AMC’s Mad Men Returns for Another “Well-Dressed” Season

Jul 25, 2010 by Rick Ray

On paper – perhaps Matthew Weiner’s streamlined, vintage 1960’s television show, “Mad Men,” didn’t appear to have the sophisticated finish or character depth that it’s been able to show brilliantly and visually on-screen. Why, both HBO and Showtime passed on Weiner’s drama based on a fictionalized New York ad agency is a question they’re now wishing they didn’t have to ask themselves.

However, AMC could smell the smoke and hear the glasses clinking with ice-cubes, while envisioning sleek suits and 60’s hair-dos. They took a chance by making Mad Men their network’s first ever – produced original dramatic television series. Weiner’s success as one of the writers and producers of the mob family drama, The Sopranos, might have lent some votes of confidence in AMC’s decision toward green-lighting the show. With more than thirty television–drama awards tucked away in the show’s briefcase and a devout fan base, it’s no surprise as to why Mad Men is AMC’s most watched program.

Indeed, the show’s opening credits are a telling glimpse into Mad Men’s complexities and psychological depths. The evocative music "A Beautiful Mine" (an instrumental), by RJD2, and the silhouette of an “ad-man” walking into his ideal office to find the floor falling out beneath him, and his life are profound. It screams to all those leading a life with one all-consuming driving force, as the rest of the elements in it (life); deteriorate until a collapse is all-but certain. The silhouette falls past the building’s windows – windows filled with images of bikinied women, sexy legs; alcohol on the rocks, diamond rings, attractive eyes and the all-American picturesque family grinning from ear to ear.

It reminds us that “one should never forget to remove the mask of all things beautiful to see what truly lies beneath.”

It’s the 1960’s and our particular group of Mad Men (a term that ad men coined for themselves during that time period in American culture), is at the fictional “Sterling-Cooper” advertising agency on Madison Avenue in New York City. The protagonist of the show is Donald Draper (Jon Hamm), the firm’s most mysterious yet tremendously gifted creative director. A British ad agency Putnam, Powell, and Low buys out the majority of the controlling shares at Sterling-Cooper.

As most talented, egocentric and driven men are – Don decides to take his expertise elsewhere and creates his own advertising firm. His commanding presence and convincing talk even lures a few of his old pals along for the uncertain journey to create Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce.

Mad Men’s character profiles and developments throughout the course of this series are any actors craving for intricacy in a role. The ensemble cast is a spectrum of 1960’s New York, highlighting each character’s past and inching us (the audience) along every episode into their on-going revelations.

Here’s the lead Mad Men and women:

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – the main man and a natural born innovator. The shadows from his past are trying to make themselves visible and known but smooth ole’ Don is doing his best to keep them out of sight. Yes, something is a-miss and Mr. Draper’s series of infidelities and erratic schedule of comings and goings is more than a red flag for his wife and three kids. Yet up to this point, his genius in advertising and persuasion skills is unparalleled and keeps his inner-demons from prevailing.

Betty Draper (January Jones) – the most beautiful girl in the room. In the show, Mrs. Draper was once a model who met Don on a shoot in Manhattan. They married and have three children. She’s onto his affairs with other women and is itching for a divorce. She’s got it all except for one thing – Don.

Roger Sterling, Jr. (John Slattery) – is one of the two senior partners at Sterling-Cooper. His father founded the agency along with Bertram Cooper. A former Navy man, his marital problems are a result of his constant womanizing. Even after two heart attacks, his excessive drinking and smoking does not skip a beat. He butts heads with Don as the show progresses and they both have to find a way to iron out their differences. It looks as if he’s found “true love” that may lead to monogamy when he falls for Don’s former secretary, a gorgeous 22 year old, Jane.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) – rising from Draper’s desk as a secretary to a copywriter with her own office is no small feat, considering she’s a woman finding a way to advance in a man’s field. She’s clever, and has a knack for understanding how woman “really feel” when they see advertisements versus what the clients and agency “would like them to feel.” It’s an indispensable quality. Don recognizes this but doesn’t cut her any slack just because she’s a woman – he treats Peggy like one of the boys and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) – is young, competitive and wants recognition for his innate talents in advertising’s crowded pool of executives – most of all he wants to be respected, especially from Draper. He tries to blackmail Don with information he believes to be compromising about Draper’s past. Pete garners Don’s respect over time and a mutual admiration is exchanged. Peter slowly learns “how to get out of his own way,” before alienating himself as the guy “everyone wants to hate.”

Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) – this busty red head has got sex appeal firing on all cylinders. Sterling-Cooper’s office manager and the head of their secretarial staff, Joan knows the ropes. She’s the queen of recognizing when to use her female sexuality and influence to get things done around the office, without being taken advantage of. She and Roger Sterling have a long-term affair that ends amicably, as their high opinion of one another is genuine. Joan finds a seemingly stable doctor to marry. She discovers that maybe her wedding vows are not as strong as she had hoped, and as an “independent women” her affinity is to naturally return back to the working world; namely the Sterling-Cooper agency or its off-shoot. Remember that in the 1960’s that kind of woman’s independence was unique and was the archetype which led to the women’s rights movement, aka “feminism.

The regular supporting cast and guest stars are just as weighty in all their scenes – no matter how little of screen time or minimal dialogue they’re given.

Mad Men also proves to be maybe the most meticulously set-dressed and carefully wardrobed television series – ever. The set design and props attention to detail is remarkable. From the style of a glass used, to the design of an office desk, there’s not a single item that doesn’t look like it’s not from an original 60’s catalog. The clothing and style of Mad Men has inspired a revisited 60’s enthusiasm in fashion. The series complete obsession to authenticity is due to Matthew Weiner surrounding himself with the best support for “his” vision.

The series complete obsession to authenticity is due to Matthew Weiner surrounding himself with the best support for “his” vision.

Mad Men Cast

Watching Mad Men makes me wonder about and question how cool the 60’s actually were. The decade was filled with rampant smoking and hard-alcohol consumption. Sexism and adultery seemed to go hand in hand. The civil rights movements were struggling as the Vietnam War was raging. If “not being equal” or “not being heard” were ever as scarily real or as dreadful a reality than during the deeply racial and homophobic landscape of the 1960’s – then I must have missed that chapter in class?

The show touches on all these subjects and more, in each episode’s outlines or character’s actions – either subtly or in a loud manner. But then again, isn’t time the great healer of making all era’s seem attractive?

Mad Men gives us “real” people, whose feelings about or towards things are often times vastly different than what their actions might have us believe. It’s Hypocrisy at its highest – just like in life. Nevertheless, to be part of the chosen crowd of “Mad Men,” means that you’ve made it financially, creatively, and met with the approval of your piers. It’s about power and business-politics.

The shows look at the advertising world – it’s a must look at ourselves as individuals and as a society at large. As the great marketing maestro Donald Draper puts it, “advertising is based on one thing, happiness, and you know what happiness is, happiness is the smell of a new car, its freedom from fear, it’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance, that whatever you’re doing, it’s ok – you are okay.”

Mad Men and its new season premiers tonight, July 25th/Sundays @ 10/9c

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One Response to “AMC’s Mad Men Returns for Another “Well-Dressed” Season”

  1. This,ThatandtheotherThing says:

    Love this show and this article sums up its elements and style perfectly! Hope to catch more stories from you in the future. There’s a new and interesting HBO show “Boardwalk Empire” coming out this month, have you heard of it?

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