I’m currently watching Season one of Mad Men, a show I never really tried to watch int the past, but now that I have some time, I am giving it a go. While I can see the appeal of the show and why it wins so many awards, I am hard pressed to find anyone I like. They seem, to a person, to be dark, cynical, and deeply ugly human beings. If this is really what the time period was like, and many say it is, it is not hard to understand the emergence of Nixonian politics, and you could probably name the ad firm Goldman Sachs ad no one would notice.
So far, it is like American Psycho with less charm and without the blow.
That’s the reason I stopped watching after season 1, everyone was so unlikable.
Come on, you’ve got to love Don and Peggy and Joan and Sal. And Roger will grow on you, asshole that he is.
What I like about the show, best, is that Don Draper is such a caricature — with the womanizing, the “I’m the biggest swinging d*ck in the room” stuff, the slick line of bullshit — yet he’s also extremely tortured and very kind in his inclinations.
Bill Rutherford, Princeton Admissions
It’s slow going at first, but you’ll be hooked by the end of S1, I promise.
The wife and I tried to get through season one via Netflix and were very disappointed. It moves slowly, and it’s not really that entertaining once the novelty of the constant chainsmoking wears off.
I’m with you JC. I watched the first two seasons, thought that since I’m in advertising it would be enlightening. Mostly I just rolled my eyes and spent a lot of time hating Don Draper.
But I’m plenty aware that I’m in the minority of people who have watched it. I prefer my television a bit trashier (True Blood) and subtler (Friday Night Lights)
I’ve never seen a minute of this show. A show about advertisers? I hate advertising.
I had the same problem with season 1, I really didn’t like anybody, and couldn’t care less what happened to them, so I stopped watching it.
The S/O continued to watch though, and and some point the next season I caught an episode on the DVR with him, and it was so much better, so I gave it another try.
Trust me, last season was great. So while I still didn’t care for the first season, the subsequent shows are really excellent TV. You’d might be better off reading a good synopsis of season one and actually watching it after that. That’s what I did.
Overly good looking people leading miserable lives, mostly through problems of their own making. Also the blatant sexism while quite representative of the era is not all that entertaining to watch.
John, you arent supposed to like any of the characters — only recognize them
Yeah, it gives you an insight into the seduction of the American psyche into the corporist/marketing/Madison Avenue mindset of alienation from relationships and real meaning of life into accumulation of wealth and power. It takes the men and examines the needs and weakness — the holes they need to fill that make the corporist dream of achievement a relatively easy way to overcome their deeper doubts in their own character and fill it with things and exploitation.
The women too play off that and into it…
If you want to see a really powerful movie about this era (its excellent but very painful), Revolutionary Road — Leonardo de Caprio and Kate Winslet — what is the cost of the tradeoffs for seeking true happiness versus material success and power
I don’t object to everyone being unlikeable. I just found it too dark. I think if some people in it were likeable I’d have found it even more dark–because either I’d like them and they’d be behaving like shits, or I’d like them and they’d be suffering too much.
Still, I really like the reviews that Amanda over at Pandagon has written. I think there’s a lot more there, culturally and politically speaking, than I had the energy for.
I highly recommend the following things for lying around and just watching stuff back to back:
Yes Prime Minister
The Politician’s Wife
Dexter seasons 1,2,3
Big Love seasons 1,2,3
Carnivale season (alas) only one?
@aimai: I second Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. I love both! Did you read my mind,
I was going to suggest them, and just saw your post. GMTA!
…the sexism, the racism, the anti-Semitism
Eh, I’m with schrodinger’s cat on Mad Men, and it’s the same as Revolutionary Road. Pretty people leading miserable lives = no bueno.
In my experience with this show, you will dislike characters strongly, only to like them a lot more later.
I imagine it was a lot like the times. The best thing about this show is learning what my parents’ world might have been like. God knows none of them ever seem willing to talk about it, so “Mad Men” it is.
What makes me like the show is that while the characters are jerks, you can see their essential humanity in unguarded moments, points that make you realize that every person in the show is a prisoner to the lies that they’ve constructed and bought into to be successful in the world they live in. Don Draper is the specific embodiment of this due to his own history.
With you 100% on Yes Minister,Yes Prime Minister, and The Politician’s Wife. Also, of course, the brilliant House of Cards trilogy (House of Cards, To Play the King, and The Final Cut). Not to be missed, and must be watched in sequence.
On a lighter yet darker note (edit: LOLWUT?) I very much enjoyed Mulberry. Just one season (six episodes, maybe?) with the marvellous Geraldine McEwen. I can’t say why it’s both light and dark without spoilers, but I think you’d like it.
With you on Carnivale. But it did have a season two, which really was the last one. Too bad.
You’re clearly watching CSPAN by mistake.
If nothing else, it is visually beautiful. And, if you don’t go in for the identity tensions and the womanizing tensions, you should be able to appreciate the problem-solving aspect. The ad-pitching plots are my favorite thing about the show sometimes.
Funny, given your love for Chuck I would have thought you’d dig Mad Men. Maybe if MM had bouncy music?
