Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mad for "Mad Men"

Along with what seems like the entire rest of the world, I am 1) of the opinion that "Mad Men" is currently the best show on television, and 2) am blogging about my opinion that "Mad Men" is currently the best show on television. You don't have a blog unless you are blogging about "Mad Men." Even The Millions succumbed (and click through to check out their nifty re-design BTW).

Meanwhile, much like "The Wire".......... hardly anyone is watching "Mad Men." Don Draper and the rest of Sterling Cooper set personal best ratings for Sunday night's premiere with 2.8 million viewers. To put that number in perspective, twice as many people watched A RERUN of "How I Met Your Mother." Don't get me wrong, "How I Met Your Mother" is quite a legen (wait for it) dary show, but COME ON, PEOPLE.

I know not everyone gets AMC, even fewer get it in HD, there are a lot of people Tivo-ing the show as they catch up with the Season 1 and 2 DVDs, and sundry other reasons for the low ratings. But still: it hasn't been since... well, "The Wire" that a relatively sparsely watched show has received such massive attention.

"Mad Men" has gotten me thinking about all sorts of topics - the way it unfolds so luxuriously, the way it looks (which has been influential in everything from fashion to antiquing), the social issues, the lurking specter of the '60s cultural upheaval, and what is surely the best opening credits sequence in television history (a notable departure from "The Wire," which was arguably the worst title sequence in television history).

Iconic shows tend to "get" something about the times in which they're airing and tap straight into the cultural zeitgeist. "Dallas" became a hit just as a certain Western actor was about to move into the White House, and J.R. Ewing's barely disguised glee for financial greed was contemporaneous with Michael Milken and the savings and loan crisis. In the '90s, "Seinfeld," "Friends," and "Sex & the City" progressively reflected the rapid gentrification and "youthing" of America's cities.

"Mad Men" is still a ways off from being an iconic show, except among critics and the 2.8 million people who are apparently watching it. And yet there's something about the show that is really touching a cultural nerve, especially in the cities. It's telling that AMC particularly focused its advertising for "Mad Men" directly in New York City.

In some sense, the mere fact that "Mad Men" is so relatively unpopular and yet has such fanatical devotion among its core group of fans is already reflective of our time. We're living in an age when audiences for movies and TV shows are splintering further and further. Even without factoring for inflation, the highest grossing movie of all time came out twelve years ago. The most watched television event, in percentage terms, was twenty-six years ago.

But setting aside its cult status, I think what might be most appealing abut the show is the way in which the characters of "Mad Men" are living the still-relevant cultural upheavals that have left such a lasting impact nearly 50 years later (women in the work place, creeping but primitive awareness of racial issues, etc.) just as the characters remain blissfully unaware of the upheavals as they're living them.

One of the most scathing articles I've seen about "Mad Men" was in the London Review of Books last Fall (via The Elegant Variation), in which Mark Greif lamented that the show was "an unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better." He writes:

"We watch and know better about male chauvinism, homophobia, anti-semitism, workplace harassment, housewives’ depression, nutrition and smoking. We wait for the show’s advertising men or their secretaries and wives to make another gaffe for us to snigger over. ‘Have we ever hired any Jews?’ – ‘Not on my watch.’ ‘Try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology; it looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use.’... We’re meant to save a little snort, too, for the ad agency’s closeted gay art director as he dismisses psychological research: ‘We’re supposed to believe that people are living one way, and secretly thinking the exact opposite? . . . Ridiculous!’ – a line delivered with a limp-wristed wave. Mad Men is currently said to be the best and ‘smartest’ show on American TV. We’re doomed."


Greif does spot the most cringe-inducing of the "wink winks" in the show's history. But if the whole point of the show were these winks and nudges... yeah. It would suck. Only: it's not, and it doesn't.

Firstly, I would argue that the "Now We Know Better" genre is much preferable the "It Wasn't So Bad Really" revisionist history genre where protagonists from racially and sexually awkward times are blessed with modern day awareness and sensitivity so that we can feel okay about them. As Ta-Nehesi Coates writes, the virtual omission of black characters in Mad Men perfectly reflects that world:

"I actually think it's a beautiful, lovely, incredibly powerful omission. Mad Men is a show told from the perspective of a particular world. The people in that world barely see black people. They're there all the time--Hollis in the elevator, women working in the powder-room, the Draper's maid, the janitors, the black guy hired at Leo Burnett--but they're never quite seen. I think this is an incredible statement on how privilege, at its most insidious, really works."


Also, in order for a "Now We Know Better" genre to work... don't we actually have to know better? What is most enjoyable about these moments of awkwardness on "Mad Men" isn't that they're closed cases but that the characters are dealing with issues that are still roiling our own times. It's not as if we've closed the book on anti-semitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Tumultuous change is in the air in the offices of Sterling Cooper, and yet the characters are completely unselfconsciously unaware. Peggy Olson is just ambitious and competent, she does not self-consciously think of herself as a trailblazer in the workplace. Pete Campbell doesn't see himself as the last bastion of New York aristocracy. They don't sit around talking about how the times they are a-changin'. They're just people living their lives. That unselfawareness perfectly encapsulates how we are living through our own tumultuous time in the present: with no idea how everything is going to turn out.

What do you think? Does the Don Draper stare and the rest of "Mad Men" capture your imagination or does it leave you cold?






105 comments:

Other Lisa said...

Hey, am I first? That's just weird. Because usually I'm 47th at the earliest.

I was an early adopter of Mad Men. I think the scripts are uneven but at its best, it's wonderful. And I'd watch for the production design alone (seeing as how this was a huge part of my former career).

Another recommend: Breaking Bad. I think it captures the zeitgeist of a very tough time - mainly, today's America.

Word Verification: procked.

I'm not even going to speculate.

Laura Martone said...

