Something always felt a bit out of place for me in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “The King of Comedy”, just released on Blu-ray for the first time. I couldn’t put my finger on it but chalked it up to it being thematically ahead of its time in its investigation of the cult of personality that defines modern entertainment.
Analysis: Second Season of AMC’s Hit Series ‘Mad Men’ the Easiest Sell on TV Today
CHICAGO – Men in three-piece suits. Smoking and drinking throughout the day in your corner office. Womanizing and objectifying every woman in the secretarial pool.
If AMC’s hit original series “Mad Men” is taken at face value, it would seem that life as an advertising executive in the 1960s couldn’t be any better. But like good advertising, the impressive series knows how to sell the image while the real substance lies underneath.
Christina Hendricks in “Mad Men” on AMC.
Photo credit: AMC
The series, which debuted in 2007, has received nothing but accolades from critics as well as numerous awards.
Photo credit: AMC
In addition to its two Golden Globes and a Peabody, the series was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards including being the first basic cable series ever to be nominated for best drama. GQ has said it’s “the only hour-long drama we demand you watch”.
“Mad Men” centers around Don Draper (Jon Hamm). He’s an often silent yet handsome and gifted creative director turned junior partner at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. Draper has a beautiful wife – Betty (January Jones) – who left a career as a model to become a homemaker and mother to their two beautiful children.
On the surface, Don is the most uninteresting person in the world. He dutifully listens to his superiors. He lovingly looks after his wife and family. His day-to-day existence seems nothing more than pitching his ideas to clients and watching his back for younger guys in the firm who are gunning for his job.
As the first season progresses throughout 1960, however, layers of Draper and the other characters are pulled back. We in fact learn that Don was Richard “Dick” Whitman: the illegitimate child of a prostitute who died during childbirth.
He lived with a brother and abusive father until he apparently disappeared and reinvented himself. He makes a great effort to hide these details from his wife, co-workers and his occasional mistress. Since the inception of “Mad Men,” show creator Matthew Weiner has had a clear vision for the series.
January Jones in “Mad Men” on AMC.
Photo credit: AMC
Weiner wrote the pilot script on spec while working on “Becker” back in 2000. David Chase read the pilot and was so impressed that he was hired to be a writer on the hit HBO series “The Sopranos”. When “The Sopranos” ended, AMC picked up “Mad Men” to be the flagship for its new original line of programming.
Visually, the show is amazing to view. The colors, scenery and wardrobe give an almost fantastical look at the mod styling of the 1960s. The series immerses itself in the cultural Zeitgeist. In the first season, there is reference to Miles Davis, Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” and the Volkswagen Beetle.
Amazingly, almost everything is approached through the eye of marketing and brand image. The show starts just a few years after Vance Packard’s seminal book “The Hidden Persuaders,” which brought to light media manipulation of Madison Avenue advertising men (who themselves coined the name “Mad Men”).
The pilot focuses on clean-cut professionals redefining how to sell Lucky Strike cigarettes despite an article in Reader’s Digest that has linked them to lung cancer. Later we see Don Draper debate the merits of advertising with a beatnik. The show is impeccable with its point of view.
January Jones (left) and Jon Hamm in “Mad Men” on AMC.
Photo credit: AMC
It’s surprising that the scene featuring the men of Sterling Cooper laughing to the now-famous comedy LP “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” didn’t have them commenting on Newhart’s spot-on bit “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Ave.”.
The biggest debate the show has started is whether its portrayal of women being marginalized in 1960 is actually still marginalizing them today.
One could argue defensibly, though, that “B”-story plotlines following Betty Draper’s hidden experimentation with psychoanalysis, a single divorced mother being shunned by the neighborhood and the start of ideas such as the female orgasm being discussed more openly starts a catalyst for the upcoming free love and women’s rights movements.
Peggy Olsen (played remarkably by Elisabeth Moss) starts season one as the new girl and lowly secretary trying to fight off advances of the executives of Sterling Cooper. By the end of season one, she has defied convention and has been promoted to copywriter.
More writing from critic Dustin Levell.
This clearly lays the groundwork for upcoming seasons.
The show’s supposed to travel up until 1970. Season two starts on Valentine’s Day in 1962. Without doubt, season two will feature more mystery and enthralling developments set against the backdrop of the Kennedy Administration, the Vietnam War and the Cold War along with the rise of Bob Dylan and folk music.
Don Draper will no doubt explore new ways to market to a rapidly changing society while keeping things peaceful at home. Masterful writing and beautiful imagery make AMC’s “Mad Men” the easiest sell on television today.