Monday, September 8, 2008

The age of Camels and Cadillacs

I've been slow to embrace Mad Men, AMC's drama about ad executives in the early 60s, but I think I'm ready now. I loved the scene in last night's episode where anti-protagonist Don Draper drains his beer and casually hurls the non-recyclable can across the park. And seconds later, when his wife Betty cleans up the family picnic by simply lifting the blanket and letting the litter tumble to the grass. In a couple of minutes, that scene captured the spirit of the age better than 40 pages of dialogue: it was the American way to use it up and move on, preferably in a '62 Coupe De Ville.

For me, the charm of this series is not the stories so much as the period detail. I was around 10 years old when people were driving cars the size of PT boats and tossing their trash out the window, but I vividly remember it was a time when that sort of thing was acceptable. I remember when every adult worthy of the title smoked a pack a day, when those Maidenform bra commercials were so titillating and when Rubenesque women like Joan Holloway were the feminine ideal. I don't know if they still make Vitalis or Brylcreem anymore, but checking out the gleaming men's hairstyles on the show, you can see why it was the stock to own in 1962.

The writing is good too, although I don't a get sense these are stories that are heading anywhere in particular. Mostly this show is a series of sharp character studies, placing timeless archetypes in a setting that is both much more and much less forgiving than the world we know today. I laugh at the rampant sexism on the show, even while I cringe.

The Sopranos and The Wire have moved on to that big DVR in the sky, but for me, Mad Men looks like a worthy successor. Anybody else love this show, or hate it? Let's discuss.


Bobby Rozzell said...

In 1962 I was 6. Ahhhh the feel of the air blowing through the car windows and the guilt free feeling of flipping your trash out the window.
I was slow to embrace this show but I am hooked now. I hope you get a chance to view the first season. It went like this season, taking its time setting things up for the last few episodes.
Last season one of the mothers was worried about her child being "too quiet" so she called for the child. the girl (around 7 or 8?) came in wearing a plastic dry cleaning bag over her head. Her mother told she had warned her before and she better not have left the clothes on the floor when she took the bag. The little kid stood there covered in the terrible plastic, shrugged and shuffled off inside her bag.
Good times.

Dave Knadler said...

After your description of that scene, I'll make it a point to catch that first season. Gawd. I'm surprised they didn't have the kid playing in an abandoned refrigerator.

Makes you wonder what things will seem shocking when they make a series set in good ol' 2008.

Jessie K said...

I love the show...pretty much for the same reason you do: it's a glimpse into another time. and the acting is stellar. I really like Betty Draper, the sexy redhead secretary and Don Draper's Jewish mistress from Season 1. Not sure she's on Season 2, but she rocks!

Dave Knadler said...

If you mean the lovely Melinda McGraw as Bobbie Barrett, I agree completely. She exudes the same mature, guiltless sensuality that Anne Bancroft did in The Graduate. Kind of looks like a young Anne Bancroft, too, if you squint.

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