Speaking as one of the millions who have yet to see MAD MEN (but just received the first season from Netflix), I have to admit that I've been tempted by its concept for a long time. But while I'm thrilled to watch a show that reflects the people/issues of its chosen time accurately (and not in a revisionist way), the trailers always make these people seem despicable... and no matter how good the writing, I find it hard to watch despicable, mean-spirited people. Unless it's ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (another critically acclaimed, poorly viewed show).

But I'm glad you like the show, Nathan. I'll tell my ol' pal Cat (one of MAD MEN's female writers) that there's another fan out there. She wrote two of the upcoming episodes, and I'm so excited for her! (which is also why I'm trying to catch up with the first two seasons!)

dylan said...

Mr. Bransford

Maybe I'm goofy (likely) but from those Wiki citations it looks to me like Elvis on Ed was the highest percentage audience, No?

dylan

jmartinlibrarian said...

I find Mad Men one of the most compelling shows on TV. The characters exemplify their world at large. Mad Men is filled with Beautiful, empty, monstrous people. Fill something hollow and fragile with enough air and it will explode. Don Draper and Co. are feasting on emptiness. What happens next? I can't wait to see the where all the shattered pieces land.

Read The Feminine Mystique and then watch a few episodes; it's a trip. We've come so far and yet not at all.

nkrell said...

I agree with the last comment about Arrested Development. Now that was a great show!

I've seen one episode of Mad Men and I couldn't quite get into it. That might have to do with the fact that I was on a plane and I couldn't hear very well...

I have heard a lot of good things about it. Of course, if Nathan recommends it, it has to be good, am I right? Netflix here I come.

Nathan Bransford said...

dylan-

Yeah, it depends on how you look at it. They started really counting percentage in the '60s and that Ed Sullivan stat was uncited. So I went with MASH, which is usually regarded as the biggest primetime event in TV history, even if Wikipedia doesn't (surprise surprise) completely have its act together. Didn't have time to further research it though.

jmartinlibrarian said...

BTW, For everyone who always wanted to become Joan Holloway or Don Draper:

Now you can Mad Med yourself at http://www.amctv.com/originals/madmen/madmenyourself/

Andrea Brokaw said...

Honestly, I'd never heard of the show until a few days ago. And now Netflix tells me there's a long wait for the first DVD and amazon says they'd love to sell me one, in two weeks or so. I feel like I'm under a rock not knowing what everyone's talking about. Heck, I didn't even know AMC was making original content.

I've always had a thing for underviewed shows and this one sounds really intriguing. I can't tell you how well it works for me yet though. =)

christicorbett said...

Being a woman in the advertising field--and coincidentally my department was all males except myself, I eagerly awaited the arrival of a show like Mad Men.
It didn't disappoint.
Christi Corbett

Dara said...

I haven't seen the show but I keep hearing about it. Actually the first time I heard of it, it was because my sister sent me a link to a site where you can make Mad Men avatars of yourself . :P But now I'm intrigued and will have to get some of the DVDs through Netflix since I don't have cable :)

Marilyn Peake said...

I haven’t seen MAD MEN yet, but am curious enough after reading your blog today to check out an episode. Speaking of zeitgeist and changing times, I’ve been fascinated for some time by the way each generation in the United States creates movements that are the polar opposite of the larger zeitgeist of their parents’ generation. Some of the movements include healthy, much needed change, while others are as destructive as the forces they attempt to change. It makes for a volatile, erratic unfolding of history at times – which can be a source of great literature, film and TV shows.

drew said...

Well, it's a show requiring patience, perceptiveness and a withholding of judgement.

I think it's amazing 2.8 million people have sustained it into its third season!

Wait for the Mad Men-Lite version once the show stops....

Sarah Laurenson said...

Tried to watch this new season opener without having seen any of the previous episodes. Lost me in the first ten minutes and I gave up. No time to catch up to two previous seasons. I give it a pass.

Mimm Patterson said...

One could watch Mad Men with the volume OFF and it would still be fabulous...the design alone, the nuance. I was a kid then, my first real memory is JFK's funeral and so I'm eager to see how the characters respond to the cultural revolution on their doorstep.

Richard Lewis said...

I am so culturally deprived.

Wait, here in Indonesia, we do get Oprah on StarWorld out of Hong Kong.

Lisa Dez said...

Nkrell-

You forget that Nathan watches The Bachelor.

I’m not much of a TV watcher—would rather read—but I have to say I was intrigued by the recent advertising blitz and was thinking about watching. If I hate it and wasted an hour I could have been reading, I’m blaming Nathan

Laurel said...

I am the only one of my circle of close-ish friends who is not watching this show. I'd never heard of it until this week, which confirms a long standing suspicion of mine.

If it's cool, I'm the last to know.

Cheryl Barker said...

I had been hearing lots about Mad Men so decided to Tivo the season opener. My husband and I watched most of it last night, and neither one of us really liked it. We finally gave up. Maybe their first show this season just didn't live up to the past two seasons??

Mandajuice said...

I'm dying to write a series of Mad Men-esque romance novels set in Coit Tower in the 1960's. San Francisco fog, streetcars, cigarettes, sex, that kind of thing.

Every agent I've pitched it to thinks I'm insane. Maybe I've just been pitching it to the wrong agents?

Nathan Bransford said...

Word to the wise: start with Episode 1, Season 1. No exceptions.

Nathan Bransford said...

cheryl-

I actually thought the first episode of season three was really great, but I can see why it wouldn't make sense if it was the first episode I'd seen. "Mad Men" is also a product of our time in the sense that the producers know that, due to the wonders of Netflix and DVDs, people can catch up with a show in ways that had never really been possible up until this point. So they're not making too many allowances for people who are hoping to pick the show up midstream.

Jen C said...

