Meridith B. from SAINT CHARLES, IL Reviewed on 1/19/2012...
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The Pursuit of Happiness
Jay Dickson | Portland, OR | 07/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It would be hard to imagine a more absorbingly intelligent American TV series--in terms of writing, acting, and visuals--than MAD MEN. Just before the final season of THE SOPRANOS began in late 2007, AMC presented us in the summer with the thirteen episodes of this marvelously atmospheric series created by one of the main writers of the series, Matt Weiner, that HBO insanely took a pass on. Ostensibly the series is about a group of advertising agency working for Madison Avenue advertising agency, the fictitious Sterling-Cooper, in 1960, during the Nixon-Kennedy presidential contest; yet on a deeper level the show wrestles with much larger questions about the meaning of obsession with having (and marketing) happiness in mid-20th-century America. The series centers primarily around four characters whose lives are inextricably linked with one another: Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a handsome advertising executive at Sterling-Cooper of few words but enormous creative gifts who hides a mysterious past; his beautiful but childlike wife Betty (January Jones), whom he keeps entirely separate in the suburbs from his work life and his mistresses in the city; Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Don's new secretary, whose naive affect and kind heart belie her tremendous ambition; and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), the smarmy account executive who trades on his ties to the Old New York "Knickerbocracy" to get him ahead. The four central actors are absolutely first-rate, as are several within their near orbits: John Slattery as Roger Sterling, the roguish partner who is both Don's friend and his competitor; the gifted Christina Hendricks, as the firm's femme fatale head secretary; and Robert Morse, as the firm's wily and eccentric senior partner.
Morse's presence ties the series to his famous work in both the Broadway and Hollywood production of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, and the episodes make intelligent reference also to any number of important American fictional works about the NYC business and suburban domestic worlds of the post-War era, including THE APARTMENT and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING. (Richard Yates's REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and the films of Douglas Sirk are also repeatedly evoked too, if in less direct ways.) One of the pleasures of this fine DVD set are the superb extras which allow us to see the especially thoughtful work done by the series' set designers, hairstylists, and (particularly) its head costume designer. The commentaries are generally excellent, and it will come as no surprise to fans of the series that not only the series creator, Matt Weiner, and its writers are especially eloquent but so too are its actors, especially Hamm and Kartheiser. The eye-catching design of this DVD package (fashioned to look and open, naturally, like a classic American manufacturer's product: a Zippo lighter) has been rightly praised for its innovation but also rightly criticized for its unwieldiness."
Glorious, involving, terrific drama; best TV in years
Niel Rishoi | Ann Arbor, MI USA | 06/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The summer of 2007 is when Mad Men swept the nation. Why? It is anti-politically correct. It is an intelligent, thinking man's ("persons" would be too PC for *this* show)) show for adults. Not to mention the fantastic, Rod Serling-esque realism in the quality of its writing, the direction, the scope, and the dazzling work of the previously unknown cast - now all certified household names - stars, if you will (none will ever have to worry about getting future work). The best part of this casting is that there are no familiar public-entrenched "personalities" to disturb the continuity and believability of the proceedings; a "star" would have interupted the realism of the story and surroundings. And, in the process, we get to discover a whole new set of actors (their work and camaraderie is gaspingly satisfying, the most sheerly pleasurable in recent memory).
Matthew Weiner, the show's genius creator, has painstakingly ensured that we're really getting a believable early 1960s. There's not an irritatingly currently contemporary viewpoint to be found anywhere. Of course the show is depicted in a hindsight manner; but all of the dialogue, situations and characters are all breathtakingly, reassuringly of a past time. Despite the deceptively, smoothly stylized look via the posh sets and clothes, the atmosphere is constantly invaded by the smog of cigarette smoke; we're not used to seeing such flagrant puffing and inhaling on film. You can almost smell the overfilled ashtrays. No one goes outside to smoke here. This is the Martini and Rossi era, and everyone in corporate America smoked and drank as if it were part of the life and job description. Then, too, you see women used as business, sexual and marital props. They existed to serve their men (and I hope the PC feminists are in a tizzy, because they should be). To provide their dictation, their pleasure, their masculine image, their food, their offspring. Of course, we see in Joan, the foxy, knowing secretary, using the men in return to get what she wants; and we see in Don Draper's wife (brilliantly, tensely enacted by January Jones) an all-pervasive, unnameable malcontentedness. We see the glaring dichotomies of the men, looking Madison Avenue dapper, but behaving and displaying attitudes of overgrown high schoolers. Most of these men, from today's standpoint, are bastards; and no attempt is made to Ralph Nader or Alan Alda-ize them (it would be interesting to have the series run into the late 1960s, when these men are forced to run into the massive social consciousness that emerged in a shockingly short time later).
