dvd review: mad men, season one
Mad Men: Season One [Lionsgate]
Mad Men Season One, now out on DVD, won two Golden Globes in 2007 (for Best Television Series, Drama and Best Actor in a Television Series, Drama). Set in New York in 1960, the show follows the lives of the men and women who work at Sterling Cooper advertising agency.
Advertising genius – he knows what men want, as well as what women want – Don Draper (John Hamm, We Were Soldiers), has it all. He is about to be made partner at the firm and has a beautiful suburban home and wife (January Jones, The Three Burials of Melaquiades Estrada). But he also has a wild bohemian lover (Rosemary DeWitt, Cinderella Man); another woman who he seems to love, who won’t give him the time of day (Maggie Siff, Then She Found Me); and a secret. Who is Don Draper?
Although the advertising for the show made it seem as if Don was the most important character, the other characters are equally interesting. January Jones turns in a marvelous performance as Don’s forgotten, faithful wife, teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser, Angel) is Don’s increasingly unstable rival at work, who struggles with performance anxiety in every aspect of his life. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss, Girl, Interrupted, Get Him to The Greek) is Don’s new secretary, who must learn how to govern herself in the word of office politics, while being mentored – though not necessarily supported – by office manager Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks, Firefly).
Mad Men creatively combines sex and social commentary, with office politics and personal breakdowns. All of the women in the Mad Men world (that is, the world as it used to exist during the 1960s) are underdogs: they have to fight tooth and nail for every minor concession granted to them by their husbands and bosses. By showing the blatant sexism of the era, Mad Men makes a statement against it. It does not force an obvious moral point, and in doing so the show makes clear that such absurd chauvinism cannot be supported.
What makes Mad Men so interesting, however, is the complexity of the characters. Even as Don Draper cheats on his wife, with little-to-no regard for her feelings, he allows Peggy Olson to rise through the traditionally male-dominated copywriter ranks at the agency. As a woman she should not be allowed such responsibility and respect; and yet, because of Don, she is. All the characters are equally difficult to define. Pete Campbell is alternately pathetic and psychotic, Joan Holloway is both an independent woman and a plague upon any notion of Sisterhood, and Peggy Olson is naïve and naïve-to-the-point-of-disbelief. The men and women of the show are all, well, mad.
Mad Men is a sexy, anti-sexist and sophisticated soap opera. And boy, you might as well watch it just for the costuming, sets and soundtrack. They are superb.