I gave up for the same reason — even with excellent period rendition, ugly and depressing is edifying only for a while, after which it is merely ugly and depressing — but it was during S1. I may give S2 a go, if only because my Netflix queue is thinning out.
sort of sums up 2001-2009, eh? Seriously, I love these “BBL” posts.
John, if you’re looking for something to kill time, there was a series several years ago called Eyes with Tim Daley. Quite enjoyable if you like things like Leverage, White Collar and Burn Notice. Only ran 13 episodes, most which never aired.
We watched it just recently, and the S/O found it very Leverage-like. Sharp, funny, good cast. Ultimately popcorn, but it sounds like you need some popcorn in your downtime.
Another British TV series I liked, Jewel in The Crown based on Raj Quartet novels by Paul Scott and Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett as Holmes, especially if you are a fan of Conan Doyle’s.
Did you like the Sopranos? Or the Wire?
The complaints you have apply to these shows (the two greatest in recent television history) as well.
@Elie: I’m not sure why, but I really didn’t like Revolutionary Road, and I felt kind of guilty about not liking it because I kept thinking I should like it but I didn’t. Well, maybe not like exactly, but admire.
Don is surprisingly complex. He has a real streak of gallantry, for example towards Peggy. But he’s also a complete horndog.
Watching the Cspan replay of Obama at the GOP retreat.
This is fucking awesome. Don’t miss it.
Oh, and let us know when you get to the Kodak Carousel episode. :-)
This. So true.
@schrodinger’s cat: Oh yes, to both. Jeremy Brett, may he RIP, was the best Sherlock Holmes evah!
@Joel: The characters in The Wire (never watched the Sopranos), however, are also hilarious and witty and loving. In Mad Men it’s just a lot of nastiness. I have not seen season 3, however.
It’s not the ’60s. It’s the 2000’s version of the 60’s done up in appropriate costume.
Thinking Mad Men is some sort of 60’s documentary is akin to thinking that Gilmore Girls is a documentary on current events. They may have the buzz words and cliche stereotypes in place, but true to life? Doubt it.
Skip the Yes Minister stuff and go to the bloody dark and loveable reptile Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) in the House of Cards Trilogy.
All on Netflix instant.
Can you get “The Thick of It” over there? Armando Iannucci is a geeeenius.
And as for TV miniseries recommendations: “I, Claudius.” Still one of the best British miniseries ever.
And a hearty “Me too!” for House of Cards series. We watch all of them just about once a year or so.
Good show or not, I would still give my eyeteeth to have Joan’s figure, thankyouverymuch.
we can be heroes
I think it’s a high budget soap opera. I mean this literally.
Well, wifey and I didn’t catch any of it until a few months ago. We were quickly hooked and haven’t missed an episode since.
I certainly can’t identify with any of the characters, but I recognize some of them and definitely connect with that era in a big way. Of course, I was born in ’54.
If you haven’t seen it, check out the Up series (7 Up, 14 Up, 21Up etc.) on Netflix Instant. Btw loved ‘The thick of It’
Have you been watching season 4 of FNL? It is unbelievably good. Steve Harris is going to win an Emmy.
Thanks for reminding me about the second season of Carnivale. We watched it and mourned the whole show ending. But its really incredible. I highly recommend it, and also recommend reading “The Worst Hard Time” for a realistic version of the dust bowl.
If John hasn’t watched Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister he absolutely has to give the a try. Its politics without making you want to drink poison. And, of course, there’s always Absolutely Fabulous (!)
I bought In the Loop blindly on DVD, and I need to now find “The Thick of it.”
I felt that way too, and also about American Beauty. I must have some sort of Sam Mendes-appreciation deficiency.
I don’t find them to be dark, I find them to be mostly boring. Peggy, one of the “good” people is more a series of tics than an interesting character. Pete’s a douche and whiny besides. Don’s wife, shit I can’t even remember her name right now, is basically wallpaper with a daddy complex.
However, Joan Holloway and Roger absolutely explode off the screen. They are given great lines, they read them well and they seem to be the only people who fully inhabit their own environment. Don, the tortured cipher, is interesting enough, but only when he decides to engage in the situation, not moodily retreat from it (which is most of the time).
All of that said, I like the show. The last season turned into something recognizably human and compelling. That people actually did things, instead of posturing about them and the ever-present ennui turned into something resembling momentum.
I have Joan’s figure. Its just underneath my own.!
General Winfield Stuck
Television for me has been an empty wasteland the past several years, ever since the writers strike, most of the new programs on the networks have been awful and it seems the ones I did like got that way too. The only thing the idiot box is good for are broadcasting the deep thoughts of Tweety and his comrades on cable teevee when I’m in the mood for nonsense and outrage. Except Cspan of course, I like cspan.
The one character we (my wife and I) sympathized with was Joan. If you get all the way through to the current season, I think you might say it was worthwhile. Loved the dichotomy of Don and his wife and their escapades, and also really enjoyed the Peggy character. We’re looking forward to the next season.
I think it has a little bit in common with Mary Hartman (if you are that old) in the black humor, especially an incident with a lawn mower in a later season. The series is dark –and that is probably the point: the things these people do with their lives is tragic.
@SiubhanDuinne: I know why you didn’t like Revolutionary Road: it was terrible.
