Let’s do something a little different with this week’s streaming pick. This isn’t a streaming original. This wasn’t a limited release movie that’s just now finding the wider world on streaming. I can’t even claim this is a deep cut. This week’s streaming pick is the many Emmy winning show that put AMC on the map. Mad Men.
For those who don’t know, if there are any, Mad Men is a period piece. The series is set primarily in 1960’s New York City. It centers around the men, and women, of the advertising world at that time. The show follows the characters into their personal lives. It explores real human stories. The main character through all 92 episodes is the flawed but fascinating Don Draper, played perfectly by Jon Hamm.
Conflicting internal struggles come up against external struggles of the tumultuous 1960s. The fictional series blends in real world events and issues seamlessly. The characters are all impacted by, and sometimes impact, the real world events of the time. The series never feels false by changing major things or having too heavy a hand on our country’s history.
Critics and audiences alike fell in love the series, despite the (then) obscure network it aired on. AMC was known for airing old movies and little else. Mad Men was the first original scripted series the network would air. Their gamble paid off. Critics praised the writing, acting, directing, accuracy in the setting, and overall style. In all the series would rake in sixteen Emmys and five Golden Globes. Out of those Emmy’s the first four seasons won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.
Every character is fully fleshed out. The complexities and relatable humanity in everyone is infinitely relatable. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) may be the most flawed character on the show. As some of the more spectacular pieces of the character are revealed you’re taken on an emotional roller coaster that you can’t, and don’t want to get off of.
Mad Men is currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime
Don’s coworkers get varying amounts of screen time but the team of writer’s show their prowess by giving each of them purpose and a chance to shine. They often embody different elements of the time but these fads never feel forced. There are no hamfisted references to movements that could easily be looked at as past parody.
One of the most amazing elements of the show is how the female characters are handled. Betty Draper (January Jones) is the picturesque housewife when we first meet her. As we spend time with her we learn so much about her, and many women of the time. She didn’t asire to be a housewife by her mid twenties, though that was largely the social convention. The way she was expected to live took a toll on her mentally in a time when psychiatry was a new field in significant ways. Conversely, we meet Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss). Olsen graduated from a popular secretary school and is assigned to Don’s desk. It’s made clear that secretaries are nothing more than that and eventually, if they’re lucky, they find a man and fall into the same trap as Betty Draper. The 1960’s was a youthful revolution, along with many other things. Olsen doesn’t stay in her lane and gambles big butting up against social convention.
I could write hundreds of words on how the show handles the struggle of women. That isn’t the only topic the writing staff masterfully tackled. Issues of race, sexuality, ageism, drug addiction, alcoholism, infidelity, family, and more are woven throughout a compelling narrative.
Every now and then you find a show that is something you never knew you wanted. I stumbled into Mad Men since I was interested about the time. That’s really all it took. I was blown away by the incredible pilot episode. The show became appointment television from July 2007 until May 2015. These shows that you stumble into can do more than entertain and educate. Despite the series being fictional there is an incredible amount of truth in the time and related issues. Mad Men is a show that will make you want to do better. It will make you want to create. It’s subtle and quiet but beautiful in its subtlety.