I admit I have been a late adopter of the wondrous world of Mad Men, the AMC Sunday night show that has done so much for the early 1960's. Some of my colleagues started telling me about how great the show was and I finally went back to the first three seasons, thanks to NetFlix, and got completely hooked. The series starts its fourth season Sunday and by all accounts it continues to be correctly called the "best thing on TV."
For the uninitiated, like me until a few months ago, the storyline unfolds in a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 1960's. A superb ensemble cast is pitch perfect in portraying the intelligence, competitiveness, class and crassness of beautiful people without a lot of balance, at times, but with plenty of booze all the time.
As Slate notes about the new season: "Ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) raided the crumbling Sterling Cooper for its top talent and set out to launch Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fledgling enterprise that should be fertile ground for the show's strengths: office politics, office romance, and the socio-politico-historical hoo-hah Matthew Weiner brilliantly wrings from each Draper pitch."
The series is particularly good at capturing the details of the smoking 60's; secretaries with big hair and big - er, typewriters. The ad men are slicked back, three-Martini guys who engage in verbal towel snapping when they aren't eyeing up the "new girl" in the secretarial pool.
The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz praises the cast as, "smart, they're self-seeking, they're recognizably human. They're also overweight or undertailored, dowdy, faintly unkempt—but for John Slattery's Roger Sterling and Mr. Hamm. It's never less than enthralling to watch this cast at work, not least Vincent Kartheiser as Peter Campbell—a seemingly slick operator whose every urgent flicker of the eye suggests something deeper."
No one can call January Jones' character, the ice queen Betty Draper, "faintly unkempt." If anything you keep waiting for one of those blond hairs to slip out of place, knowing it might cause a breakdown. Jones plays her role - now Draper's ex-wife - so well you think that any moment the volcano inside Betty is about to blow.
I have no idea what life was like in a Manhattan ad firm in 1964, which is where we pick up these folks in the new season, but I'm betting the series makers have it pretty close to right. Double martinis, big marketing budgets, demanding clients, tight dresses and Mad Men on the make. This is good, really good, television.