I think I hate Mad Men

We’ve worked our way through the first season of Mad Men and I didn’t enjoy it. I can see that it’s well written and acted. The costumes and sets are remarkable. It has a very shiny kind of verisimilitude. I can see why it wins awards. But it leaves me cold.

Actually, worse than that—it make me uncomfortable and unhappy. I watch with pursed lips and my arms crossed tight.

I don’t feel like they’re exploring the sexism and racism of the period I feel that they’re skirting a line towards reproducing it. Why are there no black characters? The black cleaner or lift operator could easily have been major characters. Instead they’re rarely seen and less often heard. There are many more female characters but they don’t lift above the level of a cipher. I don’t know who they are or what they’re thinking and none of them gets anywhere near as much screen time as Donald Draper.

Everything revolves around Draper, whom I’m clearly meant to empathise with. I don’t. I don’t like him at all. Or his bosses. And don’t get me started on his work colleagues. I have no sense of who his wife or girlfriend or children are so it’s hard to like or dislike them.

The only reason I’m watching is that I’ve heard such great things about it. We just finished the first season. Maybe it gets better in the second. I doubt it and I’m wondering why I’ve spent time watching a show that so carefully recreates a truly appalling milieu and time without the kind of overt critique that would make it tolerable. Also the theme music makes me want to kill myself.

It is possible to create television that engages with the racism and sexism of a place and time without making viewers feel complicit. The Wire does it brilliantly. I haven’t figured out what went wrong with Mad Men but watching it makes me want to take a shower. Not in a good way.

Am I alone in this response to the show? Cause so far I have heard only praise.

One thing I like about it? The women’s clothes. But I don’t have to watch the show to see them.


  1. David S. on #

    I think you do need to watch the second season, Don’s wife gets more airtime and his relationship with her comes more front and centre (and not in a good way). However I’m not sure I agree you are supposed to empathise with Don, they’re all pretty shallow and unlikeable, so what? That’s hot on TV now (Dr House for example). I think you do come to understand to some degree why Don is as he is, and in the second season a black girlfriend and (small) civil rights sub-plot shows up too. It’s the Red/Irish Setter that’ll get you in the second season though…

    These shows are intended to run for many seasons (I guess they have to be optimists) so much stuff (several character backstories, etc.) have to be left in reserve to be doled out along the way. Like the wife of the guy who’s identity Don stole for example. And why “Keep America Beautiful” became necessary.

    I really like Mad Men, I think it’s worth at least a third season. Might get old after that though, we’ll have to see I guess.

  2. Sam on #

    Nooooo I love Mad Men! However, I agree that it’s very detaching (is that a word?) and often nihilistic – which is what I like about it, but I get how that might be off-putting to others.

    And if you don’t care for the first season, I’d recommend skipping the second. Parts of it are very “OMG what is the point of life” bleak, though there are also moments that made me feel the complete opposite of that.

  3. Linda Urban on #

    I have never commented on your blog before — despite all the wonderful posts about craft and business that I have found so inspiring and perspective-offering. But today? I godda chime in and say ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY, SISTER.

    I cannot understand the appeal of the show. I don’t like anyone– especially not Mr. Draper. I watched six or seven episodes on Netflix and have never once wondered about what happens next. Because I did not care about any of the people or their stories. It was cold and too impressed with itself for my liking.

  4. JA on #

    I’m so glad to hear someone else say they hate Mad Men!! I just attempted to watch it, based on all the positive buzz, and after only three episodes I decided I wasn’t going to put myself through the torture.

    I despised the the men’s attitudes toward women, and the women’s attitudes about themselves (they all seemed like spineless victims to me). Realistic for the time period? Maybe. Probably. But do we have to memorialize those attitudes with a sly, nostalgic wink? I agree with you that a little more overt self-criticism may have helped make it tolerable.

    I’ve been comparing Mad Men to Rescue Me, but for me there was one important difference. Rescue Me’s men are deeply and grossly flawed, but they also run into burning buildings and save people’s lives (i.e. they have some redeeming qualities). I stuck through several seasons of this one and found a few things to appreciate. I ignored the discomfort that all the lame, unlikeable female characters gave me until they actually almost succeeded in writing a good one. When she was revealed to be just as dependent on the men treating her badly as all the other women were, I gave up and quit watching. At least I didn’t feel the constant overtone that the characters were JUSTIFIED in their behavior because that’s just how it was in the 50’s.

