When things get bad, we tend to look to the past. And the bleaker the future looks, the further back we search for comfort. As the new millennium keeps disappointing us, TV shows set on the 50's and the 60's (once a rarity) keep growing in numbers. Many have tried and failed. MAD MEN tried and closed the deal. And have been doing so for 5 seasons now.
Meet Don Draper (Jon Ham), a Madison Avenue water-walker (and based on real life ad-man, George Lois). He is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. He is brilliant and secretive. He wants to keep walking the tight rope with no safety net. And definitely no contract. He is a chain-smoking, hard liqueur guzzling, womanizing alpha male. He is a loving father of three, married to a picture-perfect ex model. He has it all. And yet he cannot find peace. Because he learned early on that the world is always yawning at your heels, eager to yank everything you love away.
From bursting with joie-de-vivre Roger Sterling (hilarious John Slattery) and ever scheming Pete Cambell (baby-faced Vincent Kartheiser) to the gorgeous women (such as barbie January Jones and refined Jessica Paré as his first and second wife, respectively), the cast is one perfect pick after another. And the writing is brilliant, reproducing the tastes and smells and nuisances of the era around Camelot, while drawing you in to the personal stories of characters polished yet inevitably flawed.
The 50's and the 60's were before my time so it is not nostalgia that makes me love the show. Yes, I find the era mesmerizing and (probably undeservingly) less complicated. If nothing else, though, back then they knew how to dress. Women looked feminine and men looked manly. You see January Jones on the red carpet, for example, all dressed up and groomed for a Hollywood function - and that modern image cannot hold a candle to herself dressed for everyday(!) life in the 50's. When did we loose it? When did we decide men should stop wearing suits and hats and women should start wearing sweat-suits outside the house? I, for one, blame the hippies!
This is one of the best TV shows ever and this box-set includes season 5. Season 6 is eminent whereas season 7 has already been green-lighted. As I have said again before, good TV is best watched on DVD. Make weekends out of it. It is much more enjoyable to watch an entire season in a couple of days than having to wait week(s) between episodes. And (quite ironically, in this case), you will not have to suffer the...commercials.
Its been a while since we followed the fortunes of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce and their employees and season five picks up their varying storylines and spins them in directions expected and unexpected. The season starts off with Don Draper loving his new lifestyle (seemingly), Roger Sterling falling out with Pete Campbell and Joan Harris far from enjoying being a mother. Oh and Peggy being increasingly uninvolved and sidelined. A new character is introduced and this adds more to Peggy's issues.
The early episodes seem to produce far more funny moments than we are used to. Its a strong start to the series though and this is a season that is as strong as any so far. I came to the conclusion several series back that whilst everyone hangs off Don Draper the real story is Peggy as that mirrors the social development of the era. This season sees that produce even more ups and downs for Peggy. There are some shocks along the way too and the final three episodes are extremely good and the pace is really picked up.
As a season this stands up just as well as any. For character development it works and we even see the return of a long lost character for one very surprising cameo. The 60's have their impact as well with LSD and other influences felt. If you have followed this so far then you will be well pleased with this series.
on 4 December 2012
People have to "discover" a tv series at some point. For example I first discovered Madmen when series 2 was being shown on TV and quickly caught up by purchasing series one having become hooked. Anyone first discovering Madmen at series 5 (having not seen the previous 4) will, I believe, be completely lost and dismissive of this programme. It isn't an easy series - its tone is very bleak.
Whereas things have gone wrong in earlier series (such as the business being lost or Dons marriage) this series is set in a time when on the surface all seems to be going well but underneath it all there is a lot of unhappiness, insecurity and unease. Don's new setup - a young wife and modern apartment seems to just be papering over the cracks, and the same torment seems to be affecting all of the characters in the show. A programme set in a different era which is reflecting current day maybe?
But for those devotees of the show who were waiting for series 5 to come like myself, I found it to be an unexpected but welcome change in direction for the programme. The show seemed to mature in this series. Highlights include Pete becoming even more horrible than in the first 4 series (something which I thought wasn't possible, Roger expanding his mind, whilst the Lane storyline, whilst not fun to watch, is certainly gripping.
For anyone who has seen the first 4 series - this is a must. For anyone who hasn't seen the first 4 series then I wouldn't recommend starting here. Treat yourself to the first 4 series and it will make this one all the more enjoyable.
on 12 June 2012
Don: Don't you like it?
Peggy: No, I do. I'm just absorbing it
I was ready just to like this series, no more, familiar now as the characters and the style are, then suddenly it rushed up on me, like a loaded cookie, and I didn't know what to think, except I loved it more than is healthy for a TV programme. This happened round about the episode Lady Lazarus.
