Saturday, July 25, 2009
Pre-Game Warm-Up: Mad Men
OK, it's not a movie like the stuff Mike's been watching, but it's at least as good and probably better. Besides, if Chris Connelly is right in his thought (expressed a little while ago on The Sports Guy's podcast, which is a must-listen for any fan of sports and pop culture) that the defining films of the first decade of this century have not been movies at all, but rather television shows (The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire), then talking about Mad Men in the context of a film series on Liars, Thieves and Cheats should be perfectly appropriate.
Mad Men is set in the early 1960s and stars Jon Hamm as the creative director of a Manhattan advertising agency. The show is famous for its fastidious attention to period-detail, not just in wardrobe (though the costumes, by Deadwood costume designer Jane Bryant are stunning) and cultural references, but in its commitment to showing just how politically incorrect that time was. Often the casual drinking, sexual harassment and chain smoking the characters engage in is played for laughs (sometimes very dark ones), and this gives the show a much needed sense of humor, considering how serious the show is about exploring the psyches of profoundly damaged and depressed people (mostly Draper and his wife Betty, played by January Jones).
The show's relation to our upcoming series should be obvious enough. It's Season One tagline was "Where the truth lies" a simple statement with a dizzying array of possible meanings in the context of the show (advertising is often lies, Draper lies constantly to his wife and co-workers and himself. Yet Draper's so good at his job because his ads don't lie: his schtick is to connect emotionally to the product in question (often relating it to a crisis in his home life) and then give a powerful monologue that conveys the truth of his experience to everyone in the room. He uses advertising to connect people to universal truths about the human condition. Or, conversely, he's so good at his job that his lies are indistinguishable from his truths: he uses emotional appeals to tell profound lies about the human condition, helping to build the edifice of the society that allows people like him to lie and cheat their way to the top.
In addition to being a professional liar, Draper is also a cheat, carrying on a number of affairs with women who are very different from his wife (a Greenwich Village artist, a Jewish businesswoman, etc). Adultery is common at his workplace, and most of his married co-workers are or have been engaged in some kind of extra-marital relationship. As his wife becomes more aware of Draper's cheating, her life begins to fall apart. From the beginning of the series, we see she is suffering from some serious psychological issues, and we guess long before she does that her husband's philandering is a primary cause of it. Draper is like North By Northwest's Roger O. Thornhill (a great looking suit with nothing in the middle). In fact, Cary Grant's Thornhill, which he plays a slight variation on in the upcoming Charade, was a major inspiration for the character's style. The first two seasons of the show revolve around first Don's, then Betty's realization of this void and their attempts to fill it with something more satisfying than adultery and lies.
The show has some Thievery in it too, but I won't go into that here for fear of spoiling anything. The first two seasons are on DVD now (the show looks fantastic on Blu-Ray) and Season Three starts in the middle of August.