Monday, June 23, 2008

How "True" is Mad Men?

More than a little soapy, the AMC TV series is emerging as America's next guilty pleasure. The series has it all, cigarettes, booze, bigotry and sex - set in the early 60s on Madison Avenue in a fictional ad agency named Sterling Cooper.

Mad Men was the cover story in yesterday's The New York Times Magazine.

It took me some time to catch the fever - I'd seen a couple of episodes and didn't really engage. But I looked at the whole first year via iPod over the winter and now I'm hooked. The series is even literary in a sneaky sort of way - "Don Draper," for example, is the name of a character who is not what he seems, he "dons a drape," figuratively "puts on" a curtain to obscure his identity. Article author, Alex Witchel, notes that Jon Hamm, the actor who portrays Draper, "[acting] assignment as Don is to locate the emotions in a man who spends his life denying them." Or draping them.

I also enjoy the irony that Robert Morse, who was the young lead in the real-time 60s How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying on Broadway, just a few blocks west of Madison Avenue, now plays the aged and eccentric Cooper of Sterling Cooper without really, well, you know. Yeah, I was once an English major.

The NYT piece features a mini debate between two ad giants from the era of Mad Men, George Lois and Jerry Della Femina, about the truth of the series - but no issues are settled.

The great amateur historian George MacDonald Fraser (author of the Flashman series and a screenwriter himself) once wrote a book, The Hollywood History of the World evaluating historic fiction in movies. His standard, "If it makes me feel like I'd just visited that time and place, it's good history." That's why I'll be watching.

Mad Men, Season One can be bought directly from AMC and a slide show of stills from the series are also posted on DVD is relwased on July 1st. Season Two begins on AMC, Sunday July 27th.

Here are videos and commentary on Mad Men Season One on