LIFE’S A PITCH
One of the best shows in years is coming to SBS. Guy Davis is here to sell you on Mad Men.
The surface of Mad Men is appealing and alluring, as befitting a show revolving around the advertising industry in 1960s America, a time and place where everything appeared perfect and anything seemed possible. But this utterly compelling drama series invites you to look a little closer, and that’s when things really get interesting.
Mad Men has been playing on pay-TV for the last couple of years and has built up a reputation as one of the best new US dramas of recent times. And like many such shows, it can summed up in a sentence or two, but it can’t be easily defined, either.
At first glance, it’s a look at a very specific environment – Madison Avenue in New York City, the epicentre of American advertising – during a very particular time. And the focus would seem to be on one man: Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the golden boy of ad agency Sterling Cooper.
A sharp-dressed womaniser with a cigarette in one hand, a tumbler of whiskey in the other and a mind racing with marketing campaigns, Draper would appear to have the world on a string. But there’s an enigmatic quality to him that both keeps the audience (and the other characters) at a distance and longing to learn more.
The world of Mad Men soon opens up, however, to reveal not just the casual racism and sexism of its era but also a deep sadness, dissatisfaction and barely understood longing for something better, something new, something else.
It’s a feeling that’s in almost every character, whether it’s Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), the new Sterling Cooper employee whose meek exterior masks ambition and desire, or Draper’s wife Betty (January Jones), whose beauty and charm is a facade for unspoken sadness that is spiralling into despair.
I know, I know, doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of monkeys. But Mad Men isn’t designed to make you laugh (even if it does have a sharp, insightful sense of humour); it’s designed to draw you into the lives of a group of fascinating, three-dimensional people, all of whom are revealing new things about themselves with each episode that passes.
It’s like a great, involving novel – one that’s difficult to put down – and series creator Matthew Weiner (whose credits include The Sopranos) and his creative team know just how to keep you coming back week after week.
On a superficial level as well, Mad Men is a visual treat, its costuming and production design evoking the glamour of the era. (And if you’ll allow me a moment of chauvinism in keeping with the male mindset of Mad Men’s times, Christina Hendricks as curvy Sterling Cooper queen bee Joan is a wonder to behold.)
It is Don Draper that Mad Men’s viewers will be following, however, and the charismatic Hamm’s tremendous performance has pretty much made him an overnight star (he’s got terrific range, too – he pops up in a few episodes of 30 Rock soon, displaying killer comic timing).
One of the show’s ad campaigns has focused on Draper’s allure to both sexes: “Women want him. Men want to be him” goes the tagline. That may be the case. But look beneath the seductive surface and you’ll find a story that grips you tightly and doesn’t let go. That’s the way it is with Don Draper, and it’s the way it is with Mad Men. Don’t miss it.
Living the dream: Jon Hamm and January Jones appear the perfect couple, but all MadMen’s characters prove that appearances can be deceiving.