Buried away on BBC 4 & the midnight slot on BBC 2 it's little wonder that no one's seen this show. I was lucky enough to read a review and started to catch it from Episode 3 and I'm so glad I did. The show is brilliant. Set in a 1960's New York Ad Agency it deals with the life of the ad men, their wives, mistresses and their secretaries. The writing is so sharp you'll cut yourself, the research and detail is faultless, it's slick, cool and gripping. Each episode is a gem in it's own right, like little mini Hitchcock films, the style and look is very Rear Window. Even the open credits are a work of art and a tribute to the great Saul Bass.
Although set in the 60's it easy to relate to the men & women in the show, times have changed a lot, the men all smoke & drink in the office and think nothing of making a sexist remark to their P.A. Now these things don't get said in front of women in the office anymore, but they are still thought and said behind closed doors, so the issues they create are still very much in the work place. They just said it out loud in the 60's.
The ad men are hard driven and determined to be top dog at work and find it difficult to transfer their work personalities to home where they suddenly have to take off the suit and attend kids birthday parties or paint the fence. The wives are complex people stuck in their domesticated perfect wife routines, slowly being driven crazy by suppressing their personalities.
It's pure class all the way, forget Desperate Housewives and get watching Mad Men, it's the best thing on TV for years.
on 21 May 2008
Remarkable. Utterly gripping, gorgeous to look at, fabulously well scripted, impeccable acting. All the more remarkable, then, that nothing much actually happens. Sure there are individual events and half a dozen longer threads woven through the series, but the real drama is found in how the characters relate to each other and themselves. Each character is complex, multi-layered, often deeply flawed, and fascinating. So, not one for people who like plenty of action. It will, however, handsomely reward those who take delight in dialogue and character. In my opinion, simply perfect.
on 8 May 2010
Incredibly well researched, this is a beautiful drama bubbling with a tension which really captures the era. Mad Men is overwhelmingly uncomfortable to watch for those of us who were brought up in an age defined by both political correctness and economic change - not only is this a chauvinistic, homophobic world defined by men, it is a world of capitalism, consumerism and greed. And yet it is exactly this which makes this so watchable.
The series revolves around an ad agency on Madison Avenue in the 60s, and its strength lies in the slow building of the characters who inhabit this shady world of cigarette sales and illicit office liasons. The central tenet of the series is office politics as the "Mad Men" vie for advertising sales of products which define the 60s,ranging from the first disposable diapers to the carousel slide projector. Set against a backdrop of an America on the edge, we are treated to original footage from, for example, the Kennedy/Nixon election campaign. We are left in no doubt that this is an accurate portrayal of a world which now seems so out of touch: where smoking and drinking to excess in the office is normal, where women are objectified and dismissed (pre 60s feminism at its most disquieting), where the billboard presentation of a sinister American Dream shaped by mass production is as much a facade as that presented by many of the characters to their nearest and dearest on a daily basis.
And it is this which keeps you hooked: there is a gripping sense of something disturbing lying just under the surface - as it does with so many of its characters- and we are never very sure when the explosion will happen. It is very real, very unsettling and above all, a harsh reminder that we have a long way to go before we can really leave behind the legacies of this era.
on 14 January 2011
I think the style / presentation of Mad Men, striking as it is, overtakes the actual content of the show:- lots of reviewers are drawn to praising the accuracy of the sets, the detail of the costuming and the quality of the acting. But this is surely a diversion?
Visually there certainly is a "wow" factor but just because the show is executed with style does not mean there is artistic worth to the actual content. What matters as a viewer is getting emotionally involved with the characters and being moved by their stories. That's where I think Mad Men struggles a bit.
Having just finished series 1, I'm struck that the show is really little more than a kitchen-sink drama: all the characters are unhappy, projecting an image that fails to match the sadness of their real feelings. A 60's society striving for "perfection" but which, like advertising, sells an image not the reality.
So far, so obvious - it's yet another dissection of the American Dream & that's been done before in various artistic forms. Quite a lot in fact.
How is this central conceit played out? We get the 2 main characters, the "apple pie" perfect American couple the Drapers: him successful, powerful & dashing (possibly even more square-jawed than Stan from American Dad) and her: doll-like, beautiful and the perfect mother. But what's this? The reality is that he's actually vulnerable and confused (and in the Don/Dick storyline quite literally projecting an image of who he is) and she feels trapped, unfulfilled and inadequate. He's giving vent to his frustrations by hitting the bottle at work, playing power games with his colleagues or cheating on his wife. Meanwhile, she's stuck at home, propping herself up with alcohol or getting intimate with the spin dryer cycle. You'd be forgiven if it all sounds a little cliched.