Most of all though, the tone of the show is presided over by the brilliant Jon Hamm, whose Don Draper is the most multifaceted character on television in ages. Hamm is blessedly allowed several moments in deep repose, and we can see the massively disturbed soul behind the savvily successful executive. And yet the character's troubled mien allows him to understand human nature, therefore key elements in advertising - how to emotionally ensnare the public into believing the merit of a product or slogan. He's also smart enough to see that Peggy (wonderfully played by Elizabeth Moss), the secretary, with her questioning, probing mind, has a depth unavailable to most of the male executives, to provide key insights into how to sell a product. Hamm's Don Draper is already a classic, public-entrenched persona. It is a stunningly limned portrayal.
The great strength of this show is its quietly commanding, un-TV-like sense of pacing. You wouldn't call this a suspense show, yet the bottled-up, stealthy sense of pacing keeps us in a tantalizingly unnerved state; you always wait for that cork to explode unexpectedly. The brilliance here is that the explosion factor doesn't always come when we expect it; but the build-up leads us to believe it will. Those explosions come when the build-up has not been prepared, and happens in a swift, tightly controlled manner, never spilling over into predictably cheap shock value. After each show, we smile, having been on the edge of our seats, engrossed, and left deeply satisfied - and impatient for next week. Thursdays at 10:00. Phone turned off, a glass of wine or spirits.
Another great asset to the overall tone is the darkly cynical humor. Never overplayed or explicitly self-conscious, it nevertheless ingeniously, deftly exposes the foibles of human nature. The most overt humor is slyly depicted by Christina Hendricks, whose eye-poppingly Kim Novak-voluptuous, leeringly confident secretary Joan is an absolute delight. Hendricks looks and acts so unerringly real of the time period, it would be a shock to see her as she really is in real life. She and John Slattery, perfectly playing the sloppily amorous boss, create genuine sexual edge in their scenes together.
Vincent Kartheiser, playing Pete Campbell, an insecure, untalented but ruthlessly ambitious business and social climber, is scarily effective; there's an element of genuine danger in this character. Campbell is so aware of his limitations, and you sense he'd stop at nothing to prove himself.
The good-time unreformed Frat-elevated-to-biz-executive contingent, played by Rich Sommer, Aaron Staton, Michael Gladis, and Bryan Batt, strike just the right notes; they're all joyfully oversexed, blithely good-time, but very real, and we get to see inside their characters.
Robert Morse, the only familiar name in this cast, is perfect as the head of Sterling Cooper, a boss who cares not what goes on as long as the money rolls in.
I hope Mad Men will be on for years to come. HBO's loss is AMC's considerable gain - and is the best-written, best acted show of our time. It will be heralded, discussed, and acclaimed for years to come, and be held as the classic show it has already become. I have never enjoyed something so much as this intriguing, wonderfully engrossing drama. Cheers and thanks to all those involved. "
Immerse yourself in the tone, texture and feel of an era
Traveler | New England | 07/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mad Men is one of those very rare TV shows that is both superb and popular. Sometimes there really is a TV god. Unlike great shows like Friday Night Lights, people are watching and the awards are rolling in - 16 Emmy nominations, more than any other drama this year.
It's 1960 in a Manhattan based advertising agency. The men have slicked back hair, crisp white shirts and perfect suits. What comes out of their mouths would get them slapped or sued if it happened today. Toots, babe, honey. Women are sex objects and they have less brain power - as one character says, "It was like watching a dog play the piano" when a certain female character with professional drive and passion exceeds the lowly expectations of the men.
The women are no better. The head secretary tells another female that they (the men) designed the technology so simple that even a woman can use it. A mother smokes and drinks while pregnant and ignores the danger of a nearby child playing make believe with a plastic drying cleaning bag over her head. Some of the women act childish because that's the role that's been forced upon them. Others are starting to reject the social strait jacket and are rebelling - it's the beginning of a new era and they are the foremothers of what is about to hit this nation like a baseball bat to the head.
