Mad Men: Insanely Good TV

I got taken to task a little after my kvetches about the 2008 Emmy nominations by readers who astutely asked where my acknowledgments were of the 16 nominations garnered by Mad Men, the terrific AMC series. To be sure, the Emmy people did not screw up with the show as badly as they did with, say, The Wire. Yes, still bitter about that one.

But Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner (who’s also written the overwhelming majority of its episodes) deserves every single one of its nominations. And the only reason I didn’t crow about it in my Emmy post is pure timing. I started my blog in October, after the first season of Mad Men had wrapped. Thus, my failure to write about it, since it was off my radar. I have only myself to blame that I can take no credit for all its Emmy nominations.

Still, we’re talking about a series on AMC. Which means that more people probably watched the Geico Cavemen series than any of MM‘s first season. And that’s a shame, for that first season set up the complexities of the hero (?) Don Draper (Jon Hamm), an advertising executive who keeps himself very tightly in control, but who is starting to unravel; his Hitchcockian blonde of a wife Betty (January Jones); and a large ensemble cast of characters who revolve around the Sterling Cooper ad agency. The setting of the series in the 60s means that we can shake our heads in self-righteous shock at all the things that today are no longer PC or otherwise acceptable: smoking in public, sexual harassment, even having one’s children prepare the evening Tom Collins.

The strength of the show, even more than the loyalty to be true to the times, lies in the depth of each character portrayed. These people are literally deciding how the public thinks, what it will buy, and yet these are deeply troubled individuals. The first episode of Season Two jumps right into the fray, showcasing the flawed diamond that is Betty Draper. Titillated by the idea that a former roommate is now a call girl, she tiptoes to the edge of the idea of sex as commerce, toying with a mechanic who comes to her aid when her car stalls.

If you already haven’t started watching Mad Men, set your DVRs now. It will take you to a place and time that seems as foreign now as futuristic sci-fi. Except with better clothes.

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