BUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE
RUNNING TIME: 616 Minutes
- Season Two Preview
- Music Sampler
The world of advertising in the early 1960’s is in a time of change and the Sterling Cooper agency is at the forefront of it, something which causes plentiful drama for the employees, clients, and their families.
Cast: John Hamm. Vincent Kartheiser. Elizabeth Moss. January Jones. John Slattery.
“Hey there, are you a Rear Admiral?” “(Ass Words)”
Mad Men is the epitome of subtlety on television, a show that operates at its own pace in slow and sweeping arcs, eschewing big melodrama for smaller and more acute observations and moments. What it’s about is irrelevant because it’s an elegant slice of life that eases into your good graces rather than jackhammer its way into your favorite show rotation.
At first I wasn’t prepared for Mad Men. I feared it would coast on its pitch perfect recreation of its era and surplus of familiar if not taboo stereotypes of the era [excessive smoking, sexual harassment, matters of race, boozing up in the office] instead of carving its own foothold in a crowded market of above average television dramas. The first few episodes were engaging enough but sly and far too subtle to compete with the flagships of the cable networks. At first it was a weakness, but over the course of this first season it becomes a strength. There’s nothing like it on television, with its measured doses of drama and surprisingly funny moments, all of which benefit from the creators holding a mirror to the world at the time and how different things are today. And how similar.
The workplace is always ripe for material, as evidenced by the vastly different and successful approaches shows like The Office, Nip/Tuck, Alice, and Taxi have taken over the years. The culture of the early 60’s corporate world is fascinating, and Mad Men revels in it, allowing the tight ensemble of characters to embody so many of the facets of the era. The closeted homosexual. The secretary who sleeps her way to the middle. The philandering, bloated, and complacent boss. The young Turk doing whatever it takes to achieve. The fish out of water new girl balancing the pros and cons of selling out. The housewife on the outside forced to carry the torch with a smile. The man with a past trying to maintain his grip on his career. So many nuances exist in the show that it easily could have been a heightened melodrama but in the hands of creator Matthew Weiner and his crew it’s a graceful and lush bit of entertainment.
Mad Men has many virtues but none stronger than their ‘Yog Soggoth and the Three Bears’ dream sequence.
As Don Draper, the main character in the show, Jon Hamm absolutely owns every moment of onscreen time he gets. Sexy, cunning, intelligent, and mysterious, he’s one of the choice characters available on any kind of screen right now. There’s a terrific Teflon sheen to the guy that makes him impossible not to idolize even when he’s in hot water or doing things we know he ought not be doing. Hamm’s got a great face, feeling very much like a throwback to the era and I wouldn’t be surprised if he became the new “It Boy” for fanboy dream casting. He’s a deft actor and with a meaty and engaging character like Don Draper to play, his recent Emmy win is the tip of the iceberg.
His supporting cast is also good, with special kudos going to familiar face and renown character actor John Slattery as elitist and womanizing Roger Sterling, a colorful and roguish character who’s impossible not to at least admire for their lack of tact. Maggie Siff as Rachel Menken is also excellent, though I fear her character may become less relevant in subsequent seasons. She does an amazing job of matching Draper note for note in their love/hate relationship and it’s nice to see the show not succumb to the typical “cute” back and forths that were so central to the entertainment of the era.
I’ve long found Vincent Kartheiser to be an albatross to many of the productions he’s been in [especially Angel, a wonderful show he almost rendered unwatchable for a stretch] but his antagonistic foil with Hamm here represents one of the main plots of the show and the actor’s oiliness and slightly askew vibe serves the character of Pete Campbell well and as the season progresses the actor becomes at home in his skin. In time, I can see him developing into one of the great bastards of television if developed properly.
In general the whole cast is solid and each gets their moments to flourish and it’s especially nice to see January Jones in a role that asks more of her than to be simply eye candy.
From the phenomenal Saul Bass-esque opening credits to the last bit of text at the end of the show, Mad Men excels in knowing which aspects of the period to showcase and which to be restrained about. The only times the show revels in the kitsch or dated aspects of the time is when it serves to showcase how much we’ve changed since then or how much we haven’t. Seeing products of the time, vehicles, and the advertising could easily have served as sight gags or moments where the production designer showed off but instead they do the heavy lifting of getting the point across. It’s nice to see a period show that doesn’t feel like a backlot or an exaggerated recreation of the time but rather a subdued take with occasional highlighted moments that reflect the simpler but no less subversive era. For an example of a moment that is simple yet speaks volumes, the image below:
Maximum Overdrive started with a whimper…
The show is truly solid and has the potential to be a cornerstone. Not everything is wholly effective (I’m not a big fan of Draper’s mysterious past subplot nor the amount of time devoted to Elizabeth Moss’s Peggy Olson character) but the show remains stellar and unique and a reminder that you don’t have to beat the audience over the head to succeed.
The fact that this is a first season is scary. Typically a show doesn’t find its legs until season three or four and if this is just a teaser as to what lies ahead, we’re going to be talking about Mad Men for a long, long time.
The show is delivered to the consumer in a cool metallic lighter case, one which flips up to allow access to the discs and (mercifully) inserts. It’s not as sturdily constructed as one would think but Lionsgate does a nice job in giving the audience something interesting that still fits on a DVD shelf. There’s also a more generic packaging for people with no sense of adventure.
There’s actually a nice amount of extra material here, including commentary tracks on every episode. It’s actually a little much but it’s the kind of thing that will allow fans to go back and back to the well to revisit and hear some of their favorite folks discussing their craft and the show. Matthew Weiner is one of those guys who has contributed to some big shows [The Sopranos for one] that few had heard about until this one. He gets to really make up for lost time and is an engrossing and interesting chap to listen to. I can imagine this being a DVD set set folks go back to time after time until they’ve exhausted the 20+ hours of material. There are also some nice featurettes and a gratuitious ad for the soundtrack CD to enjoy as well!
Overall, a very attractive and loaded DVD set. A must-buy for folks who enjoy the finer and more subtle things the medium offers.
8.5 out of 10