Apr 5, 2015

Seven Things That "Mad Men" Was the Best At

The day is finally here. After a year of waiting and years of loyal viewing, the end of Mad Men has reached its final episodes. Now the question comes: what will happen to Don Draper (Jon Hamm) as he navigates his life in the final days? While you're likely tired of the conspiracy theories mill, I have decided to provide you with something a little more honorable. To prove just how successful and important Mad Men is, I will be doing a list of seven things that the show did best and that we'll likely miss when this is all over.

Left to right: Vincent Kartheiser and Elisabeth Moss
1. Launching a TV Network

It's true. While AMC may have gone on to have such hits as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, it all started with one show about a man with a mysterious past. Even in terms of other networks including HBO (Oz) or Netflix (Lilyhammer), it shouldn't be scoffed at that the first major series for the channel not only gave AMC the prestige label, but earned them four back-to-back Best Drama TV Series at the Emmys. It is an  honor given to very few shows and considering the show's reputation, the first four years are very deserving of those awards. No other first show on any network holds that distinguish record.

2. Opening Credits Sequence

Take some time to watch the opening credits after reading so much as the description. In the course of 36 silent seconds, the entire show's premise and themes manage to be explored through animation. A mysterious man walks into a room, falls past billboards full of iconic 60's imagery, and ends up cool in his office. This personifies Don Draper to a  T, especially how it balances neurotic chaos with image in ways that few films with expository lyrics could hope to achieve.

Left to right: Melinda Hamilton Page and Ham
3. Mysterious Identity

It is interesting to note the various similarities that Mad Men shared with Breaking Bad, specifically in how they chose to handle identity. While the newer show handled it in the moment, Mad Men went into the past over the course of several episodes and allowing us to understand who Don Draper actually was. The story is complex in an update of "The Great Gatsby"-type fashion with stories about the war, whorehouses, and identity theft to spare. Still, it fits into the show's greater themes about dishonesty and makes Draper at very least an endlessly fascinating character.

4. Historical Subtext

Mad Men is, of course, a study of the 60's. It would seem false to not include some references to the major events that include the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the moon landing. These are backdrops to a greater tapestry of themes that explore how society reacted to change and how society turned from conservative to liberal. With personal stories intertwining with these events, it manages to feel like more than another period piece. It is a story about the times full of countless pop culture references and period-appropriate wardrobe and settings. Even if you can't get on board the show's premise, you can't fault it for looking entirely authentic.

5. The Speech

Many shows have that moment. They have one where a character gets up and is forced to provide a long and winding monologue that ties everything in the plot together. However, Mad Men is forced to do that almost weekly since they are ad men pitching products to buyers. It is in their DNA. The show manages to feature every possible side to this equation including the writing process that got them there. However, nobody could deliver a monologue on par with Jon Hamm, whose work in the season one episode "The Wheel" still remains the series high point in which Don Draper suggests that the Kodak's Carousel camera is a time machine. It is a moment of great writing that summarizes the beauty of the show and why we fall for these people time and time again. 

Kiernan Shipka
6. Child Actors

In general, the female casting in this show is superb. However, if there was one gamble that might have not paid off, it was in casting Sally Draper. While it increasingly seemed like Bobby Draper (who was recast multiple times) wasn't important, Sally became a crux of the show as she evolved from innocent child to free spirited teenager. Thankfully Kiernan Shipka has done phenomenal work and easily ranks as one of the best child actors of her generation. She brings so much heart and vulnerability to the character as elevates the show's overall quality. 

Ben Feldman
7. Office Comedy

Wait, isn't Mad Men a drama? In every sense of the word, yes. The show excels in moments of high tension. However, the show is also rather exceptional at finding humor in the moments of failure. Whether it is the infamous lawnmower scene or Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) screaming "Not great Bob," the show has managed to transition through every moment nicely without sacrificing character. While it may not be something that the show will be remembered most for when it leaves, it's a big component to its overall success that would otherwise cause the show to feel a little boring and impersonal.

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