I think that's a pretty big call. I would argue that the best opening title sequence is True Blood or maybe Carnivale.

Vacuum Queen said...

ARGH! I watched the very first episode and was in love, but then I forgot to set it on my DVR and it was gone from my radar. Now I'm afraid to watch it without knowing it all. I think I'll have to join Netflix simply to get MadMen season 1 and 2. My grandparent's house was decorated just like a martini drinkin' social pad. Didn't know it at the time, but I loved Grandpa's suits and hats and Grandma's swingin' dresses.

Also...I'm absolutely addicted to Breaking Bad, also on AMC. It gets NO love at all, but boy is it awesome. Not as delicious to look at, but unbelievably awesome.

If I only had two tv stations, they'd be BRAVO and AMC. HBO would round out a nice third because I loves me some Big Love.

Joann Mannix said...

Ahhh Mad Men, what did I do before you! Yes, it is complex and brilliant while at the same time cringe-worthy in its transparency. But, that is just exactly what makes it so addictive! One of my favorite moments was so unexpected but so undeniable in its obviousness, I laughed out loud. Betty and Don have just finished their little family picnic in the woods. Don finishes his can of beer and chucks it into the woods. He instructs Betty to pack up the picnic and the kids. She takes great care making sure the kids hands and faces are clean before they get into their father's new car. She, then yanks the blanket out from under the leftover food and trash, folds it up neatly and walks away, leaving the trash all over the green meadow.

The writers have taken great care in all the big and little elements in Mad Men and oh, how it shows. The layers of this show go so deep, it's almost sinful to watch. There is an ugliness and a vacuous feeling to those days and it is depicted magnificently in each character's life. Enough said, if you haven't watched, don't start, unless you're ready for the viewing commitment. Don Draper is like crack. You won't be able to stop.

Laura Martone said...

Jen C - I am TOTALLY with you. As a Louisiana native, I think the opening sequence to TRUE BLOOD is completely, freakin' awesome. I love the song so much that I sorta sing along with the opening titles... and so far, my hubby hasn't complained, but I won't be surprised when that happens.

Anonymous said...

Yay! I love this show and I am thrilled you blogged about it Nathan. I was one of the 11 people that have been watching MM since the original airing of the pilot. I've been hooked since! What I love about the show is that they use subtlety beautifully. The writers use tools that have also been employed in great books I love. Foreshadowing, symbolism, intriguing back story, and sense of place, to name a few.

What Mad Men has in common with other great unsung heros of TV like Arrested Development is that they move at a pace that matches good novels. You have to begin at page one and read them in order from there. If I had to read Gilead from the middle without reading the first 15 chapters I might say wtf? But when I start that book from the beginning it sparkles like a jewel.

I like that the writers run with the belief that viewers have been with them since the start. The opener of season 3 does not make much sense if you have not taken the journey with the show and know about Dick Whitman and Don's struggles with infidelity and identity. Seasons 1&2 are the early chapters of this story and I look forward to seeing what the writers do from here.

Mira said...

I'm sensing a theme to this week's posts. :)

Since I deal with shadow parts of reality in my job, entertainment for me is pure escape. Mad Men is too edgy for me to watch now. I miss out, but I can only take so much darkness.... Someday, when I've moved to a job that's more in the light, I'll return and watch it - you've convinced me. :)

I hope you've convinced others too - maybe this will bring new folks to an exceptional show.

I liked what you said about how popular shows (and books) touch cultural nerves, and this one touches the nerve uncertainty about the future. (Note: I'm about to give an opinion of what the show is about. I haven't seen the show, but I don't see why that should stop me from pontificating about it, because, well, I want to.) From what you said, I'm also going to guess there is an underlying optimism there. All the 'isms' are alive and well, but we have made alot of progres. So, maybe part of the draw is the idea that out of tumultuous times comes progress. People, empty and ignorant, do not define their times, but are defined and influenced by the times - even to the point of profound character growth. And that even the worst of us can be used by the larger forces that surround us as tools for progress.

Hmmm. That sounds like a good show. I may have to watch it after all. :)

Laura Martone said...

There's a reason that MAD MEN seems so authentic. My friend Cat, who writes for the show, says that the writers must do a lot of homework before putting pen to page (or finger to keyboard). They have to read books about '60s style and politics, devour novels set in the time period, listen to '60s music, watch documentaries about the '60s, absorb photographs from the era... etc., etc. No wonder fans see so much "truth" in the show.

Nathan Bransford said...

mira-

Actually I'd say the show is infused with more "how in the hell did we get here" and "where are we going" than optimism about the future. It can be a tad on the bleak side, which is one reason I don't know that a mainstream audience will start watching.

Chrystal said...

Nathan, Nathan, Nathan
You captured my attention with your Twitter post, “I've been thinking way too much about Mad Men”, which is what drew me to your blog (of which I’m already a follower).

I am a big fan of MM, and until or unless they (writers & producers) do something to really screw up the direction of the show, I will continue to tune in each Sunday. I actually watched Entourage OnDemand so I could see the first episode of Mad Men’s new season when it first aired; I could have just waited because it re-airs immediately behind the normal time slot, but nooooo I had to see it immediately. It was worth it for me. I watched Entourage at midnight.

I agree with most of the content in your post regarding the show, and I’m glad you took the time to blog about MM, as you said “…You don't have a blog unless you are blogging about "Mad Men." However, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve not blogged about Man Men, but I can assure you I will get on that ASAP.

I also agree your comment: “But still: it hasn't been since... well, "The Wire" that a relatively sparsely watched show has received such massive attention.” It really made me wonder if you’d peeked at my (limited) favorite series list. I too, thought “The Wire” was one of the most under-rated highly followed series that has ever aired, and I was very disappointed that it did not stay on for at least 2 more seasons..