Notwithstanding the great acting, there just isn't that much depth to the material here. The characters don't really move on from their starting point and the plot pacing is extremely slow. No problem with that if substantial points are being made, but with Mad Men you feel that, actually, still waters *don't* run deep.
And in case you struggled to get the point by watching the Drapers play out ground-hog day every episode, then most of the other characters in the show are also - surprise! - people struggling to be true to themselves. There's little variation in the several supporting characters and the show's primary "universe" therefore feels flat and uniform (and pretty dispiriting). Looking for a little light relief or contrast? The main attempt at showing a different world is by setting up business man Don's affair with the artistic boho Midge. This set-up doesn't feel natural and the appearance of Midge's beatnik pals mid-season you feel is there solely to allow Don a fairly clumsy speech on mainstream culture vs the counter culture. It's all a bit obvious and the beatnik's themselves? Pencil bearded, polo neck dropouts, spoken-word recitals, smoking pot and listening to Miles Davis records - with the cliches flying thick and fast, it's a surprise they don't end each sentence with "daddyo".
In fact, there isn't really much here that feels natural or organic and it's hard to accept the characters as "real" rather than just constructs. This forced quality can be levelled at the other main conceit of Mad Men - the attempt to "hold up a mirror" by showing the emergence of what we living in the 21st century might call "modern society": consumerism, aspiration, image, technology, trends and so on.
Again, the point is made quickly but often repeated - it was a time of change: the new hope of the Kennedy era, the changing roles of women in the workplace (Peggy *can* aspire to be a copywriter), the emergence of mental-healthcare and so on. These things of course help to set the scene (successfully so) and much of it is done with subtlety but it's when the writers overstep the mark to shoe-horn in little "knowing" illustrations that it feels forced & unnecessary - for example the cigarette ad campaign being hampered by "new" concerns over the health risk of cigarettes. This sort of nudge and wink tactic just feels a bit contrived and breaks the spell of an otherwise nicely crafted setting. And let's not forget that the setting should be just that - a background against which the characters play out their own storylines, the setting itself should not be forced into the limelight and upon the audience.
The negative points notwithstanding, I hope that subsequent series of Mad Men might put some flesh to the bones by adding some depth and divergence of character. The show is different and does stand out from the pack - it's just not the masterpiece of TV that others might lead you to believe it is. I've been strong in my critique but felt that a little balancing was needed to all the 5 star reviews that - in my view - fall a bit easily for the show's "selling points" without doing what all good consumers should do - look beyond the shiny surface!
on 12 May 2009
This series almost, but not quite, lives up to the hype. The sets and costumes are terrific, and the subtle psychological tension gets more and more gripping as the series progresses.
Best of all is the acting: it is uniformly superb, but Jon Hamm and Vincent Kartheiser must be singled out for the exceptional depth of their portrayals, and their marvellous timing.
If anything lets "Mad Men" down, it's the heavy-handedness of some of the writing. The "it was a man's world" message is laid on with a trowel; I'm not convinced, for example, that it really was unthinkable in 1960 for a housewife to answer the telephone rather than her husband. Also, the "pointers" for characters' motivation are sometimes contrived; notably in the case of the art director Salvatore Romano, virtually whose every utterance "hints" at certain repressed desires, as though they weren't obvious from Bryan Batt's (it must be said excellent) acting.
The writing is weakest when it tries too hard to be ironic, and strongest when it addresses in sympathy the characters' secret demons and desires. The main storyline, concerning the protagonist Don Draper's mysterious past, while it may be melodramatic, is none the less moving for it.
It's not quite perfect, but this is quality TV that has the same underlying seriousness and intelligence that the best British drama (e.g. that of Dennis Potter and Alan Bleasdale) had until the mid-1990s.
on 6 July 2008
Matthew Weiner is the exec producer/ writer/ creator of this incredible emmy award winning show. Weiner, who was a writer on the Ted Danson vehicle "Becker" at the time (can you believe that?), sent the script for the pilot of "Mad Men" to David Chase ,creator of the sopranos, winning a writers contract on the strength of it. He went on to write classic episodes (they're all classics) like "the Blue Comet" and "Chasing It". After the Sopranos, HBO , the cable network that also gave us "Deadwood", "The Wire" and "Sex and the City" as anyone reading this will know, passed on the opportunity to produce "Mad Men". This does annoy, allowing for the fact that the show is almost perfect, the larger operating budgets that HBO could have offered compared to AMC, the american cable network that were smart enough to snap the show up, might have put the show up there with "The Sopranos and "The Wire" but I'm writing for Amazon and not the New York Times, so what do I know.