The wall paper in one house is plaid and the cars are big and many have tail fins. There's a cigarette in almost every scene - people cough and there's no recognition of any connection in their minds. One major character smokes, drinks and eats with abandon and almost dies of a heart attack with, again, no recognition of cause and effect.
This show, unlike any on air or cable at this time, immerses you in its era. It's authentic, real and grabs your attention. Quite simply, if you watch only one current show on TV this year it should be Mad Men.
Several reviewers have commented on the packaging. While it is a little more delicate than others, it's still cool (it's like a cigarette lighter) and you can handle the DVDs without damaging them. The DVDs are held in the case with a foam insert that doesn't scratch the surface. When you take the DVDs out you have to gently push against the top side with your (clean) fingers and gently push upward. They will come out and you won't smudge or scratch the surface. If the DVDs are getting damaged it's because people are just grabbing both sides of the disc and pulling it out. Unlike other reviewers, I have not been impressed with other boxed sets where you end up literally breaking the plastic sprockets that hold the DVDs in place. If you want really poor packaging just look at the complete West Wing. In any case, you can handle these DVDs and not damage them.
The extras here are sparse but very good nonetheless. There's an hour long behind the scenes docu that looks as all aspects of the show from character backgrounds to hair and art design to the actors feelings about their characters. It's not full of that fluffy hype stuff you find on other DVD sets where they just show you short clips from the show and present it as somehow something new. You'll actually learn something about the show. I would love to see full interviews with all the actors to talk about the characters they're playing. Maybe we'll get that in the season 2 set. As noted by others, the commentaries are minimal and a bit disappointing. Doesn't really matter in the end as it's still a superb show you simply shouldn't miss."
One of the finest series on television
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 10/02/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"MAD MEN is one of those series that is almost impossible to praise too highly. It is also one of those series that puts on display the inherent superiority of television to the movies. That is a sentiment that I find offends many, but one that more and more thinking men and women are coming to embrace as television gradually turns out one amazingly intelligent series after another. Cinema is inherently limited on how much an individual movie can achieve in developing a complex narrative just as it is limited in how deeply it can explore character. The reason is obvious: a lack of time. Delving deeply into the lives of a group of characters is a luxury movies simply can't afford. The clock is ticking.
MAD MEN will, when it is finished, be a narrative of the sixties. Season One begins in 1960k, shortly before the Kennedy-Nixon election. Season Two moves almost two years ahead of that. Subsequent seasons will move the story ahead by a couple of years each time, before coming to an end at the end of the decade. The sixties was clearly the most remarkable decade of the twentieth century. The world of 1970 has more in common with today in many ways than it did to 1960. The changes in our attitudes can scarcely be assessed. At the beginning of the series women all have their place in the office as servants to the men, accept passively their roles as eye candy and objects of sexual innuendo, and aspire to no more than moving up the secretarial rank. A gay man in the office is so completely in the office that he seems oblivious to his homosexuality. But by the end of decade would come the Stonewall riots and the Second Wave of the women's movement would be in full bloom.
One of the dominant themes of the show is the contrast between the world of today and the world of "then." One of the most striking moments in Season One comes when Betty Draper's daughter runs into the living room wearing a body length plastic launderer's bag. Betty sharply upbraids her, hoping that this doesn't mean that her laundry is laying on the floor. To modern sensibility a child wearly a deadly plastic bad is shocking. Or in a late season episode Don Draper allows his completely drunk boss to leave his house with a drink "for the road." He merely smiles when he shouts, "That's my car!" as Roger drunkenly tries to find his own. A pregnant woman at a party can be seen smoking while holding a martini glass. One of my favorite MAD MEN scenes comes in Season Two, when after a picnic with his wife and kids, Don shakes the blanket they have all been sitting on, leaving the paper and trash on the ground. It all highlights some of the progress we have made in discipling some of our more indefensible behavior.