One of the worst adaptations (of a truly great book) I’ve ever seen.
My favorite TV show these days is Top Chef, wonder when the next season starts.
Haven’t seen the show, but yet, even as a child during the 60s and a teenager during the 70s, I sensed (without having enough knowledge at the time to diagnose why) that this was a low down dirty period of time when the combination of material wealth and moral + spiritual poverty was truly appalling. People were nasty to each other for no reason other than just because it was what everybody did, so why should I be any different?. I remember during the 1968 election that little kids (i.e. 1st and 2nd grade) were assaulted on the playground by other older and larger boys simply because of the partisan affilation of their parents. Later, when I was in the 8th grade one of the kids threw sulfuric acid in another kids face in science class for no reason other than just to be mean.
I don’t miss that era, at all.
Just to say I’m a big fan of “Lie to Me.” Tim Roth is teh awesome.
[email protected] That’s great — I’m stealing that line.
Well if anyone deserves an Emmy from FNL, I’d have to go with Zach Gilford. That episode with the funeral was one of the best things I’ve seen on television, ever.
But I’ve long given up on anything from FNL ever being nominated.
@General Winfield Stuck:
Really? A lot of people have considered the last few years one of the most creative periods in tv history. I guess it just depends on what kind of stuff you like.
John, you’re absolutely correct, and it only gets worse.
Have not read the thread but quickly: I love Joan. She is my favorite character. And I also like Don. I cannot stand Betty. Season 2 & 3 will get you to see other sides of these characters.
I just bought season 6 of “West Wing,” possibly one of the best TV shows evah, and I will be experiencing that this evening.
1. Give it time.
2. Most people in real life would be “unlikeable,” if you were privy to their thoughts and actions in all parts of their lives, rather than only to what they show you–your kindergarten teacher seemed nice, but was cold to her own kids; your Grandpa was great to you, not so great to Grandma and your mom 30 years ago; your boss is a bully at work, but a pitiful drunk when he goes home, etc. Most TV characters are “likeable” because they’re more consistent (i.e., one-dimensional) than real people. Even “dark” characters, like House, who we can imagine to have hearts of gold beneath their (trustily consistent) prickly exteriors.
3. The need to have characters you can like/admire/fall in love with is precisely why we (American TV viewers) can’t have nice things (interesting TV drama, except on cable).
The first season of The Thick Of It is nearly perfect (and I’d say even way better than “In the Loop”, which I liked a lot). I thought the most recent season (labeled as season 2 or 3 depending where you look) was rather mediocre in comparison though.
And if you like it, The Day Today and I’m Alan Partridge (the 1st season anyway) are also must-see Iannucci-related shows.
@LondonLee: Hmm, never thought of that. I expect you’re right :-)
After we watched the pilot when it first aired on AMC back in July of ’07, my husband said to me, “This show will never last. There are no likeable characters.” Nevertheless, we were hooked. The writing is first rate, the production design is amazing, and the acting is beyond compare.
John Slattery’s character Roger Sterling is my favorite. As you continue to watch, you will see why these people are so flawed.
I, too, wish more things blew up.
Mad Men grows on you. I didn’t like it at first either (well, it was better than most stuff on TV but I didn’t see what the fuss was about). I learned to love it, but think the integration of political events is too heavy handed. Of course, it has to be because of our collective ignorance of history.
…although it’s possible Mad Men is just not your cup of tea. :)
I love Mad Men. Every Sunday without Mad Men gives me a sad. I don’t always understand why the characters do what they do, but that’s like everyone else I know, and they’re better looking. I love the sets, and I love the way Matt Weiner plays with that time in our cultural history – a lot happened in a short time. I like his cultural shout outs and the look and feel. Everything is going to be upended starting in 1964. I can’t wait for Season 4. Can’t wait.
Wile E. Quixote
What do you mean, there was lots of blow from 2001 to 2009. Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, oh wait, you meant cocaine. Never mind.
Or the emergence of beatniks and hippies, either.
I just couldn’t get into Mad Men’s first season. I could admire the craft in making it, but nothing grabbed me about it. Felt a lot like the TV version of an Oscar-bait prestige period movie. But I’m clearly out of the mainstream on this, so we’ll see whether it stands the test of time.
I’m currently watching Season one of Mad Men, a show I never really tried to watch int the past, but now that I have some time, I am giving it a go. While I can see the appeal of the show and why it wins so many awards, I am hard pressed to find anyone I like. They seem, to a person, to be dark, cynical, and deeply ugly human beings.
So? Why do you have to like them? Did you like anyone in The Sopranos? They were all awful people too, and yet it was riveting.
Art doesn’t have to be designed to show us people we like — it’s ultimate purpose is to show us people we recognize, to show us our own emotions, thoughts, feelings, actions reflected back at us. I’m often dark, cynical, and deeply ugly (though devastatingly handsome), and when I watch the show I’m often struck by how something Don has thought or done or felt reminds me of times when I’ve thought or done or felt the same thing.
@arguingwithsignposts: I’m in the middle of season five. It was definitely a transition from the Aaron Sorkin years and the weakest of the five seasons, IMHO, but still excellent. Seasons six and seven were amazing; I liked all the campaign stuff. Per, Wikiamo, Eli Attie said that Matt Santos was based on Barack Obama. And the teabaggers would not like Arnold Vinick (created by Lawrence O’Donnell).
