After a bit of a hiatus, 4-times-in-a-row “best dramatic series” winner Mad Men has returned to AMC. Within five episodes, this show has put nearly every other dramatic series to shame with its seemingly boundless creativity and enormous entertainment value.
Adult themes, unpredictable plot twists, and superb acting work in perfectly balanced harmony to create an always fascinating screen image for viewers to digest. The characters, even the less attractive ones, are all beautiful. Richly drawn and slowly developed, many of these characters (Roger, Peggy, and Lane, to name a few) are worthy of a show.
But what sets this show apart from nearly everything else out there today is the deliberate pacing that has become the show’s signature. Never rushing toward a punch line or a network-mandated commercial break, every scene has ample time to unfold in ways unusual for network television. Plus, shorter-than-usual commercial breaks provide a pause to digest what has just transpired.
This time elasticity allows actors to act (and react) in genuine ways. There is no winking at the camera in Mad Men – it is all played straight. Even when the going gets wild, as when Lane and Peter engage in fisticuffs or Peggy provides a release for midday moviegoers, it never strays to camp as it could in less capable hands. It is always severe and somehow on the money.
Best of all, viewers can take in all those perfectly preserved relics from 60’s culture that set directors and customers weave into virtually every scene. It might be a lamp, wallpaper, a magazine cover, a dress, or a console stereo (it sounds fantastic and makes a great piece of furniture!). Each episode has something that can easily trigger a baby boomer on a synaptic trip down memory lane. Better put for this season; at times, the show is an LSD flashback.
And what of the plot? Try as much as its plot has never been the key selling point. The Don Draper/Dick Whitman back story and the growing pains of a new agency are hardly factors this season. Betty Draper has virtually disappeared. While Pete, Joan, and Peggy toil to gain respect within their various subgroups, Roger squanders whatever is left of his most strikingly.
But these are all merely glorious details of what is for the viewer, to use a 60’s term appropriately, a wonderful Gestalt.
Mad Men achieves that rare outcome where entertainment and information are skillfully combined – Mad Mad makes you think.
While entertaining you, Mad Men asks you to consider your life, time, and choices. Best of all – through the eyes of Don Draper and others – and get to view those choices for what they always are – gloriously precious and beautiful.
Mad Men is on Sunday evening.