This epic work, the Cadillac of quality American television series, surgically dissects US high society so finely that no subject is left untreated, certainly not politics. ‘The President is a product’ opines one executive. And ‘it’s a ball game’ is protagonist Don Draper’s memorable consolation line to a client after his party’s 1960 election loss to the Democrats. That’s about as succinct and accurate a verdict as you can get.
Mad Men is the most comprehensive deconstruction of American culture since ‘The Godfather’. A forensic examination of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire, it is a towering, subtle, nuanced and labyrinthine study of the evolution of sexual mores and white collar social politics from the tail end of the fifties through to the beginning of the seventies.
Jon Hamm plays the USA, in the guise of captain of industry Ad man Donald Draper, whose Gatsby-like mysterious origins, manly silence and suave exterior make him the corporate face of trendy Madison Avenue firm Sterling Cooper, an arrangement that suits the blue-blood New York aristocrats who run the company.
The genius of Mad Men is that on the surface, nothing ever really happens. But if you think this is just a well-made soap opera, think again. Everything is in the details. A major question behind the drama is: does sexual morality, matter? Is Don and the others’ behavior a normal and acceptable executive convenience, an afterthought, an obvious necessity for the glamorous veneer of corporate hospitality, or are they all partying while Rome burns?
Kids are knifing each other on the streets and getting bombed on hard drugs while America has somehow become an Imperial aggressor bombing third world countries into submission. And who is controlling the ideas that define and originate the terms of this popular conversation and the frame of reference in which it sits? It’s these guys.