I can’t believe Mad Men that twice as many of the 2.8 million MM viewers, willingly watched a re-run of “How I Met Your Mother”, it was a freakin re-run for goodness sake; and by no means comparable to MM.

Let me sum this up with Jmartinlibrarian’s comment, “... I find Mad Men one of the most compelling shows on TV.”

Wonderfully,
Chrystal

Mira said...

Nathan -

Well, since you've actually watched the show, I guess I'll defer to you on what it's about. :)

(It sounded good though. I just like to fling optimism around, and hope it will hit things.)

One nice (optimistic) thing about cable shows - cable channels are sometimes content with smaller audiences. Sometimes they look for shows that give them an identity. And an award winning show like Mad Men puts AMC on the map.

Chrystal said...

Ooops! that 2nd to last par. should read:
I can’t believe that twice as many of the 2.8 million MM viewers, willingly watched a re-run of “How I Met Your Mother”, it was a freakin re-run for goodness sake; and by no means comparable to MM.

Laura Martone said...

Although I do intend to watch MAD MEN (beginning with Season 1), I must take (mock) offense at the slams on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. It might be more light-weight than MAD MEN, but it's still a terrific show. And Barney is truly one of the (wait for it) funniest characters ever. Good for Doogie Howser!

Cynthia said...

If you have Comcast Cable On Demand you can catch up on Season Two-- that's how I learned about the show.

I love the fashion on that show-- Joan is such a siren...

Kelly said...

I also love the fashion on Mad Men! I've heard such great things about the show, but I still have to rent Season One (and the rest) as well. (I'm on a major True Blood kick right now) And I love, love, love How I Met Your Mother. In Barney's words, "It's awesome!"

abc said...

Mad Men is my favorite current show by far (Breaking Bad is number 2--nod to you Other Lisa). Mad Men gives me good brain and soul nutrition. I think you can spot great writing when characters have more flaws than not but you can't help but loving them and even rooting for them. Even whiney Pete. How, um, human?

(SPOILERS) I am heartbroken Joan married that rapist. I am sad for Sal that he didn't get to finish what was started. And I'm mad mad mad at Don for not trying very hard.

Ah well.

God Jon Hamm is good!

God did I love Trudy's hat!

Nathan, I think you missed your calling as a media studies professor. Or an American Studies professor. I'm just going to start calling you Professor.

abc said...

FYI my favorite bloggers on Mad Men are Alan Sepinwall: http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/

And, the Onion A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/out-of-town,31769/

Nancy Coffelt said...

Mad Men is the fantasy of drinking endless cocktails without ever getting sick, fat or developing liver disease. Mad Men is wearing to die for clothes without having to squeeze into a girdle to do it.

Mad Men is getting close and personal with Jon Hamm without , uh, actually getting close and personal with Jon Hamm because it's a TV show.

Rats.

The Hag said...

I lived through the '60's and the problem with Mad Men is not how much it gets right, but how much it gets wrong. You can tell the writers are getting it from research. Sets my teeth on edge and I can't watch. The racism, sexism, stereotypes and assumptions were much worse. Mad Men is a pale shadow.

Bane of Anubis said...

The opening credits remind me of a James Bond sequence for some reason...

Not sure I like the time period, but I might enjoy the darker tone (of course, this'll have to come after my recent undertakings of 24 and FNL -- btw, was just in Austin and played some football w/ some high school students; man, FNL hits the nail on the head w/ characterization).

Bill said...

I'm continually amazed by the writing of MM. Matthew Weiner packs more into one of Don Draper's smirks than most shows contain in an hour's run. Don's discussion with Sal on the plane ride home in this most recent episode is a prime example. You think he's going to say one thing, and he says another. Only then you realize that he also implied something entirely different. I can see how the show would be confusing if you couldn't hear it well, 'cause you've really got to pay attention.

Plus, who is making all this '60's underwear? Seriously, that stuff can't be the original article, can it?

EriCan said...

Great post! I am a huge Mad Men fan. I started watching it last season and fell in love.

Don Draper is such a unique and tortured soul. I can't help but watch his every move. That's not to say no one else is tortured. The way they treat each other, the way they treat their kids, or friends, it's all genuine, good or bad.

I like the darker dramas that have a unique fabric woven through them. Six Feet Under is also one that is a must see. Now there's a tortured family... The episodes for both Mad Men and Six Feet Under resonate with me way after they're aired. That's a sign of a good show, I think.

J.J. Bennett said...

I must be totally out of the loop here. I haven't even heard of the show "Man Men". I'll check it out though.

The only show I'm excited to see each week is "The Big Bang Theory". I love the nerdy creative lines the writers come up with. Seriously funny and fresh. Everything else out there looks like CSI, or reality. I'm just not "into" them.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

True Confessions

You know how Mad Men airs TWICE in a row on Sunday night?

Yes, I watch the same episode twice.

I thought there was one misstep though - when the character describes her daughter as wielding a hammer "like a little lesbian" - I think in that time period, someone like that would have said "like a little tomboy."

Here's a link to The Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York, if anyone's interested:

http://www.lesbianherstory
archives.org/

There was a PBS show about it, they talked a lot about the lesbian literature of that time period (dime store novels I guess they were called).

Also, if anyone's interested, a friend just gave me a copy of THE BOOK THIEF - I've got about 50 more pages to go on WAR AND PEACE re-read, then I'm starting BOOK THIEF. I started reading it, and can't wait to settle down and read the whole thing.

If anyone wants to sing the praises of THE BOOK THIEF here, I would be glad to hear it.

mkcbunny said...

Mad Men has been in my Netflix queue for a while, but of course now it's a "Long Wait."