As others have noted, the show centers on several ad executives at the Sterling-Cooper advertising firm. In particular, the film focuses on Don Draper, a brilliantly creative ad exec who has been just as inventive in recreating himself as he has been in promoting the products of the firm's clients. A serial adulterer, the child of a prostitute who died giving birth to him, and the son of an abusive father, he has had to pull himself from his humble origins to the top of his profession. All this while protecting his own dark secrets. Don Draper is a great character, perhaps the most archetypal character to have arisen since Tony Soprano. And it provided the opportunity for overnight stardom for Jon Hamm, a previously only marginally successful actor who had mainly been distinguished by a string of very small parts on various TV series and small budget movies. But it is impossible to imagine anyone more perfect for this role than Hamm and series creator Matthew Weiner agreed after seeing his audition tapes. When the network insisted that Hamm be passed over for a more established actor, Weiner declared that without Hamm he was not willing to move forward with the series. Weiner won and Hamm went on to win a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination (which he should have won). As portrayed by Hamm, Don Draper is the complete embodiment of Thoreau's individual who lives a life of quiet desperation. Draper is a world of contraditions. At times unscrupulous, he is also capable of great magnanimity and moral rectitude. A womanizer, he yearns for the ideal home.
The cast is stuffed with great characters and wonderful performances. I absolutely detested Vincent Kartheiser as Connor on the series ANGEL, though even then I suspected it was more the way he was written than his performance. Though he isn't asked to perform acts of daring do on MAD MEN, he is exceptional as Peter Campbell. Like Don Draper he alternates from petty, self-serving moments to acts of kindness and loyalty. He is capable of being wonderfully protective of Peggy Olson, a woman with whom he has had a couple of moments of physical intimacy, though he can also behave viciously towards her. John Slattery is outstanding as Roger Sterling, the number two man in the firm and the son of the Sterling-Cooper cofounder. Robert Morse, the great Broadway musical star of the sixties (including HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING), plays Betram Cooper, the head of the firm. The almost unbearably beautiful January Jones (at one point in the season much is made of her resemblence to Grace Kelly, and she is gorgeous enough to make it not a silly compliment). Not to jump ahead to Season Two, Jones performance over the two seasons as Don Draper's trophy wife Betty is noting short of brilliant. Betty is someone who detests her life as a beautiful manikin, but isn't able to achieve happiness because she doesn't know who she wants to become. She also provides many of Season One's great moments, none better than when she starts killing the carrier pigeons of her next door neighbor with an air rifle (with cigarette dangling from her mouth) after he tells her children that he will kill their dog if they don't keep him out of his yard. The gorgeous Christina Hendricks (who wears some padding to make her figure more Rubenesque and who was wonderful in the recurring role of Saffron on the Sci-fi series FIREFLY) plays Joan Holloway, the office manager.
After Don Draper, however, my favorite character on the show is Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss). The series actually begins with Peggy's first day as a Sterling-Cooper employee. Starting off as Don Draper's secretary, she soon shows that she has skills as a writer, and soon becomes valued as a copy writer with a sensitivity for products that appeal to women. I've told friends that I believe that by the end of the series Peggy will actually be the head of Sterling-Cooper. I think the centrality of Peggy to the show was shown partly by the show commencing with her first day there and with her unprecedented penetration of the all male hierarchy of the corporation. Viewers may notice that she gains weight over the course of the year, especially during the last half. In fact Elizabeth Moss gained no weight. All changes were the result of very sophisticated make up art and padded clothing.
MAD MEN is one of the most beautifully designed shows you'll ever hope to see. It may be surpassed by BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and PUSHING DAISIES in art design, but no show on television rivals it in clothing. The look of the show is impeccable. If you don't remember the sixties, you can relive them by watching this show.
This is a show that anyone serious about quality TV has to know well. I've watched Season One twice and plan on rewatching Season One and Two as soon as the latter has finished. MAD MEN is also an example of a new trend in television, a series that tells more or less a unified story over the course of its life. LOST and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA both are doing this as well. All are must-see shows."
Perfect in every way imaginable
Jason | NC, USA | 08/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mad Men is one of the best shows I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
Watching this show on blu-ray has been something I will remember for quite some time. I missed the original airing of the show when it came on, and I was looking forward to watching the blu-ray. Once I watched it I feel in love.
As far as a blu-ray goes, this is perfect. The video is amazing, same with the audio, and it is stuffed with extras, including over 18 hours in audio commentary. There is another extra that is 1 hour long that is VERY good, and I recommend checking it out after you finish watching the series.
Overall Rating - 5/5 Stars Video - 5/5 Audio - 5/5 Bonus - 5/5 Story - 5/5