What is all the fuss with Mad Men? The show written by Matthew Weiner has won countless awards and has been deemed by many the best thing on television since The Sopranos, but what is it about it that has earned so much praise? The final series finished last month and is set to clean up shop in terms of awards in the next year and I must admit, I am only mid-way through season 6 (the penultimate season) but, unless the show takes a dramatic turn for the worse within the next nineteen or so episodes, I am under the impression that it really is, a work of genius.
Set in the 1960s, we as an audience follow central character Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, as he flourishes in the advertising industry in New York and struggles to maintain normality in his social life. Mad Men exudes with style and tackles the key issues in society at the time. In many ways, the show embraces the ‘60s, and it really does promote the decade as a fascinating epoch, showcasing the, sometimes drastic, change in fashion senses, the development in film and music, the glorification of culture and traditions and the significant historical events that occurred and the reaction of society that henceforth ensued.
Most importantly, Mad Men is exquisitely written. Many truly remarkable characters are illuminated such as Draper himself and also his wife Betty, played by January Jones, and then of course Peggy Olsen, played by Elizabeth Moss. With regard to Draper, he is a drunk, sex addicted, ruthless, greedy, ambitious, arrogant, cold asshole…but is still utterly loveable. Hamm offers a ground-breaking display of character development and brings to life an altogether mesmerising person…but more on that later.
Betty Draper is initially portrayed as a childish, mindless housewife, though as the show progresses, her character shows hints of a more perverse, sadistic, though quite upsetting personality entourage. Her role, unfortunately is less significant after season four, for reasons I wish not to reveal for fear of spoiling, though with the little screen time she retains, Jones depicts her simply brilliant acting ability and does naught but add a wonderful dimension to the show.
When divulging into a greater depth of detail with regard to the character of Peggy Olsen, I wish to associate and accommodate the theme of the growth of women’s rights that is so wonderfully illustrated throughout Mad Men. Peggy epitomises the insignificance of women in terms of society’s expectations and opinions at the opening of the show as she is cripplingly shy and insecure, with an unmistakeable lack of confidence. On the other hand, she restrains herself from allowing the men around her to take advantage of her physically, as so many of the other women in the show do, and she earns success based on her ability and perseverance.
Peggy is undoubtedly a representation of the strong women who fought for women’s rights at the time and as the show goes on she achieves more and more, though as she herself admits she does attempt to accommodate masculine features in order to do so, and before too long is buoyantly equal to the likes of Don Draper. Moss does a great job in doing this and depicts a thoroughly likeable character at the same time.
Mad Men is very intelligently written and some of the characters are so complex, I feel it requires a certain taste in order to fully appreciate them. Pete Campbell is played by Vincent Kartheiser and is a stuck up youth entering the advertising industry as an “account man.” Pete’s predominant features are certainly snobbery, pretentiousness and superciliousness and there is something rather fake about him in addition. Though, like every character in Mad Men, he has many a redeeming quality, one being that he is totally hilarious. Pete’s determination to come across as confident and important is quite noticeable but, despite his best efforts, he often fails in doing so. Pete is like a young kid trying to fit in with the cool guys and it is quite enjoyable and amusing to behold. It is the complexity of a character such as Pete that indicates how impressive the writing is in this show.
Shows such as Breaking Bad and House of Cards depict male leads who suffer demise due to an obsession with power and basically Mad Men is the same. Though, in my opinion, the way in which the story line is presented and how, deep down, or perhaps not so deep, Don is just a big softie, his demise so much more heart-breaking than that of Walter White or Frank Underwood. I know it’s unfair to compare the three characters but I believe the delicacy, vulnerability and fear of Don Draper and his portrayal is just, well, astounding to experience.
Mad Men is the kind of show that can just get to you. It is irresistibly stylish yet ultimately harrowing. The characters are aided by fabulous performances and are breath-taking to watch. It is also an intriguing insight into the 1960s and the way in which it deals with events such as the deaths of JFK, Martin Luther King and Marylyn and then the Cold War fears and different social movements is really captivating. Like I said, I’m only on season 6 so I still have a bit to go, though I’m anticipating a difficult dose of withdrawal pain when the final credits roll. In other words, Mad Men deserves all the credit it receives so get watching!