James Knows…DVDs: Mad Men – Season One (2007)
I’ve been working in the advertising industry for the better part of 3 years now. During that time, I’ve always heard stories of the crazy days in advertising that came years ago (and of the people that still practice the ways of old). Then a show like Mad Men comes along and shows you firsthand what happened back in 1960 when ad men reigned supreme. I heard a ton of buzz for this show and not one bad review so I was eager to check it out. Within a week or so, I had plowed through the entire 14 episode run of the first season and I was itching for more. There’s just something about this show that slowly infects you and makes you want to watch more and more and more.
Set in 1960 at mid-sized ad agency Sterling Cooper, Mad Men centers around creative director Don Draper (Jon Hamm). We quickly learn that Don is a very complicated man. He has a mysterious past that no one (including his wife) seem to know much about. That doesn’t stop him from being damn good at his job and having at least one woman on the side.
While Don is definitely the main character of the show, there are several minor characters that perform a variety of supporting roles. Just under Don in the show’s hierarchy are newcomer Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) who struggles to maintain her dignity and self-worth in the boy’s club that is the advertising world, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) the slimy account executive who’s willing to do just about anything to jump to the top of the company and Don’s wife Betty (January Jones), who has her own problems as she starts to make her own decisions. The rest of the cast is rounded out by more account executives, the personification of the term “temptress” in Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), and the heads of Sterling Cooper.
All of this put together and mixed in a drink with a whole mess of alcohol and at least a carton of cigarettes provides an amazingly entertaining period piece. I didn’t fall in love with Mad Men right away. It was a slow courting as the layers of these characters were slowly peeled back and I became more and more intrigued by how messed up their lives were. The stories are all well written, but the show really revolves around it’s characters which are all very well developed. Don is not perfect. In fact, he’s very far from it. However, there’s something about him that makes you route for him. Sure, he cheats on his wife and he’s not the best father to his two children. That doesn’t mean we can’t hope he gets out of this OK or at least ahead of that doucebag Campbell. Speaking of Pete Campbell, the word “slimy” doesn’t give him credit. He’s almost snake like with that little head of his sticking out of the top of his suit as he slithers his way through the office looking out only for himself in both his professional and personal life. Goddamn, I hate him.
There’s a tremendous amount of care put into each episode in this season. After watching an hour long featurette included in this release, it’s clear to see that everyone is deeply involved with making the show a success. Creator Matthew Weiner takes great effort in making sure that nothing is out of place for this era. If it didn’t happen before 1960, then it’s not going to be in the show. The costumes, cars, props, and scenery all have that 60s era look and feel to them that really transport you back to that time.
I was fortunate enough to snag one of the limited edition releases of this season in the Zippo Lighter package. The metal case flips open like the lighter and the 4 DVDs are revealed as little steps. It’s not perfect though as the joint holding the top of the case on seems a little flimsy and it doesn’t always close as it should. If you plan on watching these discs a lot, you might want to look into the regular packaging. Even if you’re not, how awesome is that case?
I’m incredibly pleased with Mad Men so far and I’ve jumped right into the second season. My only qualm with the series so far is the passage of time. Sometimes it’s not very clear as to when the episodes are taking place in relation to one another. There’s a big reveal in the season finale that makes sense for the story, but can be a tad unbelievable to most people. It definitely adds a lot to the show, but in practice it seems really out there. I refer to this show, as well as others like Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck as Male Soap Operas. There is some crazy shit that goes down in these 14 episodes and the lives of the characters are just being torn apart so we can look at all the little pieces inside. But it’s manly enough for guys to check out and not feel like they’re watching a regular soap opera.