The premise and style of the show interested me from the start, but—as with many cable shows—I'd have to go to a friend's house or wait for DVD to see it. I couldn't talk our cable-buddies into Mad Men (or Entourage, for that matter), but we do get to see True Blood every week, and I agree with earlier comments about that show's great opening sequence. How can you resist a theme song that's about doing "bad things to you."

What's interesting to me about this Mad Men frenzy is that it seems to be a very well orchestrated campaign that taps into the small fanbase, as well as being a big ad/magazine promo effort. You see high-profile ads in NYC, press in Entertainment Weekly, as well as hearing from friends, Nathan, and whomever about the show. Several Facebook friends of mine have Mad Men-ed their avatars, as well.

So, to the days-ago subject about marketing/self-promotion, I think that it's apparent that a targeted "small" campaign can get into the far reaches of the Internet, and that just getting yourself/book/idea can catch fire. Clearly we do not all have the PR team behind Mad Men also working for each of us, but the point is that one mention bleeds into many others and fans out across the Web/print/wherever.

A strong work (whatever medium) can be propelled by people who believe in it, at many different levels. When it comes to your work, you are the pivotal person at the base of that fan. Get it out there.

Anonymous said...

"is still a ways off..."

What is it with these singular plurals in the American language? Why "a ways" and not "a way"? Come to that, why "a savings" and not "a saving"?

Helena Halme said...

I’m jealous because the new season is not yet aired here in the UK. I’ve ‘Mad Men’d’ my avatar on Twitter in anticipation.

I've watched Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Entourage, The Wire, Sopranos and loved them all. When Sopranos and The Wire finished I was in mourning for months. Couldn't even start watching any other series.

Mad Men is excellent because it assumes knowledge and does the 'Now We Know Better' in a way that makes us ask 'But Do We Really?' Women worldwide still earn less than men, the problem of racism hasn't gone away, we have terrorism, global warming. I'm depressing myself now.

It’s only a TV series right?

Other Lisa said...

@Bill

Don's discussion with Sal on the plane ride home in this most recent episode is a prime example.

Oh, man. I am finally getting to watch the season opener (no TiVo) and just saw that scene. Priceless. Loved it.

Author Guy said...

I stopped watching TV years ago, when they cancelled Strange Luck after only 6 episodes. I discover great shows like Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies on DVD most of the time. Dollhouse is the only thing I follow right now. I'm also getting a bit of writing done. I'm glad for recommendations, though, so I'll check out this show and see what it has going for it.

BarbS. said...

Did you HAVE to write this, Nathan? I refuse to participate in cable tv around here because the provider is unreliable in bookkeeping as well as technicalities. I simply MUST see if any of the series is available on DVD (scuttles off to B&N site ...)

Wilkie said...

I agree with Nathan's comments in many ways. And I DEFINITELY agree that you need to start with Episode 1, Season 1.

My boyfriend and I are avid fans of Mad Men. We didn't start watching until they were into the second season, and then spent that season catching up. The visual art of the show and the writing are fantastic, and we've been telling everyone we know to tune in.

I also must second Laura Martone that the opening sequence to True Blood is fantastic!

Sophia said...

The opening credits of Mad Men remind of those for Hustle, the BBC series about a group of con artists who target the greedy. It's one of my favourite ever opening sequences. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGyIDtBX7f0&feature=related

Anonymous said...

In Mad Men we can feel superior to these poor, shallow, ignorant, racist, drunk, philanderers while patting ourselves on the back. Yeah I know the whole 'look how far we've still got to go' aspect turns some people on but I am not so sure that is the appeal for most viewers.

The producers/writers DO want us to be in on the sly joke. Hey look at those assholes! *for instance, that picnic scene was extremely heavy handed* I have yet to see a scene that allows me to think the message in Mad Men is any other than 'we are so much better than these guys.'

Maybe, just maybe, the reason this show is resonating is the realisation that as far as shallowness, self-centeredness and vacuousness goes? Our current culture reigns supreme.

I mean are women really better treated today? I'm not talking bout money and jobs, but the complete objectification that seems to have emerged hand in hand with the sexual revolution. Not that women weren't objectified in the past, but complete cultural approval, accross all socio-economic and racial lines, is unprecedented.

In fact, I admire most of the women characters from Mad Men (really their counterparts IRL) MUCH more than the Sex in the City gals, the Girls Next Door, Paris Hilton and any female character on any show on the CW network.

Sophia said...

Speaking of perfect series that unfold at a luxurious pace, I'm rewatching Murder One at the moment. When I watched it when it was first on in 1996, I was as caught up with the drama of it as the whole country seemed to be (the UK), but now I'm watching with an eye for character, plotting and pacing, too, and it's still perfect. I think the best series not only speak to the moment, but their quality and themes continue to resonate into the future.

Anonymous said...

Mad Men is a brilliantly written, acted and conceived show. But it is also not to everyone's taste. Just as the Wire was all of these things and more. And yet...and yet it never broke out but remained a kind of 'underground' hit. I don't know that Mad Men will ever expand beyond its core group. Let's face it, it doesn't cater to the tastes of a wider audience.

CKHB said...

We love Mad Men, although I think they're a little too scared to address racism with the same brutal honesty that they're addressing the other social issues (e.g. sexism). But I hope they'll get there.

And I'm still trying to find a Don Draper-style suit for my husband... tailoring was much better back then!

Anonymous said...

I think that this series needs to be seen from the beginning in order to be able to get into it. Someone here mentioned their inability to understand what was going on since they just started viewing with this season's opener. If you have an interest in the series you really need to see it in sequence from season one on. Picking it up from Sunday's opener would be confusing as to what is going on with the characters, etc. as it all is part of a continuing arc.

Chuck H. said...

Mad Men? Don't got no cable either. *sighs again*

Word Ver: expence - that's why I don't got cable

Terri said...

I watch series TV via Netflix while I'm working at our business and I have to admit - you've got me intrigued.

