Thursday, July 24, 2008

The style council

Posted By on Thu, Jul 24, 2008 at 4:06 AM

click to enlarge Mad Men

My favorite new TV show of last year starts its second season on Sunday. It's got drama, humor, great acting, brilliant writing, the most gorgeous woman on TV (Christina Hendricks, slinky in red), and style to burn. It's also got painful families, repressed sexuality, unfulfilled women, male chauvinism, casual racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and quietly ruthless office politics. It's AMC's Mad Men. Do you like to watch, too?

For people born after 1975, it must seem like a dispatch from centuries ago. Set in 1960 (the new season picks up in 1962), Mad Men is the story of a group of people who work at Sterling Cooper, a New York ad agency where the men are in charge, the women are secretaries and switchboard operators, blacks are nearly invisible, and the offices are fitted with ashtrays and cocktail carts. It's a great life (if you're not black, female, Jewish, or gay, that is), and yet the mad men who seem to have the world on a string have all the same problems and unhappinesses of today.

The show was created and is written by Matthew Weiner, one of the senior writers on The Sopranos, and its quiet subtlety is unlike anything on network TV (HBO let it go, so it landed on basic-cable AMC). The cast is mostly excellent, particularly Jon Hamm (on the right) as the lead mad man, Elizabeth Moss (checkered dress) as his secretary turned junior copywriter, and Hendricks as the office vamp, who seems destined for a major big-screen career. And the set and clothing design is impeccable -- my mother, who worked in a firm much like it at the time, watched one episode and just said "I remember all that."

Season 1 just came out on DVD, and I watched it all over again, but come Sunday night at 9 p.m., I'll be interested to see where all these characters end up as the specter of the 1950s recedes and the Beatles and the sexual revolution begin to emerge in the far distance. The New York Post called Season 2 "the slickest, coolest, downright sexist, and unPC-ist (is that a word?) drama on TV."

Are you watching?

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