    I’ve been ranting about this for about a month (since I started and promptly quit watching MM). I’ve been a little worried that I quit too soon and was missing something that evolved into truly great television, so I was glad to read your post. It closely describes my own reaction and reassures me that I made the right choice…and that I’m not the only crazy person in the ‘verse who found Mad Men intolerable.

  5. Julia Rios on #

    I haven’t watched it, but I think this is enough evidence that I oughtn’t. I am ever skeptical of shows that everyone raves about because I’ve had a few really terrible viewing experiences after buying the hype. I think the UK version of Life on Mars did a pretty decent job of not implicitly approving of the racism and sexism of a different time (I can’t speak for the American version because we couldn’t even bear to finish the first episode). Anyway, if you haven’t seen that yet, it might be somewhat more palatable.

  6. smaur on #

    I adore Mad Men! Don Draper might be a lot of the focus, but it’s also very much (if not equally) about Peggy Olsen, who is FANTASTIC and slowly cutting out a place for herself in the company. And the second season has Betty coming into her own, or struggling to, amidst the hazy stupor of her life as suburban housewife extraordinaire. It also features a lot more of Joan, who is fabulous.

    I do agree that it lacks black characters; there is one minor-ish one in season two and they try to deal more with issues of race in the 60s, so I’m hoping they’ll explore it further-er in season 3.

    I can see how the depiction of racism and sexism can make you feel complicit, but (for the sexism at least) I’ve always felt they’ve maintained a careful balance between critiquing it and reproducing it. There ARE several strong female characters, but they’re mired in their positions in life trying to find themselves. For characters like Betty and Joan, who are poised on the edge of breaking free but so entrenched in their own values and beliefs that they can’t, it’s heartbreaking.

    (For race, they have no excuse. I am crossing my fingers and hoping for more in season 3.)

    This isn’t as coherent as I’d like it to be, but basically: give season 2 a chance!

  7. Patrick on #

    Please put the tv on mute during the theme music – k thx bai

  8. alisa on #

    never seen mad men!

    but, life on mars. i haven’t seen the uk version, but the us version deals with sexism (and other isms) brilliantly. and it also has pretty clothes! and surprising depth.

  9. Karen on #

    Mad Men is one of those shows that seems to just hit some viewers in a sweet spot that I don’t have. Lots of people I respect say it’s great, and I’ve seen a couple episodes, but my reaction is the same as yours. It doesn’t do for me what it does for them.

    I think Mad Men fulfills a function that few shows do, of taking a thoughtful, subtle, and artistic approach toward a certain range of human experience: an era of changing values for masculinity among American white men in the business world. I’ve heard an interview with the creator on NPR where he speaks eloquently about growing up in that time where the men in his life were at a loss to figure out how to be men, as the world changed around them. He made it sound like a smart and worthwhile show. But alas, when I watch it, I’m not seeing that in there. I’m willing to believe it would be really powerful and moving to someone who was struggling with the relevant identity stuff, but it’s just not pitched at me, I guess.

  10. Justine on #

    JA: It really is a physical discomfort, isn’t it? I’ve never felt so ill at ease watching a tv show before. I don’t regret watching it cause it’s been really interesting trying to figure out what it is that is so failing me that works so well for so many people I respect.

    There were lots of people in the early 1960s who weren’t buying it to that hideous world view but in season one the only characters like that are total stereotypes (Draper’s boho girlfriend) who you get no sense of at all. That was one of my problems with this show: over and over and over I had no idea what anyone was thinking or feeling. They were all surfaces.

    Julia Rios & alisa: Have been meaning to give the UK Life On Mars a go for ages.

    Linda Urban: Thanks for the kind words!

    Yeah, Don Draper actually makes my skin crawl. By the end of the first season I was finding it hard to look at the tv when he was onscreen. And his boss who had the heart attack? Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!

    Smaur: I can definitely see how the show could work for other people. But I’m finding all the women characters too underwritten to get any sense of them. I tried and failed to like Peggy but found her so barely there that I couldn’t even guess as her interior life. After a whole season I still have no idea who Peggy is or what she thinks. That’s true of every female character.

    Karen: I think Mad Men fulfills a function that few shows do, of taking a thoughtful, subtle, and artistic approach toward a certain range of human experience.

