Saturday, July 21, 2007
MAD MEN premiered on AMC July 19th (Thursdays, 10-11pm) after weeks of multiple orgasms and fanfare from most of the nation's TV critics. While not quite as enthralled as they all seemed to be, I do think it has great potential and is certainly several notches above most summer programming. Warning: If you have recently quit smoking, do not watch this show! You'll be puffing away on those coffin nails again faster than you can flick your Bic. MAD MEN is a inside look at the dark world of Madison Avenue advertising executives in the 1960's. Everybody smoked in the 1960's. Constantly. Plus they also drank brown liquor during work lunches and even had a few snorts before important client meetings. It's a wonder any work got done at all, but they didn't have to work very hard, did they, back then when there was no competition, fragmentation, women in the workforce, or the constant pinging of email coming through your Blackberry. Those were the days.
There are many things about MAD MEN that ring true. The "frat boy" atmosphere of big business in the 60's, complete with every flavor of racism, sexism, anti-semitism and the politically incorrect blue haze of inside smoking, all feels just about right. There are also many things about MAD MEN that feel disjointed or out of place. Like the vacant Valley Girl mews of the girls in the steno pool, 30 years before and 3,000 miles away from where that particular accent was invented. Why do characters for programs set in NYC never have NY accents? Is that too much to ask? Also, I was astonished and horribly jealous to note that a "middle manager" in Manhattan in the 1960's was important enough to have a huge corner office with windows. You practically have to be running the joint to be granted that kind of corporate real estate these days.
I like the lead character (Joe Hamm playing ad exec Don Draper), although he comes across as very dark and introspective. Where is the humor and energy? One of the aspects of the ad industry venue that I have always loved in TV and film (think Tom Hanks throwing pencils up to make them stick in the ceiling in "Nothing in Common"), is the non-stop banter, rocket-like pace and creativity of that business. Ad men, then as now, had to have lightening quick wit to survive in an environment where ideas are the currency. The pace in this first episode of MAD MEN was dreamy and languid and almost devoid of that kind of energy. I hope they can speed things up a bit for future segments.
One very nice touch (thank you AMC) involved the posted ad trivia factoids in between the real commercials. I did not know that Carnival Cruise lines was the first cruise line to advertise on TV. That bit was followed by an actual spot for Carnival. A tidbit after a Geico caveman commercial informed us that the cavemen will have their own sitcom this fall.