Sunday, April 5, 2015


Warning: I'm just going to jump right in and start blabbing, so if you've never watched AMC's MAD MEN (and why haven't you??), this post will probably be meaningless.

MAD MEN begins the second half of its final season tonight, and I find myself startlingly indifferent to this fact. Now, I still like MAD MEN. I love the characters and their interactions, and sometimes I enjoy seeing them react to the real life news of the sixties. But the problem is, I don't love the sixties themselves so much.

I originally missed the first two seasons of this show. I began watching with the premiere episode of season three, but I was able to get up to speed fairly easily. Following that season, I let MAD MEN lie until a year later. In advance of the premiere of season four, I watched the first two seasons, plus I viewed season three for a second time. All caught up, I took in season four as it aired. Then MAD MEN missed a year due to negotiations with AMC, and in that time I met my future wife. She was just getting into the series, so we watched all of it together over our earliest days and weeks as a couple. Thus I saw seasons one, two, and four each a second time and season three for a third time. From there I've watched each subsequent season one time each, as they aired.

Why the backstory? I guess I just want to get everyone up to speed on how many times I've seen each season before I make this startling proclamation: I'm not sure I'm as enamored with the series as I used to be. I love seasons one through three. I think those 39 episodes are some of the greatest television I've ever watched, and I would gladly re-view them many times over. Season four is sort of a transitional period for the characters, so I can take it or leave it. Seasons five to the present, however, do very little for me in many respects. Now, don't get me wrong -- as I said above, I still love the characters. I will eagerly tune in tonight and over the next few weeks to see where they all wind up as the show marches to its conclusion. But the deeper into the sixties the series goes, the less enchanted I am with its trappings.

I've seen it said more than once that "the fifties", in terms of zeitgeist, actually ran from around 1948 to 1964 or so. I think that's why I love the early episodes of MAD MEN so much. Everyone dresses like a professional adult in those shows, wearing immaculately pressed suits and ties to work. Plus the original Sterling Cooper offices were beautiful, with all the wood and carpets and big offices. It looked, for good reason, like something out of the idealized past. By season four, when the newly formed SCDP is operating out of the Time Life building, the characters look to be inhabiting an office I might work in today. The charm of the past is gone.

Beyond that is the fact that the early episodes showed us that the "innocence" of the era was not quite as real as we might like to believe -- and I loved it for that. As the series progresses through the sixties, the social ills of the time become actual issues acknowledged by the characters and the world around them. I find this much less interesting. I'm riveted by the characters' behavior in the early seasons. When the show begins, everyone thinks Don Draper is a happily married man -- only he isn't; he's a controlling husband and a philanderer. It's fascinating to watch him trying to be a good person even as he does these awful things. But by the series' end, pretty much everyone is keenly aware of his shortcomings and he's twice divorced. With all this out in the open, the character just isn't compelling like he used to be. And the same holds true for most of the other primary characters. As their shortcomings are revealed to their co-workers, they become less interesting to me as a viewer.

But I suppose that's the point of this series -- showing, over the course of one transformative decade, how that more "innocent" time, when men did as they pleased and no one asked any questions, turned into the world of today. But, the more I've thought about it over the years, I think I would have simply preferred to watch a version of MAD MEN beginning in 1951 and ending in 1960. To me, that would've been a much better version of the series, and a much better way to show how far we've come. I have no interest in the overt turmoil of the sixties. I'd much rather watch the characters living lies and keeping secrets rather than see them laid bare to each other.

And more importantly, nobody wants to watch a show about these people:

When we could be watching a show about these people:

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