“The West Wing” is my all time favorite show.
I very much agree, John. I turned to my girlfriend as we watched Mad Men seasons 1&2 last summer and said much the same thing: “I just don’t like any of these people.”
Eventually, I came to like that about the show. When Draper was a chauvinistic assmunch, I didn’t have to try to defend him. He’s a good “creative” guy and gets better as a businessman, but he’s a heel as a person. The other characters have similar problems. They’re more like real people.
All the horrible people in Mad Men eventually behave with some degree of kindness or are victimised by factors truly outside of their control. And that leaves you with this mess of an opinion, with sympathy going out to folks who don’t deserve it. It’s like friends and family, inescapable torture. Absolutely brilliant.
I had a hard time getting into it. I watched the first few episodes and wasn’t really feeling anything. But as I marched on, I became more hook, but yes, I too agree that there aren’t many characters that you actually want to root for.
I should add that I got a bit tired of all of the “life in the 60’s was totally different!!!” things. They relied on that trick too much for humor – the kids climbing around the moving car, the smoking, the drinking, smacking the kids, the dry-cleaning bag. It’s not that the differences don’t exist, it’s that they felt like heavy-handed references out of place with the high quality craftsmanship of the show.
Wow, I love Vinick just because it’s Alan Alda, and Santos is cool too. Alda was just terrific playing against type.
Big fan of Mad Men, for the same reason I like The Wire and The Sopranos – because they are so unlikeable. Until you go outside of America, you don’t realize just how polite and well-mannered most Americans are. Even if its fake politeness, there is an understanding that being rude or discourteous to someone can result in loss of business, loss of face, or worst-case scenario, a punch in the jaw. Shows like Mad Men allow us to view bad behavior from the safety of our couch.
The attention to detail, whether it is set design, the language used, the cars that are driven – it is just amazing to look at.
Also, it views a period of history, the Sixties, through a new viewpoint. It is not the viewpoint of DC politicians, Baby Boomers, or civil rights workers. It is the viewpoint of a ruling class that does not realize it is slipping from its advantageous position.
Are you sure our time period isn’t still run by the same people just a little more diverse?
I like the show so much that I made up words to the theme song Admittedly, they’re just the words “mad men” repeated over and over again to the beat of the music.
The picnic in the park was the dumbest thing ever on the show, I think.
@DougJ: mp3 or it didn’t happen.
Just wait. You haven’t felt the storylines gel yet.
What Cat Lady @64 and Stefan @68 said. Best show on teevee. Adore Joan. Would love to have drinks with Roger. I’d probably fall into bed with Don, but I’d be more like the Jewish girlfriend. Peggy is very complex and Pete is more complex than he seems at first. It’s every bit as mesmerizing to me as The Wire was. And, IMHO, better than The Sopranos. I liked some episodes of The Sopranos, but I didn’t think it was consistently excellent. I know that’s very contrarian, but too bad.
@General Winfield Stuck:
Cspan was better when it was more of a neutral player. It’s trending right, especially on booktv is dissappointing.
wha? there’s some ‘spainin to do there.
You definitely need to give it some time. I was warned that before I watched the first few episodes. If nobody told me that I probably would have given up after a few episodes.
It’s worth sticking with.
I’m midway through the second season and loving it. While recognizing that exactly what I claim to hate in New Yorker fiction–unpleasant people gradually undergo character development–pretty much defines the show. It just does it so well that I’m riveted.
I don’t like anyone. (Except Trudy. And I’m falling for Joan.) Pete is a total slimeball and yet I enjoy watching him slime his way through each episode. I recognize people, and feelings, and attitudes. And I love the casual sexism and racism and anti-semitism, because so often in period fiction, whether the 1960s or 1760s, the hero is outfitted with sensibilities that fit perfectly with the time it was written, not the time it’s portraying. I have all sorts of “this has changed from 20 years earlier, this will change so much in 20 years” moments watching the show.
I don’t like Don Draper. But the lens he turns on constructing a personal and a national identity is awesome.
@aimai: With aimai here – read some feminist critiques of MM, especially Marcotte. You’ll appreciate it more, I suspect.
The tension for me is that a lot of the characters show signs of being likable, but they’re so damaged they can’t quite pull it off. Pete, who’s perfectly played, keeps bordering on being a decent person but he’s so screwed up by his family he keeps falling back into being a dick. They’re unrealistically unpleasant in the way that a lot of midcentury fiction characters are, but it’s so well-crafted I couldn’t help but enjoy watching it.
Laying back & watching shows:
Father Ted (so good)
Dexter (ludicrous, but the plots are wonderful little swiss watches; totally addicting, and I really like the female characters)
Mythbusters (happy nerds blowing things up)
The Thick of It/In the Loop (the latter, derived from the former is the funniest thing I’ve watched in years)
The Armando Iannucci Shows (Iannucci’s weird masterpiece – premiered right after 9/11 and fell totally under the radar since; not available in region 1 DVD, IIRC, so you may need to use extralegal means)
[Speaking of the John Oliver/Chris Addison/Iannucci school of British political comedy, I highly, highly recommend “The Department,” a BBC radio comedy series starring Oliver, Addison, and Andy Zaltzman. You can find it, if you know what I mean.]
