Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mad Men review

Property The Daily Gamecock

“Who is Don Draper?” a reporter somewhat rhetorically asks the powerful and enigmatic advertising agent, played by Golden Globe-winning Jon Hamm, at the very start of “Mad Men’s” fourth season.

The AMC drama has stealthily tracked a group of decadent and psychologically troubled advertising personnel in and around the history and culture early ‘60s – through Kennedy’s campaign and election, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s assassination towards the end of last season – all while racking up major awards left and right (it’s won the Emmy for Best Drama Series two years in a row and the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Drama three years in a row).

From its opening seconds and through every minute of the first two episodes of its fourth season, creator Matthew Weiner’s astonishingly sleek rumination on a major political, social and cultural turning point in American society astounds in all regards.

Its gorgeous production design leaves no stone unturned. Offices are fully furnished with beautiful décor down to the bottles of whiskey in the corner, while the costumes continually put both men and women in elegant, sharp ensembles. Not to mention the color-tinted and shadow-heavy cinematography that drapes all of the proceedings in rich tones.

The season three finale was a bit of a downer, with Betty Draper(January Jones) finally summoning the nerve to ask Don for a divorce, and Don’s decision to join Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse) and Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) in a split from their British-controlled agency and forge ahead as a new company.

Season four starts almost a year later, with the first two episodes featuring Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1964, sliding in bits of information regarding now-President Johnson’s social platforms and the escalating war in Vietnam.

To accompany a United States that is beginning to come face-to-face with radical changes, “Mad Men” has begun to introduce more cracks in the Don Draper façade. Now struggling to retain his irresistible charm and forced to adapt to a world without his family, Jon Hamm and the show’s team of writers are turning Draper into an artifact of a waning era.

Resigned to a tower of mod furniture, the executives of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce sip expensive whiskey and make attempts at womanizing just as they had in the show’s previous seasons, but never before have their actions felt so vain, so driven out of desperation.

Part of the consummate skill of “Mad Men” is its ability to refract the conditions of history through its characters, making them embody a myriad of complex social and political voices.

In that regard, some have labeled “Mad Men” as more of a dissertation in images than pure drama, a show that’s content to simmer beneath the surface and intellectualize every moment. The fact that it does ooze this riveting style makes it a unique feast for television.
“Mad Men” remains head and shoulders above anything else on basic cable, maybe on any television station. It presents its audience with constantly complex and invigorating protagonists whose actions are simultaneously both deplorable and fascinating.

Matthew Weiner has said “Mad Men” will not go beyond six seasons. If that’s true, the show has begun its second half. By touring the 1960s through the eyes of the upper crust who so desperately want to resist its changes while simultaneously exploiting them through advertising, it chronically provides radically new insights in mining one of the most fantastic eras of America’s last century.

1 comment:

Jimmy Gilmore said...

You keep showing up in my Google alerts. I wonder why :). I couldn't resist reading your review of Mad Men. You see, I'm an ad man.

I'm also a huge fan of Mad Men for every reason you stated: Production design, the writing, performances and of course, the directing. The only other program in my opinion that comes close and currently on TV, is also on AMC - Breaking Bad.