I found the commercials for MM to be a total turnoff and never gave the show a second thought. However, I do like bleak and gritty, with a good dose of stylish and will be putting MM in the queue.

I just finished 'The Wire' from day one to the jump-the-shark end and am in season 7 of 'Homicide', so I need some new entertainment.

Now, I have to warn you all, the minute I get interested in a cable series, it is cancelled. I have personally killed off: Deadwood, Carnivale, Rome, Huff, and Dead Like Me. The shows I refuse to watch such as Entourage, Dog The Bounty Hunter and others are still going strong. So, this could be it for MM if I start watching . . . you've been warned.

Lisa Katzenberger said...

I heart Mad Men. I heart it so much it makes my knees sting.

And you hit it on the head, Nathan. Their unawareness is exactly what pulls me in and makes them so believable. Yet so hard to watch at time. Don't you just want to cringe when Pete and Peggy talk to one another? I mean, didn't he even suspect something when she got fat and disappeared for a while then returned all thin? But no, he didn't suspect, and that is what makes him so perfect to watch.

And Don struggles with being the father he never had and chasing tail and soaking up all the power and attention he can lay his hands on. All with smoldering eyes and a skinny tie.

Oh, it's just fabulous. A really special, different show.

The Procrastinating Perfectionist said...

I DVRed the entire first season of Mad Men and never got around to watching it--even though I was doing PR for an ad agency in Chicago at the time and the CCO couldn't stop talking about it. I wanted to watch, but, living with a husband who doesn't like period piece television, never found the time. Then we moved across country and I turned my DVR full of unwatched episodes back to Comcast.

A few months after landing in Seattle, as a newfound fan of utilizing public libraries, I checked out the entire first season and LOVEDLOVEDLOVED it. Once I finished season 1 I found a website where I could watch season 2 and was still blown away by the writing, the acting, the costumes, the sets, the whole package.

Now I'm finally watching Mad Men season 3 live and finding my skin itching for the next week's episode. How can AMC possibly expect me to wait SEVEN WHOLE DAYS for the next episode. It's nearly too much, until I think about the reward that awaits me at the end of those 7 days. So I take a deep breath and cross another day off my calendar.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "I mean are women really better treated today? I'm not talking bout money and jobs, but the complete objectification that seems"

I was just thinking about the connection between money/jobs & objectification the other day...it was a comment on Salon about "sex positive feminists" - and I thought, why aren't there feminists who identify themselves as "paycheck positive feminists?" Who care about all that "boring" stuff like compensation, working conditions, etc...

I would love to see a TV show about feminists. Feminists in conflict. The sex positive feminists versus the paycheck positive feminists. And it's done as a drama like Mad Men, with plenty of attention to the "look" of sex positive feminist's lives versus that of the paycheck positive ones. Oh those boring literal unimaginative labor union women! Those frouf-y sex positivists!

It could be hilarious, and yet educational, and yet full of painful truths about our own times.

There are wonderful stirrings on message boards among medical transcriptionsts (a female-dominated field of our own time) about PAY, and technological/productivity "enhancemnts," that would make old Walter Reuther proud!

And I'd love to see a TV series (or a book), where there's some young 20-something woman unpacking her things in a dorm, and she's got a poster of the "Battle of the Overpass" from 1937 to hang on her wall (black/white photo), and then in comes her roommate, and she unpacks "Sex and the City - The Complete Series (Collector's Giftset)" (red/pink cover). And it's not played for laughs - it's a drama with moments of humor, as these two young women become allies on campus. And then just to mess with everyone's minds, make the one with the Overpass poster really pretty in a stereotypical way, with an awesome collection of earrings, and then the SATC roommate just average looking, with one pair of diamond stud earrings she only wears on special occasions, etc.

Ah yes, I can see it now. We'd only need to increase the number of women "writing in Hollywood" by about 78%.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Also, regarding women of that era and class - Sylvia Plath's 1963 "The Bell Jar," and also her biography, especially regarding her relationship with writer Olive Higgins-Prouty, yes, I'm just going to infodump from Wikipedia here:

"Olive Higgins Prouty (10 January 1882 – 24 March 1974) was an American novelist, best known for her pioneering consideration of psychotherapy in Now, Voyager (made into a movie starring Bette Davis) and her feminist melodrama Stella Dallas. The latter was used as the basis for two successful films - the 1937 version, which starred Barbara Stanwyck, was nominated for two Academy Awards - and a radio serial which was broadcast daily for 18 years, despite Prouty's legal efforts [...}

Prouty is also known for her philanthropic works, and for her resulting association with Sylvia Plath, whom she encountered as a result of endowing a Smith College scholarship for "promising young writers". She supported Plath financially in the wake of Plath's unsuccessful 1953 suicide attempt; subsequently, Plath used Prouty as the basis of the character of "Philomena Guinea" in her 1963 novel, The Bell Jar."

Also of note, racism in Plath's writing - although Plath questioned gender dynamics of her era, she never (as far as I know) questioned those of race.

Rhonda said...

I have never seen the show, but the critic/devil's advocate in me wonders if when one says that the show is not a revisionist version of the time period, that's true. Is it not just a newer revisionist version that reflects the current political climate, so it seems more right? I'm not saying that is the case. Truly just wondering...

Tracy said...

Yeah Rhonda. I think the same thing.

Vanessa said...

GASP, the worst title sequences in HISTORY is The Wire?! Tom Waits' "Down in the Hole" with images of Baltimore and themes of the season. Really?

Season four with the children running in the streets...I think that’s one of the all time best openings for a show.

Nathan Bransford said...

vanessa-

No offense to Tom Waits, but that song really didn't work for me.

Major Tom said...