@tagimaucia: Seconding I’m Alan Partridge and The Day Today, along with Brass Eye.
General Winfield Stuck
@Ash: I was speaking of the big 3 plus fox networks. And I don’t get SyFy, not any of the cable movie channels. But yea, it depends on what you like, and I don’t things like Mad Men, or any of the thirtysomething like take offs. Nor the Xfile ripoff shows.
But mostly shows I used to like such as House, CSI, and others that I just got tired of. But I’m more of a movie buff anyways, and netflix has more than taken up the slack.
Oh come on whetstone, what’s so ludicrous about Dexter? It makes perfect sense to me! They are variable but, as you say, some of them are “perfect swiss watches”. I love Dexter because, at its best especially in the early seasons, its about the problem we all face in being human and caring about others. In Dexter’s case he has to fake it, all the time. He’s performing humanity without feeling it. One of my favorite episodes is the one where he goes to investigate a serial killing psychiatrist and actually has a psychic breakthrough, a kind of epiphany, while casing the psychiatrist as a potential victim. The two of them are having a conversation whose meaning, at least to the dr. is totally obscure. And yet, as a dr. he’s really doing Dexter some good. And Dexter is, in his own way, grateful, even as he’s planning to kill the guy. Almost all the dialogue and the plots run on two or more tracks simultaneously.
Why do people hate Miss Farrell so much — the school teacher one who was in the Twix commercial? She’s no Rachel, but she’s much better than Bobbi and Betsy herself.
Like someone up-thread, I found characters in Mad Men unrealistically unpleasant and self-destructive. Yes there are some people like that you know, but not every one is like that. Also, many of the characters come across as archetypes rather than real people.
Betty – Stepford Wife
Joan – Office Hottie
Roger – Entitled scion
Don Draper – Misunderstood outsider, our hero, who all women find utterly irresistible.
Pete-Younger, meaner version of Roger
Sal-Artistic repressed closeted gay person
Peggy-Plain Jane, frumpy but smart ad woman
and so on..
I did like the opening graphics and the meticulous attention to detail while recreating the period and Jon Hamm is hot! but that was not enough for me to keep watching.
Disclaimer: Of course I have only seen the first season, so may be it changed for the better, later.
To the tune of a well-deserved Emmy Award. He was great in that role, wasn’t he?
It”s truly amazing how many things about the ’08 election the West Wing predicted two years earlier.
Don and Peggy develop into the most fascinating platonic relationship I have ever seen on TV, hands down! Mad Men gets really good. But yes, it does take awhile.
Oh yes. We own that stuff and watch it regularly. Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle is another recent Iannucci-produced show we liked a lot.
DougJ, I don’t hate Miss Farrell. I just found her to be an underwritten and ever shifting character. Also, I was annoyed that they went with that predictable plot line. Everyone saw it coming a mile away, so I was hoping there would be a change-up, but alas, no. Meh.
I’m a big fan, but I agree that S1 overindulged in those “Look how different things were in the 60s!” moments. There’s less of that as time goes on.
John, if you stick with it, I would recommend Alan Sepinwall’s blog. He and the commenters there are often very insightful.
It took me half the first season, but Mad Men really grew on me. I agree that it can sometimes be over the top in its representations of the early 60s, but I disagree with schrodinger’s cat that the characters are all caricatures. That’s what we’re supposed to think they are, until all the ways in which they’re more interesting are revealed as the season and seasons unfold.
Especially Don, Peggy, and Joan – there is much more to all of them than meets the eye. That doesn’t mean I like them and would want to go out for a milkshake, but I find the show totally engrossing.
When it comes to how “realistic” it is or isn’t, I think that the characters’ personalities and behaviors are unrealistic in degree but realistic in kind. The writers want to explore the culture of the early 60s, and I think that character traits and social behavior is exaggerated in a “photo enlarged to show texture” kind of way.
@General Winfield Stuck: @Nellcote:
I don’t see the right wing turn regarding C-SPAN to which you refer. I think they try to be fairly even handed in terms of guest selection for Washington Journal and the authors appearing on BookTV.
I don’t find any of Mad Men’s characters very likable, but the writing and acting are great.
The really telling part about advertising back then was that bit in the movie where Leo’s working on that marketing campaign, totally bullshitting his way through the writing of it, and his shock when it turns out to be such a success.
I hated Bobbi and Miss Farrell. Bobbi was awful and Miss Farrell was lame, especially compared to Rachel who was just completely awesome and won’t be back because she’s a biker chick in Sons of Anarchy. I’m the only one I know who just loves Betty in all of her unconscious glory – except for that scene in Italy last season where she made Don look like the bumpkin he really is and she did it with total self-awareness. She’s way more interesting than she appears, but they all are. Kudos to January Jones and the set designers in that episode. Plus, very very sexy.
The wife and I watched the 1st ep. of Mad Men. We were both left cold. The characters not only seemed unlikable, but not really that interesting. Advertising? Boring. (I worked in that world for a while, so maybe I’m particularly unenchanted by it.)
