Mad Men is the only TV show I always watch.
We are addicted.
So much so that Jan suggested we watch the re-run of Season One.
Then the BBC announced that the screening of Season Four was being brought forward from April to start at 10pm tonight on BBC4.
While we’ve been re-watching Series One, the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. Since I don’t watch any other American series, and never watched West Wing or The Sopranos or The Wire, and only watched four or five episodes of 24, I can’t compare this programme with other award-winning shows.
However, I reckon Mad Men is beyond stylish, beyond serious, beyond challenging, somewhere near untouchable.
ANC produce superior shows that are far more grown-up than most American movies. Excellent storylines with terrific interplay between strong characters.
Last week Sterling Cooper, an ad agency on Madison Avenue in the Sixties, made a presentation to a cosmetics company. Following research with a focus group made up of the agency’s female staff, the creative team have enlisted the help of Don Draper’s secretary, Peggy, to write some copy about lipstick and now her ideas being presented to the client.
A SCENE I LOVE : Conference room with venetian blinds and a small chandelier. Four men sit round a big shiny table. Hugh and Elliott from the company sit together on one side, while Don and copywriter Dennis sit opposite them. All four are facing an easel holding three artwork boards, variations on a theme. Copywriter Fred talks through the pitch, assisted by Sal, the art director.
The dynamics of this kind of business relationship are straightforward. The client is in charge. Invariably, his attitude is : I know my business better than you do, I’m here to tell you what I want, and your job is to give me what I want. The client usually knows what he wants. And, just as important, he usually knows what he doesn’t want.
Freddie concludes the pitch by saying, ” It’s as simple as E Pluribus Unum. From many, one. From many shades of lipstick, one that belongs to her. From a basket of kisses, she picks one. It colours her kiss. And her kiss – well, it colours her man… Belle Jolie lipstick- mark your man.”
“I only see one lipstick in your drawing. Women want colours. Lots and lots of colours.”
“Mark your man, it’s pretty cute,” says Elliott.
Hugh bridles at his colleague’s comment.
“Oh, you like this, do you? Well, maybe we should cut down to five shades, or one?”
Kenny chips in: “I’m not telling you to listen to anyone, but this is a very fresh approach.”
What happens next is amazing: Don Draper stands up.
In itself, the act of standing up is quite insulting, since it’s really up the client to decide when the meeting has finished. By standing up, Don is virtually saying : This is a great campaign, if you don’t like it, get out of my office!
But of course he doesn’t say that.
As Don stands up, he says, “It’s OK, Kenny…. I don’t think there’s much else to do here but call it a day. Gentlemen, thank you for your time.”
It’s sheer brinkmanship.
“Is that all? ” says Hugh, astonished.
“You’re a non-believer,” says Don. “Why should we waste time on kabuki?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means that you’ve already tried your plan – and you’re number four. You’ve enlisted my expertise and you’ve rejected it to go on the way you’ve been going. I’m not interested in that.You can understand.”
“I don’t think your three months, at however many thousands of dollars, entitles you to re-focus the core of our business,” says Hugh.
“Listen, I’m not gonna tell you about Jesus,” says Don. “You already know about Jesus – either he lives in your heart or he doesn’t.”
Fred is now looking at Don, gobsmacked, while Kenny is looking at Don with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. He’s forgotten to light it, forgotten that he’s even put it there.
Don continues : “Every woman wants choices. But in the end none wants to be one of a hundred in a box – she’s unique. She makes the choices, and she’s chosen him. She wants to tell the world : he’s mine. He belongs to me, not you. She marks her man with her lips. He is her possession. You’ve given every girl that wears your lipstick the gift of total ownership.”
Predictably, Hugh doesn’t like Don standing up.
“Sidown,” he says.
But Don remains on his feet.
“No, not till I know I’m not wasting my time.”
The director has framed Hugh sitting on the right with the hero still in a dominant position…. but Sterling Cooper could lose the account right here.
“Sidown,” says Hugh in a voice that’s now relaxed and accepting.
NEXT SCENE : Outside Don’s office, agreement, a done deal, everyone happy, Hugh shakes hands with Don.
“Nice work, I think you may be right about this.”
“Well, we’ll never know, will we?”
“It’s not a science, Hugh. We do our best.”
The clients exit and the four admen walk past Peggy and go into Don’s office and shut the door. She’s wondering how the meeting went but she’s working in a very sexist environment. She can hear their triumphant laughter. Very quickly, Don buzzes the intercom.
“Peggy ! Ice ! We need some!”
She goes in carrying ice cubes in a small container with tongs, leaving the door open, as she will only be in there for 30 seconds. She finds Don behind his desk, Sal leaning on the desk, Kenny sitting in a chair, Freddie leaning against the window behind Don.
“How much ice?” says Peggy, putting some cubes in a glass.
“How do you take it?” asks Don.
Startled, she looks at Don. He’s saying : Have a drink with us! She’s thinking : Why is he doing this?
“Home run, ballerina,” says Freddie, by way of congratulation.
Peggy hesitates to drink booze at work.
“Go on,” says Don. “Before Joan Holloway sees.”
Joan is the curvaceous office manager who is mother hen to all the girls.
Peggy downs half a glass of whiskey.
“Call that celebrating?” says Sal.
Peggy knocks back the rest of her drink.
“The meeting was so long, I was worried,” she says.
“We’d barely finished the presentation – and he bought it,” says Don, which is far from a true summary of what just went down in the conference room.
This is a life-changing moment for Peggy. She’s now a copywriter. She hasn’t become one of the boys but she’s no longer a secretary.
The telephonists suggest to Peggy that they celebrate at P.J. Clarke’s after work and Peggy invites Pete Campbell, a nasty married guy who has screwed her a couple of times.
At the bar there ‘s drink, laughter, music, people dancing the twist, and Peggy, the once- frumpy suburban girl, sashays across to where Pete is sitting morosely. She asks him to dance but he won’t. Pete says “I don’t like you like this.”
A typical remark from the squarest, meanest, most self-pitying character ever seen in any television series. Only a scumbag would say, “I don’t like you like this.” Pete Campbell hates himself so much he can never feel any joi de vivre.
This is Season One but by now we know that the ruthless Don Draper is capable of almost anything. Adultery is the least of it. We watch him closely because we can never be sure what he will say or do. That’s why he’s so compelling. We, the audience, know things about Don that his closest associates don’t know, that his wife doesn’t know.
The other major characters are very well drawn, like Don’s troubled wife Sally, and Roger Sterling, an extremely heavy drinker who’s having an affair with Joan.
Mad Men must be the hippest, smartest drama series of this young century.
But I can’t really describe it because it’s television. You have to see it and hear it.
Reply from “Don Draper ” in the USA :
It’s not a HBO series, it’s an original by AMC.
But I certainly took your point about the unique American drama series being put out in recent years.
I have seen every single episode of Mad Men up until show 7 of season 4 which aired in the US last Sunday night.
All I can say is you are in for the most rare of televisual treats… a TV show that continually gets better than the previously incredible season.
Easily the best TV show since The Sopranos, which remains the most unreal and genius show ever scripted.
You must buy the DVDs… they are ridiculously cheap now, less than a tenner for each season of 12/13 episodes.
My wife loved it so much that we watched all 80 odd episodes over Xmas 2008.
Like yourself, never seen The Wire, Lost or any other American show… am I blessed?
The only 2 I have ever seen are The Sopranos and Mad Men, which will both go down in legend.
It’s that good!