    I guess one of my many problems with the show is that as you imply the range of human experience is so extraordinarly narrow. I kept feeling that I had read/seen this story before. And not in a good way.

    I keep imagining the alternative version that could even have kept the icy Don Draper as a character but that would have also been about the lives of the lift operator, the janitor, the woman who does Betty Draper’s shopping for her. And, frankly, that show is a billion times better and more interesting than Mad Men, which examines what is already quite well-examined. Overly examined even.

  11. christy on #

    I can definitely understand that sense that a series or film makes you feel bad enough that how good it is isn’t enough to make you want to watch it anymore. (Did that sentence make sense?) But after watching both seasons, I have to strongly disagree that the women characters are merely ciphers.

    Of course, I can’t pinpoint the moment where I felt I knew who these women were, whether it was in the first or second season, or whether they came into view as quickly as their male counterparts. The whole thing was so gradual, and all characters gain much more depth in the second season. Also it’s a very slow-moving show, in general.

    I do know that I adored Joan, my favorite character, from very early on. Honestly, I loved Joan before we were shown any side to her other than her horribly mean/sweet office persona. I suspected we’d see more to it, of course–the classic girl bully storyline, a la Kim in Freaks and Geeks–but even just with her bad points, I loved her. I felt I knew her. (She was me, basically).

    Betty and Peggy took longer for me. Betty I think in part because the actress herself was growing in the role. Peggy I think maybe I don’t relate to her as strongly (which–as a female junior level creative professional myself with a natural disinclination toward traditional gender roles, WTF?), but by the end of season 2 I’m just in awe of Elisabeth Moss’s performance of her. She snuck up on me.

    And finally, my second favorite female character…Sally Draper. Sally Draper is awesome. That’s all I can say. I also really like Hildy, Pete’s secretary. I love to zero in on the tertiary roles on large ensemble shows. To call Hildy tertiary is generous, actually, but I get so much out of what little she does.

    Draper is despicable, and I don’t feel the need to root for him at all, except when he’s up against an even more despicable person, or when his failure will negatively affect characters I do like. But Jon Hamm’s performance is exquisite, so I love watching him nonetheless. (And it’s made his recent comedic successes all the more sweet).

    My favorite male character is Salvator, and he gets some good moments in season 2. Also there are some pretty great black characters that are introduced and/or get a closer look in season 2. BUT as Sam says, it’s an incredibly dark season. and those little moments where they try to smack you in the face with how horrible things were in the 60s are, at times, even worse.

    So, in conclusion, if lack of character development is the problem, maybe season 2 will make it better for you. If the show making you feel crappy is the problem, then maybe don’t touch season 2 with a ten foot pole.

  12. veejane on #

    Yeah, I watched the first season on Mad Men in a marathon a few months ago and then spent the whole evening playing the world’s tiniest violin for the Deep Sorrow of the rich white male egomaniacs of this earth.

    Jon Hamm is delicious, but it turns out he’s even more delicious when he’s not playing a jerk suffering from Brylcreem poisoning.

  13. Word Lily on #

    I just recently finished watching the first season as well. Up until the season finale, I had no interest in continuing on with the second season. I hate that the characters are flat. We never know what they’re thinking, what anyone’s motivation is. I don’t despise the character of Draper so much as I feel sad that I don’t care what happens to him (or anyone else). The exception? Pete Campbell. He’s a snake.

    I agree, Christy, that Hildy is pretty fun. But we see very little of her (at least in season one).

    The show is pretty visually. That’s about all it has going for it.

    I keep wishing it was more like Mr. Ive’s Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos — multicultural, nuanced, meaningful.

  14. Jude on #

    I was alive in the 1960s, and the show feels just right–not just the uncomfortable clothing worn by everyone, male and female (I hated having to always wear dresses–yuck!), but the way our roles kept us from happiness. Don is a cipher–he morphs into whatever he needs to be depending on the situation. We weren’t able to be ourselves–society was too constricting. But then, thank goodness, society turned upside down and suddenly there were *no* rules (imagine how scary *that* was–to go from a Mad Men environment to hippies, free love, and rampant drug use). I worked in a large office as a temp in the late 1970s, and the male/female hierarchy was still oddly there (also, there were no ethnic minorities in that 1970s office), so maybe that’s another reason that I identify with this show. And since I’m currently scanning several thousand slides onto Flickr, the presentation to the Kodak folks rang true.

