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.

Geelong Advertiser - TV Guide - - FEATURE -

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.

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