1960: Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) holds a high position in a renowned New York advertising agency, has an ex-model wife he calls “Betts” (January Jones), two kids, and a beautiful home. However, that is just the outside view of the protagonist’s life that is as multi-layered as the show itself. In the course of the decade-spanning seven seasons of Mad Men (2007 – 2015), the viewer gains revealing insights behind the so very appropriate facades of Don Draper and his fellow (m)ad men – and one (m)ad woman. Despite Don Draper being the show’s center, there are several plot lines being followed, for instance that of secretary Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), who against all odds and conventions of the time aspires to a career that goes beyond wearing a tight dress, getting coffee, and operating a typewriter “simple enough for a woman to use.”
Even though the names would be time-appropriate, there are no “Mary Sues” and “Marty Stues”: None of the main characters is a “hero.” They all have their flaws and oscillate somewhere between likable and repulsive. This makes them feel real, which causes the viewer to be more involved in their perspectives and problems. Having that involved view, one notices all sorts of developments concerning personalities, politics, society, and last but not least fashion.
Mad Men can be viewed on different levels. Focused on plot and characters, one can truly dive into the story, but it’s also possible to simply have the show run in the background. Ignore segregation, sexism, and societal limitation and instead enjoy the beautiful homes and people and let the compelling old-fashioned atmosphere of business-life, suits, dresses, omnipresent cigarette smoke and constantly swirled whiskey-glasses fill the room; let the previously mentioned facade fool you. It’s all so swell!
I discovered that detached way of watching Mad Men by accident: One evening while expecting guests, I was passing the time watching an episode, and when my guests arrived, I was about to turn off the TV. But they asked me to let it run because they thought it looked interesting and pleasant. However, if you’re immersed in conversation and Chinese takeout, you’ll miss the gloomy side behind the pleasant beauty of Mad Men. There is a strange sense of tragic dissatisfaction in the “good life” portrayed.
Mad Men is many things: an array of personal stories, an overall atmospheric series, and clearly a time study of the 1960s in the USA. It can be viewed on different levels and trigger many different moods. I, for my part, am maddicted!
Trailer Season One: