Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A woman is only a woman, but Mad Men is a Smoke

You may have seen this new show from ex-Sopranos man Matthew Weiner mentioned on one or two blogs lately. Michael Sullivan gave us the heads up some time ago, and DMc and Kay have weighed in recently with lavish praise.

Don't look at me to rock the boat. I loved it.

Set within the advertising world of 1960’s New York, Mad Men is a period piece so well done it could almost pass as a contemporary of Sweet Smell of Success and The Apartment. With less than a minute gone of the opening scene I was there - late night bar, whisky, Lucky Strikes; oh, and later, racism and sexism so ingrained that even expressed in the most blatant tones it barely musters a reaction. Difficult material for an actor to pull off.

The pilot drops us into this world just as Don Draper, mid-level executive at Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, is preparing to face his worst work day ever. With younger rivals lining up to challenge his supremacy, and beginning to feel washed-up, Draper tries not to think about the meeting he has with his biggest client. Government has ruled that cigarette advertising can no longer promote the spurious health benefits of smoking, and Lucky Strike need a new approach to their campaign. Draper, he’s got nothing.

As this is a pilot episode, it has to be someone’s first day on the job, and here’s Peggy, Don’s new secretary. Peggy begins by resisting the lechery of the men who see the office as their playground, but then later listens to the advice of her female co-workers - who see snatching an executive as their ticket to the good life - to cozy up to them.

Just as we think we’re getting to know Don and Peggy, Weiner shows us something of each at the end of the show that makes us reconsider our perceptions. Nothing shocking or gratuitous; no-one gets whacked or anything. We’re just reminded that occasionally, people do unexpected things - sometimes because we think we know them better than we do, or because they think they know themselves better than they do. Presented with Freud’s idea that all human beings harbour a death wish, Salvatore - clearly a closeted homosexual - scoffs “people are living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite? That’s ridiculous!” Actually, it appears to be the essence of Mad Men.


  1. In all the excitement with pilot leaks, this brilliant show was over-looked. I hope it can maintain the high standard.

    It's a good point about our perceptions, in that both in character and story things I expected to happen didn't but it still felt true and real.

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