Monday, December 20, 2010

Mad Men a little tepid

So what’s the deal with Mad Men? The acclaimed TV show, which has completed its fourth season, has taken the critical world by their short lapels aka the typical ugly men’s suits circa early 1960s. (For some reason this is inspiring a fashion trend.) In any case, I decided to rent a DVD and watch the first two episodes of the drama about Madison Avenue advertising execs in the days of the five-martini lunch when women were confined to the typing pool and otherwise non-complaining targets for male colleagues’ butt-pinching. The series has won a whopping 13 Emmys and four Golden Globes. Critics can’t control themselves, salivating when they talk about how wonderfully the show captures this particular era which seems 180 degrees from our present ever-so-politically correct one. But after watching the episodes I have to say: what’s the big deal? The storyline is built around Don Draper (John Hamm), creative director at Sterling Cooper. In fact, at least from the first two episodes – I had no desire to watch any more – the show is basically ALL about Don – his personal likes, dislikes, his ad campaign creative genius, his affairs, how he treats women especially his wife Elizabeth “Betty” Draper (January Jones). Since this series is about 1960s white collar stereotypes Draper is of course cast as a Korean War vet, hard-drinking and chain-smoking. Much has been made about the show’s authenticity in terms of office decor and especially fashions. The producers get most of this right with the best scenes set is restaurants and bars. Others scenes are passable but I wasn’t blown away. We’re also supposed to be shocked by the political incorrectness of the way people were – the condescension towards women and outright racism towards blacks. Perhaps for younger viewers who didn’t grow up in the era or haven’t seen many movies from that period this is indeed shocking. But the biggest flaw was the lack of dramatic action. Seemingly very little went on over the course of the two episodes except we learned that Don is having an affair with a Greenwich Village art director type and that he was keeping a cold emotional distance from his stunningly beautiful blonde doll-like (well, that’s the point, isn’t it?) wife. In between we get introduced to his secretary Margaret “Peggy” Olson (Elizabeth Moss) whose diffidence is mixed with a cunning sexual desire. Had the show’s plot been more dramatic or indeed edgier I may have been hooked into watching at least a few more episodes. (I realize the plot lines mentioned above have now been well developed.) As for the reputed authenticity, it’s a nice try. But I’ll take the real thing – watching the myriad period films – dramas and comedies - actually made about the advertising world in that era like Lover Come Back, Funny Face, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter and Sweet Smell of Success.

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