I’m always a bit reluctant to jump aboard a new TV series, partly because I hate being tied to the telly, and partly because the contrarian in me wants to find the good stuff by myself, without being dragged there by the hype and the hordes. So I missed Six Feet Under altogether, came late to Lost and was subsequently, well, lost, and arrived at The Sopranos so long after the fact that the water cooler conversations had already moved on to The Wire. With Mad Men, however, I got on board fairly lively, and I hated it. Initially at least. Too many obvious nods to How Things Have Changed since those heady days when bosses (always male) got to pinch their secertaries’ bottoms and kids ran around with plastic bags on their heads.
But Mad Men kinda suckers you in, and as the backstories unfold and characters are fleshed out, it seems there’s more to this show than a glitzy, nostaglic romp through the sexist fifties. It’s a terrifying reminder of just how strictly proscribed the gender roles were, how disrespectfully women were treated and how much – and how little – has changed in the interevening five decades. Don Draper, both attractive and at times deeply, deeply repulsive (Series Two has been a real turn off as he becomes more and more overtly misogynist in his behaviour), may rule the roost but the female characters – smart, ambitious Peggy, beat-them-at-their-own-game Joan and the stir-crazy Stepfordish Betty – give him a serious run for his money. Then there’s the look: the furniture, the wallpaper, the hair, the clothes – it’s some pretty sophisticated eye candy. There are scripting weaknesses that make me cringe, scenes so degrading to women that I scream at the screen, and plenty of shudderingly unattractive characters. Yet I’m still watching. Are you?