A couple of months ago, my wife walked into the Apple store looking for a cable and walked out with Apple TV. Suddenly we were all hooked up with Netflix just in time for my shoulder surgery. It was a few days later that we discovered Mad Men. Last night we finished season four, so now, a review.
First of all, MM has the coolest theme song ever which features haunting cellos and an amazingly rockin’ drum line that practically demands that you watch the show. So, there’s that. The show is a period piece, set in the early sixties. It takes place on Madison Avenue, New York City back in the days before Giuliani, back when the city was a festering dump of trash and crime. The lead character is an advertising executive named Donald Draper who works for a smallish, boutique firm called Sterling Cooper. Draper is the brilliant, brash, boorish and mysterious creative director of the firm and the character through which the entire show flows. There are an abundance of fascinating characters from his smoking hot wife Betty, to the Rat Packish rogue partner Roger Sterling, to the rich boy brat and insufferably entitled Pete Campbell, all the way to the neophyte secretary/lost lamb in the wood Peggy. All of these characters are essentially horrible human beings inasmuch as each of them sets about doing horrible things to themselves or others. But each of them have a barely there, yet vaguely discernible streak of decency simmering under the surface. You find yourself watching, hoping to catch a glimpse of humanity. Eventually you are rewarded and when you are, it is incredibly satisfying.
But there is one character who is different somehow. She is the statuesque red head who runs the office, Joan Harrison. She overpowers every scene she is in partially because of her stunning hourglass figure, and shocking red hair that shapes her face like a painting. When she walks across the office, coming or going, she plays up her ample assets in a way that stops traffic. But she isn’t just eye candy for the hoard of rude sexists she works for, she brings with her an arrogance, a cool detachment. She is the only true grown up in the room and she knows it. She has the air of self confidence that comes with the knowledge that you are truly indispensable. Joan isn’t much better than anyone else in the morals department, but she makes up for it with the substance of her work and the one thing lacking at Sterling Cooper…integrity. She quickly becomes the only character on the show who you find yourself rooting for.
Donald Draper is another story. Handsome beyond human understanding, and possessed of an artist’s creativity and imagination, he is to advertising what Warren Buffet is to investing, a genius who people tolerate because, well,..because they have to. He waltzes through the show cheating on his wife, cavorting behind her back in ways large and small, all the while running from a terrible secret that gradually reveals itself over the first couple of seasons. He is riveting to watch. You know he’s a terrible person, a real ass, and yet you can’t look away somehow. You can’t decide whether you want him to find happiness and redemption or end up rotting in jail for the rest of his life. And in this conflict lies the brilliance of Mad Men.
We will keep watching because, well…because we have to!