Monday, July 28, 2008

Trendy Monday: Mad Men

Retro can be trendy, right?

I came late to the Mad Men phenomenon, even though as a show, it's pretty much made for me. Cooper's cousin Sarah told me about it when she was watching the first season (when it was originally on) but I missed it that time around. Fortunately, I've been able to pick it up quickly over the past couple of weeks.

There are all kinds of things I love about this show. It's aesthetics are amazing - the interiors are understated and perfect (except for the zebra walls in the restaurant in the series premiere. They were not understated. But wow, were they perfect.) And the clothes absolutely kill me (that outfit on Cutthroat Bitch - it's amazing.)

And of course, there's the plot. I've read a lot of reviews that compare the show to The Sopranos, and I see it. It's that kind of television - the writing is good and sometimes a little knowing, but it never winks at the audience too broadly. The characters drive the story and they're interesting, tragic, conflicted and somehow sympathetic (not unlike Tony Soprano). Plus, there's the advertising.

Right out of college, I went to work for a small agency as an account exec. Four years later, I left there for a just slightly larger agency, where I worked in research (as it turned out, that second job was more like working for a research company with a little advertising on the side, but still I was working side by side with a bunch of ad people). During that time, I worked with several big NYC agencies - the same ones who are mentioned in passing on Mad Men.

Like a lot of young ad people, I read a million books about advertising written between 1920 and 1970. I have a decent amount of knowledge of the time represented in the show. The creator, Matthew Weiner, he gets things right. But what he gets most right - the thing that makes me really love this show - are the people.

Things, of course, aren't as explicitly sexist or smoky anymore (though they still are fairly boozy and, well, I'm not aware of any agencies with rules against inter-office dating). But the specific personalities of the people who get into advertising...they're the same. The conflicted creatives who love the money, and sort of thrive on manipulating the public, but kind of wish they could just be pure poets - when they're in that sort of company. The tension between creative and research. The bumbling and overly hungry account people who draw consistent ire from the creative director. The underlying belief (at least when you're with a pack of ad people), that agency people are so much smarter, more interesting and more fun than people in other professions. This is pretty of true. (To be fair, there are also some legitimately cool people in advertising. A few.)

The show just gets it so right. And it looks so good while doing it. It deserves its trillions of Emmy noms and all of its accolades.

And, um, how is this about food? Well, it is. Weiner's attention to detail is pretty phemonenal, and that is, I think, what elevates the show beyond the garden variety television drama. Last night, during the season two premiere, Don and Betty are at the Savoy on Valentine's Day - Don's surprised her with a room. They're kind of drunk (as usual) and they call room service. Initially, Don asks for a BLT and a bowl of vichyssoise. Then Betty says, "no, no - two shrimp cocktails." She changes her mind again, so Don hands her the phone and she orders a half an avocado filled with crabmeat and a petit filet, rare.

Perfect. That's just perfect, exactly right period food. Food that exactly underscores the mood of the scene.

Little things like that are what make this show almost too good.


Cail said...

I actually read that Matthew Weiner either reshot or stopped a scene in the supermarket because the apples that were in the background were too big for 1960.

Kit Pollard said...

And THAT is the kind of dedication that gets your show compared to The Wire...


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