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Friday, July 25, 2008

Mad Men: Melancholy Cool

AMC's Mad Men makes its return for a second season this Sunday and its been a year too long for me.

As implied in this post title, the show is indeed a mix of melancholy and cool. It's a vision of the 60s that, like The Sopranos, isn't afraid to embody as many contradictions as possible.

Here's the 4 reasons you should check out Mad Men:

1) Art Direction and Production Design - As it should be, nearly everything in this show is about two or more years behind where you'd think it would be. It's 1960 in season one, but the clothes and houses looks like it's 1958. Not only does this make the show more accurate--high fashion and the really cool stuff always takes few years to be truly mass market--but it adds to the show's themes of America being in constant transition. Everyone is simultaneously experiencing the past and the present.

2) Advertising as metaphor and prism- Setting this in the advertising world allows for some interesting observations on post-WWII/Cold War life in America. It also opens the door for characters to discover and revel things about themselves. Watch for Peggy's special encounter with an exercise belt that's brimming with literal and figurative connotations. And watch Don's inspired campaign for Kodak's Carousel that comes much too late as another prime example.

3) Secondary characters galore - All great television shows have secondary characters that come into their own. One of the best combination of moments is in episode 12 "Nixon Vs. Kennedy" and the follow up in episode 13 " The Wheel" when one indiscretion totally derails a character's marriage. An entire season's worth of character arc occurs in a total of 5 minutes across two episodes and is totally believable and is even more devastating for being so.

4) Don Draper and Peggy Olson - Too much to explain here, watch the show.

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