I am a TV show junkie. A bad one. I like my adrenaline rush. The Science fiction, the drama, the sexy girls, the action, things getting blown up, lameass jokes, some jawdropping twist and a nice heart-warming conclusion. Throw in a nice plot, clever writing, decent acting and at least one good looking girl and you are basically done. I'll watch the crap out of that show.
And then there is Madmen.
Very different. Very obscure. Very subtle.
No CIA or FBI agent, nobody threatening to destroy or blow anything up, no island, no doctor to save the day, no lawyer to shut everyone up. Its about a bunch of people, working in Advertising in the 60s, in New York. There is nothing sensational about what they do and their lives. And still Madmen, the show, leaves me speechless.
Four 'Best Drama Series' Emmys. Four bloody Emmys in a row! No other TV show has done this - ever! I obviously don't intend to give out spoilers. I just intend to 'spread the word' per-say :-)
"Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's the freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK." says Don Draper, the main protagonist. A womanizing, selfish, creative, arrogant, glib ad man. The main strength of Madmen is the combination of its great set of characters and authenticity brought about by music, visuals, sets & props. I usually end up thinking to myself - this is exactly how life in US in the 60s must have been. And this is where Madmen wins - there are many shows which take themselves seriously, but Madmen takes its audience seriously as well.
Every character in Madmen is human. One could argue that there are no positive characters in the show - and to some extent its true. You will find each and every person trying hard to be polite, to appear in control - but you can almost feel that there is always this looming anxiety, there is always that hidden frustration - those repressed emotions - but - you won't find even a single melodramatic, lengthy, drawn-out scene!
People suffer in silence, they avoid confrontations, they keep things unresolved and hanging and they die misunderstood.
And that is why Madmen rules!
Characters are sexist, not tolerant of other religions and beliefs, they are prejudiced, they drink while working and smoke even when they are pregant. But the show is not just about how different things were and how our sense of right and wrong "evolves" over time. Its about making us realize that despite of how much we change, we still remain the same. The show goes out of its way to show what a shitty treatment women used to get not so long ago - but makes sure you end up rooting for a girl.
One of the IMDB reviewers says that "strength and a challenge of Madmen is that it resists having its characters 'grow' dramatically and giving them radical new stories from season to season." And I couldn't agree more with this! In Madmen, people actually don't change much, they try hard but at the end of the day they don't 'really' grow out of their habits and mistakes. They are who they are and who they always were - a sum total of their deeds and their actions. So you hate them - you want to scream at them. But then realize this is exactly how people are, this is exactly how you are!
"Trust me - it never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened." - Don Draper.
Here is one of Don's classic ad pitches -
"When deep beauty is encountered, it arouses deep emotions. Because it is, by nature, unattainable. We are taught to think that function is all that matters, but we have a natural longing for this other thing. What price would we pay, what behavior would we forgive, if they weren't pretty, if they weren't temperamental, if they weren't beyond our reach and a little out of our control, would we love them like we do?"
The ad is supposed to be for an expensive sports car to be marketed to general population. And yet here he is, cleverly playing with words, making us associate this expensive car with a beautiful unattainable girl - unknowingly changing the way we would end up perceiving the car.
All in all, a show that is not afraid to tackle the "weird" aspects of "settled" and "suburban" life.
Madmen's creater, Matthew Weiner aptly says - "Creative works exist to express something that can't be expressed literally - they exist so that people can feel or understand something that can't entirely be conveyed with a rational explanation."
The show is no doubt cleverly written. But then again its not for everyone and especially not for all moods. You have to let 'Madmen' grow on you. You can't expect and wait for things to happen - if you are looking for that - then Madmen is not your cup of tea. Its not something that you can watch with a bunch of friends - munching over snacks. You can't do a Madmen marathon - finishing off 5 seasons in one week or something - because its not a Tequila shot that you gulp down in seconds and feel the high in 5 minutes. Its a smooth Scotch - on the rocks - to be enjoyed with a cigar - sitting alone in a dark room - looking out of the window - thinking.