  15. Jennifer on #

    Hear, hear. I cannot watch this show no matter how often I am begged to watch it, and I am so sick of hearing how good it is. I feel utterly creeped out every time someone talks about it. Someone once told me the point of the show was to feel creeped out. Uh, yeah, sounds fun. Not.

  16. Diana Peterfreund on #

    You nailed it. This is exactly what I felt after watching most of the first season (rented it after hearing hype.)

    Every episode seemed to be, “Wow, pregnant women smoked and drank in the 50s, isn’t that WEIRD!” “Wow, men were sexist a-holes to their secretaries on Mad Ave in the 50s, ain’t that WEIRD?” “Wow, restaurant managers were racist dickwads to their black busboys in the 50s, ain’t that WEIRD?” “Wow, men have mistresses! Wow, OB/GYNs treated sexually active women like whores! Wow, being a female housewife/divorcee/model/artist/secretary in the 50s sucked!”

    Yes. I get it. Whooppee.

    Also, that kid from Angel gets on my nerves something FIERCE.

  17. john cash on #

    “Mad Men” is an American costume drama, like “Pride and Prejudice” on the BBC. Yes, it leaves a lot out when depicting its larger world, just as Austen does — no workshouses, etc. — but it’s not meant to be about all of the 1960s, just this corner of them, as Austen’s was about early 19th cent. England. On the other hand, “Mad Men” isn’t based on great literature, it’s based on soap opera.

  18. Meeks on #

    I had a similar experience while watching. Found myself mostly watching at a distance and appreciating its style, but not connecting with any of the characters or storylines on a visceral level. Likewise, I wasn’t drawn to Don–can see how iconic the character is, but the strong, silent man has never been my type, and therefore I have no affection for him that might temper my disgust at the choices his character makes.

  19. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I disagree, john cash. Costume drama, has… well, drama. Jane Austen had a storyline, and what it ignored was the actual issues (you never saw them emptying chamber pots, or stopping by the slave ships, or whatever).

    Mad Men, on the other hand, seems to be all about showing these little glimpses into the weirdness of the time period (pregnant ladies smoking! bohemians doing drugs! women stuck in suburbia!) with no actual storylines. Nothing ever seemed to HAPPEN. I’m sure if I cared about the characters, I’d have kept watching. But I didn’t need to be reminded every episode that man, those fifties people sure smoked a lot. Seriously, that’s all I can remember, except for the fact that the main dude had a few mistresses and lied about his past and his wife was half crazy, whereas with BBC costume dramas, I don’t actually remember the cultural touches — I remember the stories.

  20. Ms Shea on #

    I have to agree with everything Christy said. I love Mad Men although it is not a feel-good show. The second season addresses sexism far more than the first, as the struggles of the female characters are explored. The second season takes place a few years after the end of the first season, and the story reflects the cultural shifts during the tumultuous sixties. I suspect that the third season will address sexism and racism more directly. I understand that the show doesn’t appeal to everyone, but if your main complaint is that the women are two-dimensional I think you should give the second season a chance.

  21. sterndal on #

    dear justine,

    I was so disappointed when I learned that Mad Men will not be aired in my country. But after reading your post and those comments, I am convinced that I shouldn’t be sad about it.

    Thank you and cheers!

  22. Justine W on #

    I really enjoyed Mad Men. I haven’t got around to watching the second series.

    I think your post is spot on, though. There was a kind of plastic feel to it.

    I suppose the show is reflecting the values of the times, but the writers could have done so much more with the raw material to show the real impact those values had on people’s lives.

    Oh, and for everyone who liked the UK version of Life on Mars, check out Red Riding if you can. Brilliant, challenging TV, but a hundred times darker and grittier than LoM. Gripping stuff, if a bit puzzling at times.

  23. sterndal on #

    spot on? Plastic? why?

    if you don’t like my comment, you can delete it

  24. Erin on #

    Oh, I really disagree. I love this show, and I don’t have a problem with the fact that a lot of the characters are unsympathetic; I don’t have to love everybody. I do think that Joan and Peggy are really interesting female characters, and that Betty gets more so as we learn more about her in Season 2. And I find Don Draper fascinating despite the fact that he’s a deeply flawed person… I love the fact that there’s a show that dares to have a deeply flawed, kind of assy person AS THE LEAD. And the end of season 1, with his monologue about the slide carousel, was amazing.

