I'm surprised that those of you (you are many) with a predilection for all things mid-mod haven't yet posted about this terrific series. Perhaps you young people aren't inclined to watch AMC? Perhaps you've got a post buried somewhere and I haven't yet discovered it? Don't know. But I predict that this show—with its star, Jon Hamm—is going to rock the cazbah at upcoming awards events (or...er...announcements).
So forget for a moment that Mad Men is the best new thing on TV. What really fuels the series is pure, undiluted mid-century Manhattan Glamour. With its intoxicating styling and set design, Mad Men is a super-crisp reflection of what many New Yorkers think of as their own personal alternate universe, a place where men wear fedoras and lipstick leaves dark stamps on everything it encounters. The show is heaven for design geeks and retro romantics alike.
Don Draper (Jon Hamm - pictured just below) is an icon of male confidence—a cynic with smarts who, like so many New Yorkers, has erased his own history and learned to control the city that would swallow him up. Each day, he dominates a midtown playground, one outfitted with eight-martini lunches. Unlike, say, Entourage, Mad Men is willing to acknowledge its rat pack’s ugly streak (Don's casual insensitivity to his wife tops the list of his ugly). But thank heaven for decent character development.
Mary Corey, a lecturer at the University of California in Los Angeles who specializes in post-World War II intellectual and cultural history, said Mad Men is a dead-on depiction of the era, with its vast inequities between the sexes. “It is at the very moment that the party is almost over for American men,” she said. “It’s extremely accurate — the sadness and loneliness of the women.”
Professor Corey described the era as a “roiling mess” about to explode. “The show explains why the ’60s had to happen, because it can’t stay like that,” she said. “The surface tension is too profound.”
Bonus: A bit of John Hamm's backstory (if you don't already want to know something about this guy, give it time):
“Nothing [in Hollywood] happens without incredible luck,” says Hamm, 36, “being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of what you have.” Times were hard (until relatively recently!) for Hamm, but he was used to it. His mother died when he was 10. His father followed 10 years later. “What my mother left me was a trust that was used to pay for my high school and a little bit for college,” he says. “And my father had nothing when he passed away. My mother—it sounds very Dickensian and romantic—but my mother’s dying wish was that I go to this particular private [high school], John Burroughs School in St. Louis because friends had gone there. I have to say it was the single most profound, resonating decision ever made in my life. It wasn’t made by me, but it’s what every mother should want for her child.”
Hamm went on to finish college with a major in English. “By the time I graduated college I managed to talk them into giving me a theater scholarship and then into hiring me to do plays ... I went back to my old high school and said, 'You’re the reason I am the person I am today and I would like to inspire other people in the way this place has inspired me.' They thought it was a good idea, and I went back and taught school there for a year under the person who had taught me acting.”
It was after he’d resolved that debt that he decided to take the tumble into show biz. “I thought, 'If I don’t do it now I’m never going to do it.' For me, I think, the idea of not doing this was way more terrifying than doing it. I couldn’t imagine the soul-rushing regret of not giving it a shot. And even had I never gotten a job and never gotten a career or any of it, I would’ve said, 'You know what? At least I was the man in the arena, at least I threw it out there and gave it a shot. I had my opportunities and I tried.'”
You go, Jon.