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Friday, May 25, 2012

Mad Men Season 1 Review, or The Best Use of Effective Realism on Television

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Welcome to Madison Avenue, home of the Ad Men, or Mad Men, as they like to call themselves. (See, that's a play on the words "advertising", and "Madison"─Mad. Get it?)

I've heard about this show before, but I never got a chance to watch it, because when this show started, I was extremely biased towards HBO productions and tended to ignore all the other shows on TV.

It was only when I became a copywriter that I decided to check the show out. I needed some inspiration, because I just realized that I suck at writing copy. And inspire me it did. Everyone in a line of work involving creativity will definitely learn a lot here, from the first episode's Lucky Strike campaign (It's Toasted!) up to the season ender's brilliant, sentimentally tear-jerking pitch of the Kodak carousel slide projector.

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"I'm crying because of the sheer brilliance of this scene!"

Mad Men is set in 1960s America, sometime during the Nixon-Kennedy election showdown. And the show does indeed look convincingly like the 60s. The hair, the costumes, the production design, the cinematography, the soundtrack─everything is swingin' sixties, baby. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the best use of effective realism I have ever seen on television.

The entire visual look is so effective, it looks like those 60s Coca-Cola ads brought to life.

Like this, basically.

And for that, you can thank the brilliant art director, Christopher Brown. For those who don't know, an art director basically supervises all the different visual elements, making sure that when they all come together, they produce a result so effective that you will only perceive one harmonious whole, all the elements ceasing to exist separately. So now let us analyze the elements of effective realism vis-à-vis the award-winning aspects of Mad Men. (Ten points for using vis-à-vis in a non-academic article!)

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And 10 points for the most realistic television throw-up.


CASTING
Carrie Audino and Laura Schiff

Jon Hamm
Donald Draper
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"What? You gonna make a crack at my perfect hair?"
Check. Definitely looks like an Ad Man who got bumped to senior partner.


Christina Hendricks
Joan Harris
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Even in the 60s, ladies in red were sluts.
Check. Definitely looks like a slut who slept with half the office.


John Slattery
Roger Sterling
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"Even my pubes are white."
Check. Definitely looks like your typical horny boss.


January Jones
Betty Draper
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"This is the fakest smile I can muster."
Check. Definitely looks like your typical Stepford wife.


Vincent Kartheiser
Pete Campbell
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Both Campbell and Draper are the biggest consumers
of pomade in New York.
Check. Definitely looks like your scheming, conniving officemate with a whiny Edward Norton-like voice.


Elisabeth Moss
Peggy Olson
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"I take contraceptive pills, yet I don't
look like a slut! Yay casting!"
Check. Definitely looks like your innocent yet strong-willed woman.

My only problem with the supporting casting is Alison Brie. When I look at her, I always see Annie from Community. Imagining her as a 60s housewife requires a lot of effort on my part.


PRODUCTION DESIGN
Dan Bishop

The attention to detail in this series is amazing. Everything that appears onscreen has been meticulously researched, making sure that even the cigarette dispensers are historically authentic.

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In fact, the smoking campaign in the show is so effective,
I've half a mind to try smoking again.

Typewriters abound in the Sterling Cooper offices, which will give you a new appreciation for all writers who survived without Microsoft Word.

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That typewriter's not even electric.

Also, tomato juice!

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I have yet to try it with celery.


SET DECORATION
Claudette Didul and Amy Wells

When Don Draper walks down the hallway, the viewer walks with him. When he enters his office, the viewer enters with him. And the viewers will see the walls, the doors, the desks, the lamps, the chairs, the sofas─and the viewer will not have any doubt that this show does indeed take place in the 60s.

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Check out the ceilings. Sixties, baby.


COSTUME DESIGN
Katherine Jane Bryant

Have you ever seen Back to the Future? The first one? If you haven't seen it, then I shouldn't even be talking to you. Anyway, remember the costumes in Back to the Future? That high school dance in 1955? Now if you thought those were great costumes (which they are), then you haven't seen this show yet. The cuts of the suits are definitely vintage, as are the skirt lengths of the females. If we could feel the fabric of the clothing through the TV screen, I'm pretty sure we would be feeling 60s fabric.

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What does Joan's dress remind you of? Austin Powers, right?
Sixties, baby.

The only thing missing are the casual clothes, like regular jeans and a shirt. Somehow, all the characters seem dressed to kill. The only characters who were dressed casually were the pothead beatniks, so I'm pretty sure a character's clothing is used to identify whether that character is financially successful or a bum.

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"I'm not a bum, man, my parents are rich."

But not once have I seen Don Draper in casual clothes (he does sleep in pajamas, obviously). Does this mean that he watches a Yankee game in a suit? Or does that mean casual clothing didn't exist in the 60s? I kind of find that hard to believe.

Also a bit hard to believe is the fact that Peggy Olson gave birth without even knowing she was pregnant. Yes, she was on the pill, and yes, there are cases where the pill doesn't work. But I'm not a girl, so what do I know? Yes, you will see Peggy get a little bit chubbier with each passing episode, but maybe it's because she could now afford better food with her success as an up-and-coming copywriter. I have to admit, I didn't see that pregnancy coming. Good job, series creator Matthew Weiner.

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"What about me? I did a good job!"

The reason I reviewed this as a full season review instead of episode micros is because I believe this series can be fully appreciated when viewed as a whole. It's like one long movie. And the good news is: it has sequel.

On to Season 2!



Mad Men (Season 1). USA. 2007.



Rating: Eight out of ten.

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