Originally published April 2012 – right on this one too.
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 to look at. Richly drawn and slowly developed, many of these people (Roger, Peggy, and Lane to name a few) are worthy of a show all their own.
But what really sets this show apart from nearly everything else out there today is the very 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. The commercial breaks often offer a welcome 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 engaged in fisticuffs, or Peggy provided a release for midday movie goer, it never strays to camp as it could in less capable hands. Mad Men maintains the tone and is on-the-money.
Best of all viewers are able to take in all those perfectly preserved relics from 60’s culture that set directors, and costume designers weave into almost every scene. It might be a lamp, wallpaper, a magazine cover, dress or a console stereo (not only does it sound great, it makes a great piece of furniture!). Each episode has something that can easily trigger a baby boomer 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 it has 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 almost disappeared. While Pete, Joan, and Peggy toil to gain respect within in their various sub-groups, Roger squanders whatever is left of his in the most flamboyant fashion. But Mad Men isn’t about plot, it’s about characters.
And at the center, this circle of characters is an indelible characterization of Don Draper by Jon Hamm. This is one epic performance that never strays into camp or stereotype. Hamm is just magnificent in this role.
What makes Mad Men great is that it achieves a Gestalt. It becomes greater that all these wonderful parts that make it so interesting to watch.
Mad Men is on Sunday evening.