    And the fact that it doesn’t deal with race — well, that’s not what this show is about. It’s about the lives of white upper-middle class people in the fifties (at least season 1 is), and unfortunately those people’s lives just didn’t do a lot of intersecting with the lives of people unlike them. As the show moves into the 60s when people like this became forced to confront these issues, the show will follow suit.

    My sister, however, feels the same way you do, and stopped watching after episode 2 despite my constant “I LOVE THIS SHOW” rants.

  25. sterndal on #

    To justine w, i love this blog!

    i like the author’s writing style

    I think she simply has a beautiful mind with interesting things to share 🙂

  26. Justine W on #

    Sterndal – I meant I agree with Justine’s original post and that I thought Mad Men had a plastic feel to it, not Justine’s post.

    Agh. Sorry for confusion. I think Justine’s blog is great too.

  27. Kate C on #

    I really, really liked Mad Men and I’m hanging out for season two. I like that it makes me uncomfortable; I like that I have to fill in the blanks with the characters; I like that, as a viewer, I’m gliding across slippery surfaces, but uneasily aware that dark, ominous things lurk beneath. I like that I don’t like Don or anything he stands for, and that I don’t have to like him, even though he is so superficially attractive. I like the sense of his inner desperation (which, okay , is pretty existential in the scheme of things, but hey, it’s 1960.)

    But I do understand you not wanting to watch it. I’ve never been able to watch The Sopranos, because I just can’t be interested in gangsters, no matter how well-written and complex they are. Sorry.

  28. V on #

    You might like Todd Haynes’ ‘Far From Heaven’ (2002, movie), which despite being set in the 50s and being an unabashed tribute/reworking of Sirkian melodrama of that period, deals with themes of race and homosexuality and the entrapment of an upper middle class woman in that kind of society. The colours and costumes in it also rock 😉

  29. simmone on #

    oh. i am a fan. But I pretty much only like peggy, and the creepy kid who tries to crack on to betty. I don’t feel that it’s a particularly deep show, but I am a sucker for that era, it’s like reading the womens room all over again, or the group (the horror!)And re: reinforcing racism … the argument reminds me of ghost world where enid talks about how back then racism was in your face, but in the modern world, it’s more concealed. (and obvs neither is ideal) I feel like MM’s representation makes you conscious of that… I am sad that don draper’s beatnik girlfriend disappeared before we got to know her! I thought she had potential (but she thought he didn’t.. ha!) Anyways, enough ramble. I look forward to season three. it will be exciting when it hits the hip sixties… In the meantime do yourself a kndness and check out nights in rodanthe (joke).

  30. Walter Jon Williams on #

    I am totally down with Justine at this one. By the end of Season One, I was cheering for Don Draper’s downfall. And I didn’t much care for the rest or the cast, either.

    I was ultimately so annoyed by the series that I blogged about it at inordinate length, and was of course rewarded with inordinate responses.

    I can certainly deal with unsympathetic protagonists, having have written a few myself, but Draper just left me wanting to scrape him off the sole of my shoe.

    I think I can best be reconciled to unsympathetic protagonists of they can be shown to enjoy what they’re doing. Tony Soprano and Harry Flashman, for example, both =really enjoy= their work, and the viewer is free to be both delighted and appalled at the consequences. But I can’t tell why Draper does what he does— he doesn’t seem to have any fun at all. If he =enjoyed= demeaning women and backstabbing his colleagues and selling Lucky Strikes, I could maybe strike up a wary friendship with the character, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy himself, ever.

    It’s a series about self-deception, and Draper is as deceived as anyone else. It’s very well done, but I don’t see why there has to be 13 hours of it, let alone 26.

  31. (past) margaret on #

    Even though I am a fan of the show, I definitely see where you’re coming from Justine, particularly as regards the first season. Peggy and Joan get more screen time season 2, and had they not, I would have abandoned this forthwith.

    However, even though I haven’t given up watching it, I get the same squicky feelings you do, because while *I* watch it and think “Man, thank god it’s not like that any more” I think MANY of my male friends watch it and think “Man, I wish it were still like that.” And there isn’t enough inherent criticism in the show’s depiction of things to make me feel like my response is any more valid than theirs.

