More than any show in recent memory, Mad Men has captivated me in such a way that I cannot stop watching it. I just started watching the show a couple of weeks ago and I’m on the last episode of Season 1. Now, I’m usually wary of something that receives non-stop praise and adoration like Mad Men has. I often wonder can a television show really be so good that it evokes responses like this? It’s hard for to imagine and hold in my mind the idea of something that can take hold of people so singularly and consistently that it leaves people in awe (I have a similar inability to imagine how a show like Dexter would fall in this category).
But I’m a believer now.
I began watching the show and immediately was arrested by it; the only problem was that I couldn’t figure out why on earth I was. It took me about seven episodes to realize what was so different about the show and why it appears to be of such a different ilk and calibre than anything else I’ve ever watched on TV.
Mad Men (Wikipedia page) is the story of a group of Manhattan advertising executives living in the sixties and the relationships between them. That’s it. There is literally no plot outside of the characters except history itself. The show is the most character-driven thing I’ve ever watched. And it should be slow, but it’s not. The dialogue and characters are so engaging, so real, so multi-faceted and -layered that you can’t help but want to figure them out. The characters are so complex that you get to see them in their fullest breadth of emotions and moral spectrums. It is not uncommon to find yourself being disgusted by a character in one episode, then feel like they’ve changed in another episode, only to watch them fall back to old flaws in a third. And so you realize that they (and we) really do exist in a paradoxical world where both the good and bad within us live at one and the same time.
The main “character” (I hesitate writing “protagonist” or “hero”, because no one in life is that simplistic) is one Donald Draper (how’s that for a name?). Draper is performed by Jon Hamm, who many might know as one of Liz Lemon’s hilarious and goofy love interests in 30 Rock (he’s the one who lost his hands). Donald Draper is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever watched. This is one of the benefits of television over film, I think. In a lot of ways, television art can be more long-form in its content than even film, provided that it sustains the narrative as Mad Men has. Draper is so complex, so nuanced, so mysterious, that one can watch and believably observe the small events and moments that change him over a long period of time, rather than the usual one-big-changing-moment that occurs in films or more self-contained episodes. It has been a marvel to watch the oh-so-subtle changes he has gone through in just one season; I can’t wait to see more.
Anyway, I could go on about how stimulating and intelligent the dialogue is, how everything from the sets to the clothing to the language is as painstakingly authentic to the period as it can be, or how amazing it is watching real events in history bearing on these individuals living in those times–but I won’t, because I heard these same things for a long time and still never watched it or cared until I did. Instead, I would just wholeheartedly encourage everyone out there to watch this show online (start at Season 1, Episode 1), or just buy the DVD.
Mad Men is currently in its fourth season on AMC. You can watch the current season at AMC’s video website.