True, The Sopranos was full of nasty people also, but they were amusing, outsize characters. True, The Wire also takes a few episodes to heat up, but it felt more real, less stylized, from the start.
From what I saw of Mad Men, it seemed like just a lot of workplace backstabbing. This is the everyday crap that I watch TV to _escape_ from. Much as I love midcentury modern style, the retro production design was not enough to keep me watching.
And the glaring, blinking neon ISSUES: Look, anti-Semitism! Look, misogyny! Look, a closeted gay man pretending to like women! It felt like everyone was being judged for not conforming to the mores of the 2000s. Yawn.
I guess we could have stuck with it, but when people say “You have to watch the whole 1st season to really get into it,” well, I have better ways to spend my time. It’s like Lucas excusing “The Phantom Menace” as just “setup” for the other movies. If it’s not interesting and worth watching in its own right, it’s not worth producing.
As long as we’re throwing out recommendations, here’s mine: The Sandbaggers, an obscure British spy series that ran from about 1978 to 1981. Ultra-low production values, but superbly clever dialogue and intrigue — much of it taking place within the intelligence bureau itself.
For those that might have missed the Obama/gooper event today, Cspan is showing a replay at 8 EST.
I am a tremendous admirer of Mad Men, but having just re-watched it, I agree that S1 can seem slow at first, a very leisurely pace. Setting the mood. It definitely picks up steam though, and the characters do indeed become more complex.
One of the best things for me as the show progressed was bloggers and commenters at say, the AV Club, who would catch allusions or echoes that I’d missed. By S2 and 3, every episode is packed with them, it is meticulously well-done. Mad Men is sprawling and novelistic, cumulatively. Love it.
Betty is becoming such an interesting character to watch. S1 she was a very nice person with no depth. Not in the unfleshed-out fictional character sense, but in the sense of a real woman who hadn’t done much to flesh herself out. Or who did–college, Italy, New York City–and then lost that depth for what she thought she wanted. It’s a fascinating portrait of a not-very interesting woman, and it amazes me how the writers and actress do that.
I do agree that if you give a show a shot and it’s not growing on you, drop it. Mad Men had the good arc, where the first few episodes are promising and then it really gels. Unlike the shows with great pilots that then struggle to figure out how to change things up for episode 3.
Another vote for Mythbusters. And Veronica Mars if you haven’t watched that yet–it has sympathetic characters and incredibly tight plotting for S1.
If that’s all there was to those characters, the show would be pretty dull. But they’re much more complex than that. Except maybe Roger Sterling, who seems the most one dimensional, least interesting and most comic. Betty is a petty, nasty Stepford Wife, but also a lonely, trapped emotional adolescent unable to make much sense of the world, and whose true soul mate seems to be a seven year old child. She’s remarkably unlikable, yet also so vulnerable. Joan, in a later era, would be running Sterling Cooper rather than just herding the hen house and servicing powerful men for status. Smart as a whip, yet so tragic as she can see the glass ceiling approaching, knowing she’ll never have the opportunity to shine outside the bedroom. Peggy is naive but ambitious, longs to break out of small Catholic parish into something more. She develops a true bond with Draper that’s fantastic to behold. And Draper, the man blessed with such good looks, is also completely self made, whose greatest talent is being able to grab onto the horns of opportunity without flinching and riding for all it’s worth. But he does so with bitter regrets and a keen sympathy for those who’ve seen the kind of adversity as he has.
Carnivale, in it’s first season, was a wonderful mix of creepy circus freakshow, with weird sexual/pentecostal religious thing going on. the second and last season sputtered out as the supernatural stuff just got too overpowering.
I would not recommend Nip Tuck. I sat through the first season thinking the premise had so much promise and aggrevated that the characters were not only unlikable, they were totally unbelievable. Much eye rolling ensued. I started the second season hoping it would get real. It didn’t.
I’ve only seen the first season of Dexter. the premise is fascinating, and I like a lot about the show, but the first season wrap up climax was so outlandish, more like a comic book. I should give the second season a try.
@JenJen: “The Wheel” and the season 2 finale are my two favorite Mad Men episodes.
Just awesome stuff.
The Sandbaggers is decent for what it is: a one hour spy show that’s not about James Bond and gadgets. Even better is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and it’s sequel. Though both demand strict attention.
I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed Roger’s character…but his minstrel scene in season 3 almost ruined him for me. I kind of like Don Draper in a weird kind of way. He reminds me of my grandfather.
I’m really curious how Pete Campbell will turn out in the next season and how the show will tackle the entrance of African-Americans in American corporate life.
I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed Roger’s character…but his minstrel scene in season 3 almost ruined him for me.
That was unbelievable, yet, given Roger, pretty believable.
I always wonder, with Roger, how much of his appeal is just John Slattery kicks ass.
John Slattery does indeed kick ass. I fear though that in the next season of Mad Men I won’t be able to see Roger without thinking “Gold, Women, Sheep”.
I generally agree with John’s assessment of Mad Men – I don’t much like anyone in it. Same thing that put me off “Lost”. However, Mad Men has gobs of style and the characters are at least understandable, if not likable.
