I have to admit, I miss watching new episodes of great television as it’s airing live to the world. Maybe there’s something in the cultural identity where the energy level rises, the show’s community is abuzz and if you’re even moderately active on social networks, you’ll be privy to this information instantly. People tweet action during the commercials. It’s somewhat insane. I don’t participate in this, but I certainly check in periodically throughout the day and some person or publication is discussing some item of pop-culture. The long-awaited return of Mad Men, in its 5th season, begins this Sunday. I truly cannot wait. This show is a true kaleidoscope of creativity, no stone is un-turned. In it’s vernacular and vision, it is true to the 1960’s. From its soundtrack and score, to the costumes and character development, this show is compelling from episode 1. In the event you’ve been avoiding, resisting or inexplicably ignorant to Mad Men’s unprecedented genius, then let me respectfully request you UNdo your NONwatching and get the hell on it. Suspend whatever preconceived notions you have. Forget about whatever annoying person over-exaggerated their love for it, stemming unnecessary disdain from you and therefore creating a hardened wedge between you and this remarkable piece of art. All four completed seasons are streaming right now on Netflix. If you’ve got some expendable income, the DVDs are well worth owning. I plan to show the children I don’t want to have how impossibly great a few TV shows were back in the double decade of reality nonsense. My hope is by the time these fictional kids are old enough to appreciate the show, they’ll have so much great content to absorb because we’ve finally evolved out of our stupidity coma and now expect more out of the content we absorb. If not, baby’s watchin Blu-Ray whether they want to or not. Mother of the year.
Many of my twenties cohorts have a shared an affinity for the 1960’s. I’m unsure as to whether their parents are influencing this, if it’s that whole “nostalgic for a time we never knew” thing, or if they have unbelievably smart and interesting grandparents who happened to also marry in 1960, producing spawn throughout that decade and then passing on their years of wisdom to every child in their wake. In case it’s not clear, my interest in the 60’s stems from the latter. I have zero desire whatsoever to live in that time. Even the modicum of facts I gathered before watching Mad Men taught me better than that. You do not want to be anything but white and male during that period. Nonetheless this New York City based drama remains compelling, intriguing and immensely educational. The artistic integrity is astounding. Writer/Creator Matthew Weiner holds the show to a standard only AMC could uphold. Those who’ve lived through the 60’s to those who for their enjoyment became experts on the subject, most credible minds agree this show reflects that time in American history with nearly pinpoint accuracy. Some beauty and great story-telling don’t hurt either.
The show follows the life of Don Draper, an impossibly handsome man in his mid-thirties, a creative director at a powerful advertising agency on the Big Apple’s famous Madison Avenue, husband to a beautiful blond trophy-wife, and father to a boy and a girl living in a lovely home outside the city. It’s fairly common knowledge event amongst those who’ve never watched that Don is the king of the boardroom and the bedroom. He could charm the pants off a blind nun, making even the most prude, conservative women cross many moral boundaries just at one sultry stare. The man breathes sexy, seriously, and has a 5 o’clock shadow almost immediately after shaving. He simply knows how to command respect and admiration. You want to know more. He keeps just enough hidden behind the vest and showcases some brilliant off-the-cuff wisdom and truth that you just cannot turn away. The life of Don Draper is steeped with lies and intrigue, and Jon Hamm pulls every aspect of emotion off without a hitch. He deserves the respect and success he’s received. And then some.
Don’t worry straight men, there’s some goodies for you too. Nearly every secretary on the show is gorgeous, thin, poised and bright. But if you need some serious Jon Hamm caliber hotness then look no further than Joan Harris, the queen of the assistants. She carries a razor-sharp wit and a ridiculously stunning hour-glass figure, mirroring that of Marilyn Monroe, but with flaming red hair, deer like blue eyes and a very seductive voice and demeanor. Christina Hendricks has been named The Sexiest Woman Alive and it’s obvious why. She’s unusual looking while also exuding this classic, timeless quality. Her body is healthy and voluptuous, and more importantly, she carries herself with a quiet confidence that every mother should instill in their daughters. Goodbye heroin chic, hello genuinely beautiful, sexy women, from the inside out. Similar to Jon Hamm and the other wisely casted actors in this show, Hendricks is the real deal, carrying some serious, raw talent under exquisite physicality. Many I know well yearn for a Don and Joan sex scene, but it would probably be too much for the public to handle. One for the mental files, I suppose.
So beyond the visual spectacle that is the set design, lighting, costuming, hair, makeup, and actors, is the most important element of any piece of entertainment you’ll ever enjoy: story, writing, script. Every word of dialogue, including the silences in-between, are ripe with intrigue, intelligence and weight. From the way men talk to men, men talk to women, women talk to women, parents talk to children, teachers talk to students, and the Ad Men at Sterling Cooper speak to their clients, the conversations are not only reflective of the time, but also indicative of the care and passion taken by the very smart people working behind the scenes on this show. The depths we’re taken into the character’s lives and the pinnacles they reach, make you fall in and out of love nearly every episode. The density of egos and psychosis amongst the leading roles feeds the story in what feels like a slice of life drama, like a real story unfolding before your eyes. Each episode has the quality of a film, with the gift of seeing the narrative develop with increasingly engaging detail, week after week, and year after year.
In the recent months, I’ve re-watched most episodes with my brother, who is frantically on a quest to finish all four seasons before the fifth begins. As the episodes fly by, we’re both blown away and even more addicted after each one ends, deciding late at night to watch one more than we initially planned. Can’t get enough. Following these very personal stories as they happen, in conjunction with famous historical events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, MLK Jr.’s iconic speech, Malcolm X’s untimely death, the details surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, the pervasively relevant gender equality issues, and the impending Vietnam War, allows the show to weave into the fabric of the American psyche, the America that once was, and the American we’re still trying to become. This show is historically factual and therefore, educational. It is bold and clever, covering topics of abortion, race, adultery, divorce, addiction, sexuality and previously unspoken truths with grace and ease. It shines a light on a bygone era so many wish to return and by telling this quietly audacious story, we’re given a glimpse as to how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. We see our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and even ourselves in these well-written characters, recognizing many psychological constructs present in society today, within family units and our culture as a whole.
Every character shines, brings something unique to the table. Don Draper immediately went down in history as iconic and Jon Hamm will now stand the test of time as an incomparable actor, one who can be understated in a supporting role, and also a clear leading man. The level of detail expressed even in the pauses is the make of a truly talented actor, and beyond his inherent sexiness, Jon Hamm has the goods to back it up. As I mentioned in a previous article dedicated to what makes men empirically sexy, Jon Hamm falls easily into this category. Somehow he’s an even better George Clooney, showing us his innate knack for humor during his multiple stints hosting SNL, his major departure as a dimwitted asshole in Bridesmaids, and in his many interviews with comedians on podcasts and late night television. His casting alone shows the impeccable decision making by this very dedicated and accomplished crew. This show deserves every award and accolade it continues to receive and I have little doubt it’ll be remembered many eras from now.
In this 90 second clip, you get a bit of the show's mystifying intro score and a glimpse into Don Draper without any spoilers. Knowing the show probably makes it funnier, but it's good either way.
Just as your muscles need exercise so they don’t weaken and atrophy, your brain requires similar care. Laziness, be it mental or physical, will show equivalent results. Stimulate those neurons and then some. Watch Mad Men, for the first or tenth time. You won’t regret it.