There is a lot to analyze, yet, conversely, as with a good poem, one is afraid to break it down into elements. A post trip sense of having seen and learnt a lot, yet unable to express it well. I will say: the colours are bright in this series and the themes dark. This is maybe the most romantic Mad Men, with all the darkness that true romance brings. Eroticism and death: twin tattoos on someone's arms. There are also episodes exploring the freeing of the mind (through LSD) and conversely the wiping of the brain (shock treatment). Heavy stuff, right? Well, it is the 60s!
It is rare to find a series where there are so many well-drawn characters almost jostling for time and space in each episode. The characters are handled with great sympathy, understanding, care and intelligence. The parallel development of Roger, and Pete, is a perfect example: the older, wiser man growing younger, freer through (a druggy) experience; the younger, less enlightened man becoming more successful, the 'adult' in the firm,in business terms, if not emotional ones, but also anxious and care-worn. Age and youth are also pitched against each other in a surprising conflict between Pete and Lane, age winning out, if only, sadly, for a moment. Great episode too with Harry Crane, very nicely acted by Rich Sommer and a re-appearance of Paul Kinsey. Quite often it is the 'minor' characters who provide some of the best episodes and moments.
Every viewer will no doubt have his or her favourite character. Maybe for you, like me, it has always been Peggy. As the Kinks say 'You Really Got Me!' Her tough, rational, career persona puts her at the sensible heart of the madness all around. Yet she is full of feeling and courage and, practical though she is, not immune from reckless behaviour herself. As for her relationship with Don....well, what kind of fool is he!'
Music, as with the Kinks, is always well-chosen in Mad Men and I read the producers paid $250 000 for use of the Beatles song `Tomorrow Never Knows', but, of course, it's the right song, used in the right way, perfect in its lyric, its relation to characters, its unique sense of disorientation in the episode Lady Lazarus. One thinks of the many ways a Beatles song could have been licensed and cheaply used as a barely-considered soundtrack to a 60's set drama, then considers the way this was used in Mad Men. It's this attention to detail and excellent sensibility of the artistic team that makes the show very special.
Is it giving much away to mention one particular image that stays with me? The breathe on the car side window, the lady's fingers tracing the heart, the unhappy faces, the winding down of the window and the disappearance of the heart. But I could have chosen the Jaguar that didn't start, the rutting dogs outside Peggy's window, Roger's buttocks in their spiritual splendour or a myriad of other memorable images. Ah well, something to think about til the next series!
Mad Men 5. At last, something beautiful you can truly own.
Season 5 is another stellar performance from the Mad Men franchise, with excellent acting from a strong cast, and fantastic writing, capturing everything down to the smallest detail. The show still does a splendid job of portraying the world of a 1960s Madison Avenue ad agency and the 60s American life more broadly, this time with LSD, Hare Krishna and the other novelties of the second half of the 60s.
It continues to be incredibly well researched, with faultless attention to detail and is great at capturing the subtleties of life and work almost 50 years ago.
Don Draper's character again gets more attention, with the new family life and the new marriage changing both his attitude to life and work in many ways, down to the fear of whether he still has what it's got.
Pete on the other hand is trying as hard as possible to emulate the Don of earlier seasons, managing not wholly convincingly. The new characters introduced, namely Megan's parents, are an excellent addition, and her father is the source of one of the most memorable quotes of the season. Fans of Peggy may feel she has been somewhat short changed this season, as there is less attention lavished on her.
The ratio between life in the office, at home and in 'extra-curricular activities' is still aptly chosen and issues are given adequate time and attention, so as not to fall flat but to be sufficiently multidimensional to actually contribute to the story.
The professional aspect of work in an ad agency is interesting for two reasons - for how the realtionships have changed seismically in some aspects and how in others, shockingly litte progress has been made in the advertising field for over 4 decades. Sure enough, new media has entered the scene since but having worked in the field, many of the same approaches and methods are being 're-invented' year in, year out, with the industry on the whole largely standing still.
On the other hand both the gender and race issues, that are showing the first harbingers of change in the series, are shocking to observe for someone growing generations later. I'd also applaud the show for not coming across as judgemental but showing a portrayal of the world and allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.
The DVD comes with a fairly eclectic selection of extras, from the famous quotes, to one on the music, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, on the establishment of Summer Time.
Even though habituation to the high quality of the series may make the latest season feel a bit less bombastically good, I still believe that this is the best TV show I have seen so far and can warmly recommend it!