AMC series, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. The series reminded me of a sixties version of Nip/Tuck. Like the F/X series, this series is populated by a series of characters, which if you knew in real life, you would completely hate.
There is Don Draper, the main “protagonist” of the series played by Jon Hamm. Don is the top dog at Sterling Cooper and while he seems like a great guy in the first episode in a sea of callous men, Draper has his share of vices and secrets. There are also his fellow co-workers, like over achiever Pete Campbell, who carries a huge chip on his shoulder, his boozy and handsy boss Roger Cooper, and his secretary Peggy, who has a small crush on Pete. Each character, while multi-faceted, are just awful human beings.
Products of the 1960s, they are extremely chauvinistic, often treating women like objects or playthings for their amusement. A clear example of this is during one of the company’s brainstorming sessions, a secretary comes up with a great comment, one of the ad men responds in amazement “It’s like watching a dog play the piano.” This comment, while extremely hilarious, is just one of the reasons why these characters are just so hard to love.
Also, while I want to exactly know what happens to these characters, I do not care for any of them. Unlike in Nip/Tuck, I actually liked those characters, warts and all, because I felt like they were human. The characters in Mad Men do not give me this feeling. I feel no sense of personal attachment to any of the main characters except for Drapers wife, played excellently by January Jones.
Jones’ character Betty is on the surface, the perfect housewife of the 60s. She is beautiful, takes care of her kids, and is above all else obedient and loving to her man. Deep down, she is bubbling over with anxiety, worried about how she presents herself to people and to herself to the point where she sees a shrink, a major taboo back in the day. She is the most sympathetic character in the show and it truly surprises me she did not get a Golden Globe nomination for her part of the show.
There are some positives of Mad Men. It is excellently written. I hated these characters but it is just something about this writing that made me want to come back and at least wonder how it will all turn out. The show also offers some pretty decent acting by the entire cast. The show is also deliciously quaint. I am no history buff but I was generally amused by the hilarious standards and practices of a typical office in the 1960s. Whether it condoned sexual harassment in the office place or rampant booze drinking and cigarette smoking by just about everyone, the show expertly shows just how perfectly imperfect life was in the 1960s were.
Fans of the show will love this DVD package. Every episode has at least one commentary track and is even packaged with a three-part behind-the-scenes look at the show and how it is done. The packaging is also top notch. The DVD case is shaped in the form of a lighter, which I must admit, is terribly striking and would definitely amuse fans of the show and catch the eyes of first-time admirers of the show.
While Mad Men is a tough sell with extremely flawed characters with little or no redeeming value, it is the show’s presentation of the bizarre time that is the 1960s, sharp writing, and great acting that should keep viewers in their seats for this DVD.