Mad Men is the smoothest, slickest, classiest piece of television I’ve ever seen.
It is, however, a bit of a slow-burn. Those interested in watching Mad Men, beware: it’s not a very plot-driven show like Breaking Bad or House of Cards. It’s a show that focuses more on characters, dialogue and environment.
This basically means that Mad Men can seem a little repetitive with all the episodes kind of seeming like they are the same thing over and over again with the same kind of motions episode after episode. At times, it can feel like the plot isn’t moving forward at all. A lot of the time, half a season can go by without anything major changing in the overall story.
Can this get a little boring? Of course it can. But Mad Men is far from boring. Why? Because the characters, dialogue and environment are that good.
And then the fact that it’s set in the ‘60s is just the icing on the cake. And the well-made, stylised quality of Mad Men really does make you feel like you actually are in New York in that era, watching people as they click-clack on their typewriters, unfold very large newspapers, put on a vinyl record or turn on the vintage-looking television which only shows programs in grainy black and white1.
Watching it now, in 2022, makes it very easy to get envious of the people in the show that live in a pre-internet, pre-pandemic time when office desks weren’t yet populated with computers and there was no social media or smart devices. Those times when men would wear oversized suits (including hats), things were done mostly with pen and paper and when smoking indoors was totally okay. That era when you could buy a sandwich and a coffee for 35 cents, people would use words like “swell” and “gal” and — I think you get the idea. I guess I’m just trying to build up that ‘60s vibe which I realise I can’t really put into words as well as a show like Mad Men can, no matter how much I might try to. What do you call it when you feel nostalgic for a time that you never experienced?2
Finally, the show is also quite historically accurate. Each season of the show (of which there are seven) roughly covers around a year of the characters’ lives with the first season being set in 1960. As the seasons go on, events from real-life history actually take place in the show. For example, in season 3 (set in 1963), the JFK assassination is featured in one episode and the show incorporates the incident into the plotline. Although Mad Men isn’t based on a true story and the characters aren’t real, it’s interesting to see how those events must have affected people in reality because, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t around in ‘60s America to have witnessed those things first-hand. It’s just an extra thing that makes the show cool to watch. Also, the furniture, cars and other props also look quite accurate according to the time period, giving that cool ‘60s vibe that I keep rambling on about.
So yeah, long story short: Mad Men is a vibe-heavy show. It is not a show for everyone. If you like stylized shows with cool aesthetics and some of the cleverest and best dialogue you’ve ever seen, you’ll like Mad Men. If you like shows with interesting characters and well-explored interpersonal relationships, albeit a slow storyline, you’ll like Mad Men. If you’re trying to quit smoking or drinking, you’ll hate Mad Men. Because this show has a lot — and I mean a lot — of scenes where characters are constantly lighting up a cigarette or pouring a drink that looks like iced tea but obviously is something a lot more potent.
1 Colour television had already been invented by then, but in Mad Men, most of the time you only see people watch black-and-white stuff.
2 The wonderful Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has an entry for this: anemoia. What is The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, you ask? Just click here and keep scrolling until you see it.
3 So you guys know I like old-school stuff, right. I especially really like old American cars like the 1963 Cadillac Coupe de Ville that the main character of Mad Men, Don Draper, drives for most of the show. My god. Such a cool ride.
We’re still not done with YouTube for today. Here’s a list of YouTube videos that may or may not be worth checking out.