Love it. Been watching it since it arrived. It really grabbed me in the first season, in the episode where Don has a run in with a beatnik who is bashing his lifestyle and profession.
'How do you sleep at night?' The Beatnik asks in disgust.

'On a bed made of money," Don replies.

Regan Leigh said...

Oh, see... now you're going to make me turn on my TV? I haven't done that since the Lost season ended... I've been so proud of myself! (Though, I must confess to watching Flight of the Conchords and Gilmore Girls on DVD.)

I may have to check out the first season soon. I'm intrigued.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

Mad Men hasn't aired here - in the UK - I'll look out for it.

We had "Life on Mars" though - a vehicle for looking at how we used to live Police drama style. John Simm being the added bonus.

The opening titles for True Blood is almost painful - very powerful too.

Clarity said...

Nathan, it has aired in the UK for two years. My sister adores it, but pretends not to.

I find the titles and music original but must admit I've never sat down to watch a full episode. Why? the brooding lead is too hyped for me, I tend to avoid hype... then again, have I missed a wee gem like The Wire?

I admire anything that can capture and engage with wit, charm and laser perception.

Ben Dutton said...

I recently watched the first episode and I agree with every word spoken by the London Review - almost everything in that episode of nudge nudge wink wink look at the primitives. Terrible. I too thought "If this is the best thing on American TV we're doomed." I watched the second and found myself drifting. And yet, there is something about it - you can see the good show that's in there trying to come out... so I'll be giving the third episode a go, but still, not hopeful. I'd rather be watching Big Love.

Nathan Bransford said...

ben-

I'm also a fan of "Big Love," but there are times when I feel like that show is too ambitious for its own good. The past season's events seemed like four seasons worth of material crammed into one.

Paula said...

I tried to like it. I really did. My husband and I watched the first DVD, but I got so depressed, and we thought the show was so leaden that we stopped. We hated all the characters and couldn't have cared less what happened to them.

Just for contrast, some of our favorite shows include "Battlestar Galactica," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "The Office," both versions.

Anonymous said...

I think that perhaps I knew the gentleman upon whom Don Draper is loosely modeled. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. :)

In Chicago in 1983, I witnessed an afternoon-long three (or more) martini lunch at Chez Paul partaken of by ad execs.

Never considered writing about them. Jerry Della Femina's (spelling?) book, "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor" offers an inside look at advertising from that period.

I do miss the smoking, drinking and eating with abandon that indulged in back then.

Terry said...

Wow, Nathan! I know I'm like the millionth response here, but this really resonates with me.

I agree with what you say.
The characters in Mad Men are just people living their lives and aren't that much different from us now and with no idea how everything is going to turn out.

My story idea for my manuscript was conceived after a year and a half of terrible grief, so I never heard nor cared about Mad Men. But it's a PI detective story that takes place in 1964.

When I heard about Mad Men I rented it from Netflix. It is so well done.

And the Nielsen ratings for TV are narrow. They need to find a better way to judge. It's outdated and really absurd.

Another great post. Thanks.

Serenissima said...

I rented season one from the library and only endured one episode. The treatment of women left me too uncomfortable to watch further. I realize that eliciting that level of emotion from the viewer shows they're doing something right; however, I don't want to spend hours feeling crummy for the sake of 'entertainment'.

My fav show these days is Dexter. Yes, I prefer watching a sardonic serial killer over a sexist lady killer.

Deb Lehman said...

Nathan, I blogged about Mad Men last year, my title was close to yours: Mad About Mad Men. LOL. I am a baby boomer and fell madly in love with the show. Masterfully written, directed and performed, Mad Men teems with complex characters you either love or love to hate. The series is highly textured. I need to see each episode several times just to catch all the allusions, symbols, metaphors. Mad Men captures the history and heart of the era with a stunning attention to detail. I also love Showtime's The Tudors and ITV's Foyle's War.

Deb Lehman said...

Mad Men Newbies, begin with Season 1, Episode 1 because the series must be watched sequentially to be understood and it just may be the best of them all. And I agree with the person who recommended Alan Sepinwall's Mad Men Blog. I'm addicted to it.

Carey_Corp said...

MAD MEN is AWE(wait for it)SOME! We especially love January Jones' frustrated and oft-neglected housewife. Hard to believe that is the same actress from LOVE ACTUALLY (baffled? google on imdb). However reruns of HIMYM are also great. NPH - always funny. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention we have Barney's framed AWESOMENESS poster in our study. :)

Carey_Corp said...

I also want to add the opening credits are brilliant. And I think the writers take perverse pleasure in underscoring all the socially acceptable things of the age that are now taboo.

Anonymous said...

Wanda, The Book Thief is incredible. I read it over a year ago and the last line still resonates... I've never met anyone who wasn't moved by it in some way (anmd I'm not just saying that b/c I share an agent- and a home country- with the author).

BTW, adore Mad Men, though we've only had the first series here in Australia. Can't believe I read some of thsoe spoilers... Joan did WHAT?!

Kylie in Aus

Jennifer said...

I desperately want to find one of those stewardess outfits we saw in the season three premiere. I don't know why...just to wear around the house, I guess. I love this show. LOVE. IT.

BenPanced said...

I've tried watching it but I just can't get into it. Everybody's so cold and calculating, I don't care about them or their motives.

Anonymous said...

Mad Men is a breath of fresh air on TV! I love watching the series and understanding what my mother had to go through to become "liberated"--maybe you anti-Mad Men people are too young or too "PC" to get it but this was the reality of the 1960s.

Try asking your parents or grandparents about those times--it's totally accurate and so visually appealing and compelling. The storylines and dialogue say so much with so little.

Jon Hamm is one of the best, yet most subtle actors around--and gorgeous to boot. He can say more with an expression than most actors can in a monologue. Thanks, Nathan for encouraging people to watch the BEST SHOW ON TV!