    It’s like when Ben Folds plays “Bitches Ain’t Shit” at his shows, and all the frat boys go nuts– it doesn’t seem to me like they’re engaging with the song’s misogyny ironically, and it doesn’t seem like they get that a soft rock cover of a black rap song is kind of racist. It leaves me feeling pretty alone and attacked in the crowd where a minute before I felt at home. It’s the same with Mad Men fans– one second, we can be talking about how great Joan is and everything’s great, and then the next, we’re talking about Don Draper and that fanatical gleam of adulation appears in their eyes and suddenly the conversation is no fun anymore. Because suddenly I feel like they aren’t rooting for Joan, Peggy, et all to make it out, like I am, but for Don Draper to win it all. And that just makes me queasy.

  32. Justine on #

    Walter Jon Williams: I think that’s exactly it. Draper takes no pleasure in anything. No one does!

    (past) margaret: Thank you so much for this comment. I think you’ve really nailed the problem with shows like these and indeed any show/book/song/whatever that navigates the line between critiquing and reproducing a particularly appalling time & place or set of beliefs or whatever. Thank you!

    I’ve had the same uncomfortable feeling when talking about my love for the movie Starship Troopers. I see it as a pisstake on fascism and the 90210ification of the universe but some ST fans worship that part of it and wish we lived in such a world. And which point I can only back away slowly.

  33. sss on #

    i hate it too. i hate everything about it. why would i want to watch a show about sexist white men leading empty narcissistic self-indulgent lives while trying to make money on a harmful product? i don’t find it entertaining at all. it seems to revel in it rather than critique it. it’s very manifest destiny…i’m entitled to get mine at the expense of “others”. right on (past) margaret.

  34. Daniel on #

    I am so grateful to have found this post. It’s refreshing to know that I’m not alone in my lack of love for this show. It’s quite disheartening to have one’s friends gushing about how wonderful it is when the most positive reaction I could muster from the first three episodes of the first season (all that I could stomach to watch) was a mere “feh.”

  35. Mike and Laura on #

    We started watching this show back in August. They were having a marathon, so we figured we’d see what all the buzz was about. We admit that we were drawn in a bit. I set my DVR to record the show. In between the marathon and the next show, we discovered Dexter and Weeds on Showtime. Going back to MM now is like watching grass grow. Boring. Plain and simple. The people are cold and apparently too cool for school. There seems to be no point in their cold, selfish, pointless lives so it’s like spying on very uniteresting neighbors who drink too much, ignore their children, and cheat on each other. Again, boring! It must be too deep for us – NOT!

  36. Wade on #

    I watched the show once in the first season and found it to be overly stylized, i.e., absolutely everything, from the clothes to the sets to the cars, is exactly of the period. It’s too perfect and therefore unbelievable. I didn’t care for any of the characters, either. They seem to be as sterile as their surroundings.

  37. Cat on #

    I can’t stand it. While I long for more shows that have that level of visual awesomeness (bring back Pushing Daisies) and put more effort into it having artistic integrity than the laugh-every-3-seconds sitcoms or constantly-on-the-edge-of-your-seat dramas, I hate every single one of these characters. Not love to hate, not wanting to see them redeemed or get run over by a car, just hate. And I actually hate the women more because they seem to be even more sexist then the men, never being even the slightest bit miffed at how horribly they are treated. Giving a couple female characters significant screen time doesn’t make them ‘strong’ characters or ‘complex’ characters. I simply cannot watch a show in which I find Draper to be the most redeeming character. Watching this makes me feel like I need to take a bath in Clorox.

  38. Lindsey on #

    Mad Men is a total white male fantasy, full of racist, sexist, cheating men. Since men are raked through mud when such fantasies show up on TV nowadays, its creator set it in the 60s instead.

    I heard him confirm on NPR that, in fact, he identifies with the show’s main character, Don Draper. Not a surprise at all.

    This show will not stand the test of time. It’s just a fluffy fantasy under the guise of Art.

  39. Jesse on #

    What can I say but THANK YOU. I just rented the 1st season and EVERYTHING you write about this show is E X A C T L Y what I feel. I was terrribly distraught by the after taste this show left on my psyche and finding your blog put language where I needed it to understand my abject revulsion to everyone depicted in this program. The “reproduction” of the sexism, racism, egotism, alcoholism, all of it….something about the tacitly depraved & poisonous environment left me gasping for air. Everyone I now RAVES about this show. But I hated every minute of it and am grateful for your erudite companionship on this issue

