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Why You Should Watch “Mad Men”

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Don Draper and his rag-tag team of advertising misfits at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce come back to the small screen today, and that’s a good enough reason to write about it. You should give the show a try. Unless you’ve been living under a culture-proof rock for the last 4 or so years, “Mad Men” is an award-winning show on AMC about advertisers in the 60’s. That’s the abbreviated version. If you watch the show religiously, you know it’s really about the existential crisis of a man who never is quite sure of who he is or who he wants to be, set in a 1960’s Ad Agency. It’s a time machine to an era full of drinking, smoking, and philandering, but also an era full of change and empowerment. I could continue the pretentious drivel for a while, but I figured it’d probably be easier to persuade you to watch the show through quotes and videos, and a little commentary in between.

“What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.”- Don Draper

Enter the show’s antihero, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm). Formerly a “whore-child” in his own words, he grew up as Dick Whitman. He rebranded himself during the Korean War, and ended up a suave, brilliant marketer. He’s also a hard-drinking, heavy-smoking badass of a character who cheats on his wife as he pleases and is basically living a lie. You really want to hate him, but then he’s an amazing advertiser and a pretty good father. He’s one of the most interesting characters on television ever. John Hamm’s performance is almost worth watching the show alone. If you’ve seen the episode “The Gypsy and the Hobo,” you know what I’m talking about.

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.-Draper again

The show’s about advertising, which really makes it interesting to me. It is set in a time when advertising was THE business to be in. The ad men on Madison Avenue (Mad Men, get it?) ruled NYC with pencils, art, and ideas.

“You don’t know how to drink. Your whole generation, you drink for the wrong reasons. My generation, we drink because it’s good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it. We drink because it’s what men do.”-Roger Sterling

There’s a lot of casual drinking on the show. There’s also a lot of misogyny and racism, too. The show is full of quotes, scenes, and character interactions that are considered barbaric by today’s standards (blackface? Completely cool in the 60’s, apparently). Though I would love to find a job where a three-martini lunch is not only suggested but preferred (probably wouldn’t need the racism or sexism), that era is pretty much gone and I can’t. The best I can do is turn on “Mad Men.” It’s nice to live vicariously through characters from another time period, especially on a normally-boring Sunday night.

“I have been watching my life.  I keep scratching at it, trying to get into it. I can’t.”-Don Draper
“The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are all alone.” –Anna Draper

But back to the show’s main theme: identity. It’s about Don Draper trying to figure out if he can actually jump into a life, rather than run away and rebrand at the first sign of trouble. Draper isn’t sure who he is supposed to be, who he wants to be, or even what he used to be. He’s a character trying to figure out if he can merge his two lives into one real person. He’s also a person who came from nothing (both literally as Dick Whitman and figuratively as Don Draper). His entire personality is a fabrication, and he has no family left.

Then there are scenes like the one I’ve embedded below. This scene came at the end of the first season and is enough to forgive the character of all of his past transgressions. It showcases Don’s ability to find inspiration to sell a product, something we see over and over again in the series. When he’s actually at his job, he’s very good at it (He’s a Creative Director, for those not in the know).

My barely-coherent ramblings about one of the best TV shows ever (other than The Simpsons and The Wire and LOST, which I’ll have to tackle next) don’t do the show enough service; its quality really speaks for itself. This post probably won’t get you to watch the entire series. It takes a lot of commitment to wade through the slower episodes. This isn’t some crappy drama that you can watch with half a brain; you’ll need to be fully engaged in it to really understand the genius of the show. However, I DARE you to watch the pilot episode and not be intrigued. I guarantee you’ll be on Amazon scoping out deals for Season One in no time.

If you already do watch the show, then I’m sure you know the fourth season starts TONIGHT. So pour yourself an Old Fashioned (or three), but on your best suit, slick back that hair and jump back in time to start the fourth season of one of the greatest television shows of all time.

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  1. September 27, 2010 at 11:38 pm

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