TIM FANNING MY VIEW
The times have changed in Mad Men, but the quality remains the same
It took a long time for the latest series of Mad Men to hit our screens, and those without Sky Atlantic (Sunday, 11.10pm) will have to wait a bit longer. ( Don’t worry, RTÉ is planning to show the current series later in the year.) The delay was due to the show’s creator Matthew Weiner playing hardball with AMC and Lionsgate, the cable network and production company that air and produce the series in the States. Given the length of the gap between seasons four and five – 17 months – there was a worry that this series wouldn’t quite reach the same heights. Thankfully, with nine episodes down, we can report that the writers and the cast – not to mention the stylists and the designers – are still very much at the top of their game.
One of the most interesting elements of the show is the way the writers track the course of social change throughout the 1960s. We tend to think of the decade in its entirety as one of liberation from hidebound assumptions about race, sex and religion. (Aside from those of us living in Ireland. We had to wait yet another couple of decades.) This neat framing is, of course, far too simple. Most of the change in the US and Europe happened in the big cities, and to certain groups. It didn’t happen all at once, and it took some individuals longer to understand that change was inevitable.
The way the characters react to change, and the relative speed with which they understand certain new realities, is what makes Mad Men so fascinating to watch. In the first couple of series, Don Draper understands the needs of his clients and the desires and fears of their markets better than any of his colleagues.
But there was a subtle change in the last series, which is being developed in the current one. Don now represents the old Madison Avenue, ill at ease with the new youth culture. When a client wants some music that sounds like The Beatles to be used over an ad, Don is nonplussed. He doesn’t really know what The Beatles sounds like. So he leaves it to his younger colleagues, who fumble about trying to find something that sounds like She Loves You. But The Beatles have moved on. It’s Don’s wife who represents the disconnect between the younger generation and the adult world that her husband inhabits. She tells Don to listen to Tomorrow Never Knows, the last track on 1966 album Revolver. Don listens to it for a few minutes and then turns it off.
It’s the story of the old guard desperately trying to make sense of the new rules, when those rules have already changed. Mad Men remains compulsive, addictive viewing.
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