The one effect that I hope comes from Mad Men is for Christina Hendricks to repopularize non-anorexic women. If anyone can do it, she can.
Season 1, Episode 12 is a knockout.
I’m with John. The first season sucked. People say the next two were better but I can’t watch it. I was grown up and living in New York in the early sixties and It just wasn’t like MM. There’s a deadness to the people, a stiffness which dehumanizes them. The producer of MM tries to make them like the decor, all angular and straight lines, (i’m not talking about Christina Hendriks BTW, I’m talking inside) cliches. MM, in the first season, lacks the passion that was driving modernism right straight through the center of the culture at that time.
I was grown up and living in New York in the early sixties and It just wasn’t like MM.
Interesting. I have a second cousin who worked on Madison Avenue in the 60s that I’ve been hearing about all my life, how he had to have scotch within five minutes of walking into your house, how his custodial visits took place each month at the Oyster Bar (he had Rob Roys, his daughter had a Shirley Emple)…
I never believed he was real and then I turned on Mad Men. But I think it was probably a very small subculture, obviously.
Love the show, but yup, and they’re not really supposed to be likable, though a weird effect takes over and you notice yourself unable to stop watching until you are finished.
From everyone from that era, they nailed it pretty dead on and from the historical records and laws of the time, you can see that even more so, which shouldn’t be surprising as the writing comes from a lot of personal narratives from ordinary people and ad-men from that time in history as well as books like the Feminine Mystique that documented just how much it sucked to not be a white male back then.
I think its most critical feature is not the characters who are almost incidental, but how much it hammers home how necessary all the battles we fought for equal rights were and how far we’ve really come, which can be crucial these days. Whenever I’m despairing at the abortion battles or the fact that the idea of consent isn’t yet central to culture’s idea of sex or where gay people are politically, Mad Men reminds me of where we were only 50 years ago and just how bad it was and how the people who were the Don Draper’s back then are all still fucking alive and voting in masse.
It definitely puts into focus where people like the teabaggers are coming from. Every one of them was a Peter Campbell back in the day and thought of those times as the glory days.
It’s the best portrait of the enemy money can buy and the best mirror of exactly what they are referring to when they talk about the “glory days” we should “return to”.
But yeah, stick with it. It’s some amazing storytelling and you’ll find yourself aching to the side-plots of the minority characters, Betty, Peggy, Joan, Sal.
@DougJ: You could smell those guys coming, tobacco, Scotch, a faint scent of lime cologne, a rustle of starched linen and hard leather heels; they were formidably well educated and entitled and brooked no interference. The MM guys are frail shadows of those men.
They are updated metrosexuals. The real mad men would have crumpled them like airmail stationery.
You could smell those guys coming, tobacco, Scotch, a faint scent of lime cologne, a rustle of starched linen and hard leather heels; they were formidably well educated and entitled and brooked no interference.
That sounds like my second cousin.
Way to miss the point, it’s not “judging them by the oh so passe mores of modern society”. It’s pointing out that time is a linear progression of history from more sucky for minorities to less sucky for minorities with the hard, unending struggles for incremental rights.
It’s not judging, it’s demonstrating how unimaginably horrible it was to be a minority back then and how much we’ve gone and still need to go (anything you agree with is probably something we haven’t fixed yet).
It’s also definitely pointing why so many conservatives want to go back. White men basically had full reign over any minorities anywhere and pretty much had the power of gods. To lose that may indeed feel like feminists, queers, and dirty brown people stole away your perfect society from you.
Wow, someone who came to the exact conclusion I did. I am surrounded by Mad Men lovers. Also the sound is dead. I know they have a limited budget for a period piece, but dang, record some manual typewriters or get some bird noises or SOMETHING. Maybe they want to clobber us over the head with how very oppressive it was then by giving us sonic claustrophobia. Like it would be too subtle otherwise. I get it, people.
For something that is fascinating and hilarious in its perfect old-timeyness, and much much better than I expected, and in fact effing perfect, go netflick the Nancy Drew serial movies starring Bonita Granville. There are tragically only two discs with two episodes each.
It will be the perfect antidote to dead-ass Mad Men.
@Joel: I loved Sopranos and The Wire. And they had extremely likeable characters who did horrible things. Also Breaking Bad. No. Mad Men is just one note: ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh. At least the three or four shows I watched before giving up. And I don’t care if “that’s what it was like then!” That only means I’ll be skipping that part of history when I finish my time-machine.
I was young during the “Mad Men” era and I watched it once or twice, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. I know how men treated women then; I know how they treated women in the office. Some of my summer jobs were awful. I don’t find the show entertaining. Is there any question why the women’s movement really got going a few years later?
Can’t wait to see how Mad Men deals with the start of Beatlemania
Bob In Pacifica
I tried “Mad Man” it but couldn’t get into it. It’s dark, and like everyone says, there are no likeable characters.
Right now I’m watching “Slings & Arrows”. About a Canadian Shakespearean company. I’m enjoying it.
Peggy is likeable, and Joan will grow on you.
Both make mistakes, but both of them are fighters who are winning in a world with the odds stacked against them.
Their mistakes can be aggravating, but it makes them all the more real.
