No show on television receives the same kind of writerly worship and scrutiny as AMC’s “Mad Men.” The post-mortem’s of the fifth season’s first episode dominated every blog and website Monday morning, and this is entirely deserved.
The serial drama, first dominated by HBO with “The Sopranos”, has become the chic way to remain literary without actually reading a book. However, it has long been my stance that dramas like “Mad Men” and “The Wire” really do have literary ambitions and represent a potential revolution in long-form storytelling if a network could ever eschew their profit motive in favor of art.
AMC is close to doing this with “Mad Men,” which almost no one actually watches on TV but which has entered the cultural lexicon and consciousness in grand fashion. Don Draper as played by Jon Hamm has become an iconic character in just four seasons and even the show’s pulpy center (involving the stolen “Draper” identity) and the multiple occasions the writers have asked the audience to totally suspend disbelief doesn’t seem to put even a ding in our collective reverence.
Perhaps because it’s so well-written, perhaps because its working with so many thematic layers, perhaps just because of the insight it offers into the highly-ignored advertising revolution that taught Americans how to be happy cogs in a consumerist machine and more or less reinvented the ways we identify ourselves and talk to each other, “Mad Men” really does deserve the kind of analysis usually reserved for a novel.
In season 5’s opening episode, we find Draper now married to his secretary Megan, the surprise of last season’s final episode. It should be noted that I thought the season 4 reboot, which saw the creation of the new firm SCDP really was the series’ finest so far. With this new marriage, we are once again in completely unchartered territory for the show and these bold jerks in the plot line that most dramatic series rarely pull off seem to be an intellectual challenge for the writers of “Mad Men.” It makes for a fascinating viewing experience.
Unlike everyone else on the Internet, I’ll mostly withhold scrutiny of the first episode since it’s kind of like analyzing the first five pages of the seventh chapter of a book—you can dwell on it, sure, but let me read the whole thing first.
All I know is that after an interminable hiatus, America’s “Mad Men” obsession can keep on rolling.