A year or so ago, I wrote my first brief response to AMC’s Mad Men. Three episodes in, I described it as ‘grim’ and a ‘serious downer’. Now, five seasons in, I’m still inclined to that description. (The fact that it has taken me this long to come close to exhausting Netflix’s online repository of its episodes should indicate I haven’t indulged in any kind of binge viewing and have been happy enough to suspend watching the show for a variety of reasons–like watching other television series and movies.)
I do not mean to be reductive in my take on Mad Men. I find its writing enjoyable and like many other viewers find Roger Sterling‘s lines particularly memorable (indeed, I often find myself wishing he was given more screen time); I appreciate its careful attention to its ‘look and feel’ – its sumptuous interiors and clothes most notably; I am cognizant the show attempts to highlight the misogyny, gender discrimination and racism of days gone by. This is a very slick and smart show in many ways.
But for all that, it simply isn’t compelling enough. I do not know if there is a story in there somewhere or whether I am merely paying witness to an episodic dysfunction of family, society and business. Perhaps I have made matters worse by watching it in the distracted fashion I have employed, but this consideration seems to involve a rather insuperable chicken-and-egg question: Was I distracted because Mad Men didn’t grab me, or was I not grabbed because I was distracted?
Perhaps it’s because I find Don Draper utterly vapid and uninteresting. I do not know if Draper is supposed to cut a tragic figure or whether my reaction is the appropriate one to have to a man of Madison Avenue. Perhaps the writers of the show have succeeded in making me realize the shallowness of the advertising executive.
Perhaps the show’s attempts to serve as a chronicle of the times don’t always work; I’m not sure why, but its references to, and attempts to integrate, ‘the world outside’ –as in its incorporation of the JFK assassination, the civil rights struggle, the death of Marilyn Monroe–sometimes feel forced.
But in the end, I think the reason I don’t find Mad Men as compelling as many others do remains the same as I articulated in my original post: I find advertising and its business and supposed creativity not very interesting at all. (It doesn’t help I consider mass advertising to have had a ruinous effect on political discourse in the US.) I am not intrigued by the processes that bring ad copy and art to life; I do not imagine those who work in advertising’s creative departments to be inspirational geniuses; (I am intrigued to hear so many of the shows fans say they find Draper’s pitches ‘clever’); I find talk of ‘account servicing’ tedious. These prejudices, I suspect, get in the way of my being able to enjoy the show fully.
Still, the show exerts a peculiar fascination on me; I intend to watch it in its entirety and will write on it again. This post, and my first one, have been rather superficial takes; perhaps my summation will be rather more synoptic and thoughtful.
6 thoughts on “The Mad Men Can’t Quite Get Hold Of Me”
I agree. I liked it at first but it has failed to develop. Maybe the production strike a few years ago killed its momentum.
Aha, I hadn’t realized there had been a strike. Duh.
I’ve always been happy to catch up with a season of Mad Men when it finally appears on Netflix. I’m more interested in the business plot lines than you, I think, because I’m in business and specifically marketing and advertising. I like the characters and appreciate the fact that (most of the time) the show is an underplayed soap opera. I’m with you on Don Draper, however. I never much cared for the “Don Draper, international man of mystery” stuff or the whole Dick Whitman / Don Draper double life — which I actually thought was a false lead for a while in Season 1 because I thought it was way too preposterous as a story and way too obvious as a metaphor. I was wrong about that in spades. After finishing Season Five, I’m not sure anyone knows what’s going on in Don’s head. Certainly not Don, which is fine, but maybe not Matthew Weiner either, which is not. Still, as TV goes, it beats the heck out most other shows.
That’s a good take on it, Peter. I love the writing for sure – very sharp, very snappy. (Sorry about the slam on advertising!)
Advertising often deserves the slam. For me, I tell clients we need to tell the best version of the truth because it is good business … and good for you!
It’s funny; I used to really enjoy this show, but I feel that its quality has declined significantly in the last couple of seasons, which, to be honest, I haven’t even watched. I enjoyed the slow, deliberate tediousness and indulgent psychoanalysis in the first couple of seasons, which is precisely what most people struggled with, I think. Always hated the “man of mystery” backstory, though. Simply wasn’t compelling enough. Then the show got incredibly popular, and started being more about the visuals than anything else (it was already a little too focused on the visuals to begin with), and became nearly devoid of substance.