Okay, I thought, it’s the 1960s and men were in charge – what is such a big deal. But the show is layered and so are the characters. What Mad Men has done is give us a snapshot (a seven-season snapshot) of what New York was like in the 1960s and 1970s.
When I was a boy, my mother would bring me to work with her sometimes. She worked at the Benton and Bowles advertising company. That company, like the fictitious Sterling Cooper advertising company, merged a few times over.
That is what advertising looked like to me then: a lot of insecurity. There were no cool guys like Don Draper walking the hallways, but instead more men like the frumpy Lou Avery character.
We like Mad Men because the Don Draper character relates to so many people. Some of us are business people, like Draper. Some of us are family people, like Draper. Some of us have secrets that we think about all the time, like Draper.
There is a part of this television character that, at any given time, the viewing public shares a connection with.
In Mad Men, we see how the corporate office in America changed. As the 1960s blended into the 1970s, we see more diversity. You almost want to reach into the screen and tell these advertising people to get on the ground floor of software and personal computers.
But that is the great thing about the show, these characters have no idea what the future holds, and neither do we.
You know a show is great when a one-hour episode never really leaves the audience satisfied. People wanted more of a defined ending to The Sopranos. They wanted some kind of closure for Tony Soprano. But these shows are based on real life – or at least as close as writer Matthew Weiner can get it.
And if real life is the actual star of the show, there is rarely closure. That is not real life. The show may end, but the life on Madison Avenue and beyond just goes on.
Mad Men, like Breaking Bad, has solidified AMC’s footprint on national television as a place to go for great programming. Breaking Bad was a great show, but it was tethered to its narrative. There were no episodes where they took a break from the lead character to focus on the ensemble cast.
Mad Men, however, has the ability to jump around to various characters. Nobody is being chased by drug dealers, after all.
Mad Men gave us something a lot of television does not, a glimpse into the not-so-far-away past. This is a good formula, one that AMC is reprising with Halt and Catch Fire, which takes place in the early 1980s.
The last episode of Mad Men will not be as good as the first. To paraphrase one of Draper’s love interests before hanging up the phone, sometimes “we only like the beginnings of things.”