Peggy’s gritty and determined and overcomes long odds to become the best advertising mind in the office.
Joan’s got her whole inner conflict between wanting to be successful in her own right and wanting to conform to the standards of the era (the standards of the era are to be Betty, basically).
Betty’s just going to get more annoying as she could be a capable and successful person, but constantly undermines herself.
Don is a wicked, evil human being. He’s extremely charismatic, but he’s an a-hole, pure and simple. But at least he’s fun.
Roger is sleezy little rich boy. He’s pretty funny though.
Pete, on the other hand, well…there’s nothing nice you can say about Pete.
Keep watching, it just gets better. And there are so many layers and nuances, its not even funny. Everything on that show means something. Nothing, nothing just happens or is coincidence.
Totally completely hooked on MM. I love ALL the characters (OK, not Duck. Or Moneypenny) even when they do despicable things.
I even thought Bobbi was awesome, just not so much with Don. And I’ve spent many hours at Basket of Kisses hatin’ on Betty in S3, (and loving every minute of it) though in rewatching S1, I’m feeling a little more sympathy for her.
I just hope they stop before Don appears in white bell bottoms, a nehru jacket and sideburns. Noooooooooo!!!!
I don’t think you’re supposed to actually LIKE any of the characters, but they do grow on you.
Strangely enough, one of the characters that most folks hate- Pete – doesn’t bother me nearly as much as other characters.
I do think you’re watching it in the right way- all at once. I watched seasons 1 and 2 during a weekend long marathon. I don’t believe I would have gotten into the show if I had to watch it week after week.
I can’t stand Peggy, but I love Joan.
Don Draper is a nightmare of a man, but I totally think he’s a great character.
Can’t stand Betty and have no sympathy for her.
Roger is necessary, but I don’t like him.
Sal – I feel for him.
I don’t think that sub-culture was all that sub. I was not grown up in the late fifties early sixties, hell I’m barely grown up now, but I was alive then and paying some attention and that’s the reason that I don’t like MM. It seems to me to just be an overacted replay of the era. Wasn’t a fan then, not a fan now.
I’m sorry, but some of you people who are bragging about how you dismissed Mad Men after watching a single episode sound a little ridiculous. It’s not that kind of show.
If you think that it’s “just” stylish show about the 60’s, or a workplace drama, then in all candor, you’re wrong. If you’re expecting it to unfold like Sopranos or the Wire, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. I’m reminded of what my humanities professor said to us about Hamlet way back when I was a freshman at WVU: some of you are so busy looking for the wrong thing that you’re missing what’s really there.
Via CouchBaron at TWOP: There’s a scene where Roger is sleeping with someone who’s around 22, and she coos to him that their souls are the same age. And Roger really does have the soul of a rather immature 20 year old.
Of course the characters are unlikable. Likable people are so damn boring. :)
What the show is about, is the dynamics of unlikable people working together… but also how these men (and women) became unlikable in the first place… and how they’re trying to get themselves better. Problem is, they’re Ad men: all they know is the Sell, the Come-On, the Lie…
For @Deborah at 132, Roger’s problem is that his soulmate is Joan (who is, by my viewing of Season 3, the Only Sane Woman and most sympathetic character in the series), but for some reason or another he didn’t reach for that brass ring and by the end of Season 3 is living with the regret.
Things to watch out for in Season 4:
1) they made a big deal about forming their new ad agency around Roger’s cigarette company… but the Surgeon General’s warning about smoking comes out in, what, February of that year. Oops.
2) Don Draper: newly single man about town. Ladies, the line starts… HERE
3) The Kitty Genovese rape/murder happens in ’64. How could this affect Peggy Olson and her roomie? Especially with Duck showing signs of being a stalker?
4) What will happen to slightly likable characters beatnik wannabe Paul Kinsey and closeted Sal Romano?
and Ken. Don’t forget John Deere Ken. The look on his and Paul’s faces when they showed up after the weekend raid was awesome.
My favorite part of the last episode was when Roger and Don show up at Pete’s. He messed his hair to look like he was home sick, but it was such a quick foreshadowing of the Beatles haircut that it was brilliant.
I love the Layne character’s realpolitiking. I love this show.
Draper: “My first job I was in house at a fur company, with this old pro of a copywriter, a Greek, named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new.” It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. He also talked about a deeper bond with a product: nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent…”
(starts slide show featuring photos of Draper’s family.)
Draper: “Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a space ship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called a wheel, it’s called a carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and round, and back home again. To a place where we know we are loved.”
(ends presentation. half the guys in the room are crying.)
Yes. That was awesome.
This episode was too.
Well, to each their own.
I do think it’s interesting that you’re giving the work of Brett Easton Ellis, who’s basically just a mean person, credit for its charm and sentimentality.
@PaulW: I heard that Romano gets written off the show. Contract dispute?
I dunno about contract disputes. My guess is they’d gone as far with that character as they could. It’s just there was a fanbase for Sal, that’s why I stated it more as a question than as a plot point…
I didn’t like the characters at first, but they grew on me as I invested more time in the show and each of them had more of a backstory to play with. I could say the same about Bob the Builder, though. Poor Wendy.