Ben Dutton said...

Nathan - just wanted to agree with you about the last season of Big Love. I find that with most TV shows, though - they get a few seasons in and think they have to top all that has come before and they end up overextending themselves. It was at its best in the first two seasons where the focus was on the core family.

I did watch the third episode of Mad Men last next and must admit to, again, digging the mise en scene - Mad Men looks so cool. The writing, when it's not winking at us, is excellent. Yet still, something feels artificial about it. There is enormous scope here, and because I bought the DVDs, I'll stick with it.

Diamond said...

Don Draper leaves me cold though Mr Bransford's acute assesment of the series makes me wish it weren't so. But a man with a three-pack-a-day habit who in no episode in living memory has ever popped a breath mint - who would let him within breathing, never mind kissing distance? Draper's wife's fashions, however, are hot as. Not since Grace Kelly has the belted flared skirt and tight bodice been worn with such elan. But it's Draper's secretary - the 'clever' second one - who robs the show of the last shred of cred. Love the racism, the chain smoking, the retro decor, the misogyny, but a woman who dsicovers she's pregnant only when the baby drops out of her???? Please, this was the sixties, not Victorian England. And even if she was so incredibly stupid, surely someone in that sophisticated agency would have realised it wasn't simply a case of extreme weight gain. I put up with a lot from TV-land. I love Smallville and Eureka where plotholes abound, but Draper's breath and all those women whose noses must have gone blind, plus his pregnant secretary who had no clue - too much even for me to swallow.

Etiquette Bitch said...

What???? I "don't have a blog unless I'm blogging about mad men"???? Okay, I'll get on that.

I did watch MM until I had to cut cable last year. Wish I could see it now, wish my economic situation was not mirroring the current economy.

And "How I Met Your (wait for it) Mother" sucks.

Cat Moleski said...

My partner and I love the show and happened to have some Libby gold Leaf glasses! We are currently buying more and searching for the round set that Don has in his office. I always feel the need to drink when I watch that show.

Flemmily said...

I love Mad Men.

In fact, I think that I too need to go blog about Mad Men just to legitimize my blog.

Sue said...

I'm not a fan. Ugly people doing ugly things. Not a single rootable character. Life is too short to spend valuable hours of my life watching imaginary people be despicable to each other.

DCS said...

Got to dissent, respectfully. Never having seen the show, I tuned in for episode 1 of the new season. Fifteen minutes later I tuned out. Incomprehensible! Where was the hook? Did I care about anyone on the show? Not in the slightest.

Nathan Bransford said...

dcs (and others)-

Again, starting with Season 3, Episode 1 is like picking up a novel and starting in the middle. You gotta start at the beginning.

Toni Kenyon said...

I adore the show. But, no spoilers please, Nathan.

I live in the Antipodes (New Zealand) and we are always a series behind the rest of the world!!

cheryl s said...

Thanks, Nathan, for this Mad Men post. AMC just abandoned my cable provider 5 days before the season 3 premier and I'm, well, bummed.

What other show makes me write down lines that I never ever want to forget (Don to post partum Peggy: "It will shock you how much this never happened.")? What story line whittles down to a final scene of a young priest alone in his room who...pulls out his guitar and belts Peter, Paul, and Mary? Where else is irony like a guy having a heart attack at the meeting with the cigarette people?

I know it's just TV, but it's really under my skin, you know?

DCS said...

Well, not quite the same as picking up a book and starting at the middle or walking into a movie ten minutes along. I can think of some notable series (Sopranos, Sex in the City, Dallas even,) where a new viewer was given something to whet the appetite at the outset. I can think of another show, Twin Peaks, that was a cult from the outset and was confusing even if watched from the beginning.

Nathan Bransford said...

dcs-

But I think this show is specifically intended for the Netflix/iTunes era. Those previous shows couldn't count on their audience's ability to catch up (how could they?) so they had to ease everyone in slowly.

Shows like Mad Men and Lost and The Wire could never have existed in a previous era because anyone who didn't tune in from Day 1 would be hopelessly lost. But now that it's possible to catch up it allows for TV shows that really are like

Nathan Bransford said...

whoops, missed a word.

like... novels.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "Wanda, The Book Thief is incredible. I read it over a year ago and the last line still resonates..."

Thanks for commenting about The Book Thief.

Nathan Bransford said...

Love love love THE BOOK THIEF. It's incredible.

Ryan said...

Just wondering, but what is Mad Men, besides an AMC television show.

jmartinlibrarian said...

Nathan, speaking of Big Love, how about a blog about that gem? It could be a trend...here's a great show...here are great books you'd like to read which dovetail nicely with that show.

Wait. Nevermind. Maybe I'll do that myself. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

LOVE MAD MEN! If I want to see polygamy glorified (Big Love) or crack dealers (Breaking Bad) or other weirdos, I can just turn on the TV news or CNN. What's so cool about that? Mad Men is in a class by itself!

We still have these characters today, only in different clothes, and certainly not as handsome. (Most are called Republicans LOL)

Sherry Lewis said...

I'm late coming to this thread, but I'm commenting anyway. I watched MAD MEN in its first season and then walked away. The first few episodes were compelling and the characters interesting, but then the show got real old, real fast.

Maybe the show is only fascinating for long periods of time to those who haven't already lived through that era. Then again, that history is new to my (adult) daughter, and she grew tired of it before I did. She found the characters all too hard to relate to. She wanted at least one of them to have some redeeming social value. It just didn't happen.

Nicole said...

Great blog, Nathan. I too love Mad Men and I have to share that the only way to watch such a classy show is in HD. As you said not everyone has the luxury of seeing AMC in HD, so I feel obligated to share that DISH Network offers HD programming free for life. I work for DISH and it is safe to say that this promotion has just been extended. Check it out all before next season starts up.

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