  40. Jonathan on #

    I know this is a pretty old post and even the most recent comment is a few months old but I just completed the second season and I believe unlike some others 1 – the show will survive easily probably into a 5th season and 2 – several of the concerns raised about the author regarding the lack of exploration of certain characters or topics in the 1st season are addressed in the second. That is not to say necessarily that you will like the 2nd season or should watch it but the female characters and a couple key black characters are explored in more depth. There is even an interracial relationship and a young, openly gay character (a great juxtaposition to the older, closeted gay character that we know a lot more about). The exploration of the female characters is at once positive and enlightening with regard to their talents, ambitions, etc. and at the same time quite damning in terms of their level of insecurity and mental or emotional stability. No punches are pulled when it comes to how the men are viewed either – a lot of the male behavior that was seemingly romanticized in the 1st season is exposed for the trouble, anguish, and damage that often results from it.

    What Mad Men does very well I think is to give you a lot of different angles from which to view the characters without being overly celebratory or sympathetic to any one or even narrow group of characters. You get a sense from taking everything in various levels of context that all sorts of behaviors traditionally considered undesirable are to some extent understandable. Notice I didn’t say they were justified, only understandable.

    The 2nd season really added a lot of subtle (and some not so subtle) causal layers, priming the audience for deeper dialogue on sexual orientation, racial and sexual relations, corporate and artistic cultures, and family.

    I am personally attracted to the near nihilistic philosophical underpinnings and the coldness of many of the situations doesn’t bother me at all. It is closer to how I view life than almost any other show I’ve watched. Another series I like for some similar reasons is Showtime’s Californication but there are some big differences in that Californication has a veiled moralism to it (even if it is a hedonist, rock and roll morality) that is not pushed in Mad Men. Even with its coldness though, I think to see Mad Men only for the challenging ethical and moral strife is selling it short. In many ways it is a very romantic and sentimental body of work thus far.

    By the end of the 2nd season, it becomes quite clear that every character they choose to deal with past the very surface is experiencing either some deep longing for something they can’t have or something they taste that is fleeting and hard to pin down.

    I admit it isn’t for everyone and with all things there will be haters. I didn’t live in the 50’s and 60’s (born in ’69) so I didn’t come into this series with any hang-ups related to that period. Maybe that’s the problem for some viewers of that era – either it’s too close to home or a blatant misrepresentation of their memories of that time.

    I choose to see the themes in a more timeless way. There is nothing in Mad Men that I don’t feel I have some exposure to today. It’s all here today just to lesser degrees or naively / intentionally glossed over.

    Mad Men has given me some comfort in that it makes me feel it is OK to be confused about meaning or purposes in life well into your adult years, unhinged by inevitable generational cultural change, bothered by a sense that you’ll never accomplish some pinnacle state of being that you or others think you should, nostalgic for things that never really existed, alone in the sense that no one can live your same life and hence never really know you, almost ridiculously driven by habits and assumptions, painfully aware that family isn’t something you pick but something you inherit, self-doubting even when others think you are on top of the world, and intrigued that nothing is cosmically important and the things you want to think are deep and meaningful can be reduced to utter silliness if viewed with an indiscriminant sense of humor.

  41. Mari Mitchell on #

    I tried the show because so many have said good things about it.

    There is no one likable in the whole show. No one to root for.

    No heart. Little humor.

    There is smoking, drinking, sex, resentment, sexism, racism, and no one is fighting for any changes. They all seem to like it.

    This show does not feed my soul and doesn’t make me a better person.

  42. Rosie on #

    When fans of “MAD MEN” express excuses for the show’s minimal portrayal of race, it annoys me. One, many of these fans act as if there were no African-American professionals in the middle or upper classes in the U.S. during the 1960s . . . unless one is speaking of Martin Luther King.

    The show is willing to explore sexism. They even took one female character, who was a secretary and promoted her to copy writer by the end of Season 1, without her having any need to acquire a college education. Yet, not only did Weiner fail to explore the possibility of a black professional in the 1960s, he even failed to explore the one consistent black character in the series – namely the Drapers’ maid, Carla. Instead, Weiner portrayed her as a one-dimensional cliche – the “dignified Negro”, before getting rid of her for good at the end of Season 4.

    Even his attempt to portray homosexuality in the 1960s through the character of Sal Romano was cut at the knees when he got rid of Sal before Season 3 ended. Weiner claimed that Sal’s character had ran its course. He had barely started to explore Sal’s marriage to Kitty before he got rid of the character.

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