It is set in 1960 at the end of the Eisenhower presidency in the fevered ad world of Madison Avenue. America, and especially our cast of characters are on the cusp of a new era. Season one exists in the limbo just before the righteous onslaught of feminism and the sexual revolution.
The men of Sterling Cooper write their copy in the embrace of martini after martini and this reviewer can highly recommend watching the show accompanied by period specific cocktails as well, the laconic pace and gorgeous visuals of the show can act as a dear friend to a lonely drunk of a certain stamp. Not me.
Buy this. I love it.
on 3 November 2009
Very few series have I come across after a season or two's release and remained glued to the screen. With Mad Men season one I experienced for the first time digitally that same heightened sense of voyeuristic joy and disappointment as when the pages of a good book dwindle towards the back cover. A sly, soft focus remake of my parent's America, the same slim single breasted suits and skinny ties that my father wore, my mother's crinolines and clutch purses. Zippos and lipstick. Wing tips and tail fins. Cadillacs and Frigidaires. All the happiness that money could buy, splashed across the magazines and billboards that were nudging us to do so... And just beneath this shiny surface, the pervasive political, religious and sexual tension characteristic of a seemingly well ordered society. Fifty years on we ask ourselves, were we happy ? We sure looked it in the snap shots. Or is it that, with hindsight, we are nostalgic for what now seems a more innocent kind of social malaise ? Ignorance was Bliss...
on 18 June 2008
Love this show! I discovered it accidently when on BBC iPlayer and was hooked from episode 4 [I missed the previous 3 but are looking forward to watching them with the new DVD set]. It's good to hear that they are filming a second series so I hope the BBC will air this too. The acting is amazing, the script, the storylines, the sets and every single character is totally believable. There's nothing this good on TV - my family or friends have never even heard of it. Why has the BBC hidden away the best show on their channels?
on 21 October 2008
Forget the Wire, forget the Sopranos, forget the West Wing, all of which have been called 'the greatest TV show in history'. The true deserving winner of that mantel is Mad Men. Created and produced by one of the lead writers of the Sopranos (who incidentally was hired on the back of his spec script for Mad Men), the series, unsurprisingly, holds the same preoccupation of that show; the seedy underside of the American dream.
The true glory of this show is also what may put some viewers off. Everything is underplayed, every scene cariied in small moments which betray the truth of the individual characters. Everything in this show exists in sub-text. It is perhaps the first TV show ever that does not feel the need to spoon-feed its audience with exposition and big dramatic pay-offs. However, this is not to say that the writing lacks pace, structure, tension or emotion, it has all in abundence. As a writer myself I am stunned by the construction that exists in the show. Some viewers, as a result, may find things slow moving, however, in truth it is not, it just has greater depth. If you care about drama, if you want to see writing at its peak, watch this show, you won't be disappointed.
on 31 December 2008
Living in China, I rely on word of mouth, magazines or amazon reviews to pick up TV series that I cannot watch for myself. The two English TV stations in my region are poor, and they overun the adverts making watching any TV show an absloute nightmare. Madmen, sat in my basket for quite a while until I decided at 11 pounds it was a good bet.
Being a huge fan of West Wing, and lately the Wire, I was impressed to note some of the reviwers comparing Madmen with those classic shows (In my humble opinion West Wing pips the wire, by a short nose as the best TV series ever?. I also took note of the bad reviwes where people complained that nothing happens, well as with most new series you need three episodes to get into the plot, charaters and the pace of things, judging before that time, is pretty premature. Madmen is slow, and perhaps a bit like me, watching the first three shows, you may be wondering what the fuss is all about, but the more you watch, the more absorbed you become as a complex story line starts to unravel in front of you. In short, Madmen is a great show, it is well worthy of 5 stars, it does not quite get close to the Brilliance of the West Wing in my humble opinion, but then again, I doubt much ever will? Madmen, is very well put together, the cast, the set, the pace, lighting and script its all there, you just need to find time, to give this a chance. I am delighted that there is a Madmen season two, and plans to shoot a third series, because you can certainly see that this has legs, and I for one, cannot wait.