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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 5, 2009 @ 11:37 am

    Mad Men

    Fiona McCann

    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?

    • clom says:

      I love the way they’ve developed Draper into the horrible arrogant pig that they’ve painted him as. it’s neat that the one, ostensibly intellectual character in the series is actually such a monstrous misanthropic coward.

      He’s the first central tv drama character I can remember in which I’ve seen the portrayal of a poetry/fiction reader as being something other than a simpering lovelorn milquetoast.

      In the first series he’s portrayed as this tragic outsider who no-one understands but by the second series we’re wise to him…really neatly achieved. And a neat foil for the redemption-of-sorts of the nervy, obsequious Pete Campbell.

      Mad Men has also contributed to the lexicon.

      “Joaned”- Using a backhanded comment to put a percieved enemy back in his/her place.

      ie. “Mary was showing off her cute new sandals until Dearbhla totally Joaned her by saying that she saw them in Penney’s last week.”

      “Dermot was saying how he was looking forward to taking his client out to lunch until Margaret Joaned him with the news that Iris had decided to freeze the expense account.”

      I really disliked the first series (for a lot of the reasons you outline above) but the second one has really upped the ante, largely by embracing some of its soapier, pulpier elements. It’s almost as if it has managed to improve the dramatic elements by ceasing to take itself so seriously!

    • Mark G. says:

      “There are scripting weaknesses that make me cringe”

      I’m genuinely curious as to what you feel these are.

      The stories may not unfold in the manner you wish, or address the issues as you feel they should… but does this necessarily constitute a scripting weakness?

      Mad Men impresses me as one of the subtlest, most ambitious, consistent and well-researched shows on TV.

      If you want to see weak scripting, just watch any of the interminable hours of episodic television on the American networks: CSI, Law & Order et al.

    • Martha says:

      Though I’m relatively new to the craze that is ‘Mad Men’, I must admit to being unwillfully drawn in. I tend to lose touch with T.V.series and so don’t often give them a chance.
      But that said, there’s just something about Mad Men! It’s not hugely charged with pacey, edge-of-seat drama, but for me is certainly compelling viewing. Most of the drama lies more in executive or personal decisions that dictate how lives are played out. The put-downs and glaringly sexist attitudes of the time are as cringeworthy as ‘The Office’ series, and the claustophobic office setting where tensions run high is an apt space in which to evoke these feelings.
      As is often the case in such series, the women appear to be much more complex and compelling characters then their male counterparts,

    • Lottie says:

      I am a huge Mad Men Fan. And I have to say I find it anything but obvious – the story line anway. They just don’t hit the obvious American TV show plot markers. It’s as if they’ve made an American show and then pulled out all the cliches before it airs. And Don Draper is a fantastic character – so totally flawed.

    • Una P says:

      Despite the overt sexism show in this show, I find it to be strangely feminist…

      These women may not be burning bras but they are to be commended. Despite the disrespect given them by the men and their strict placing in a male world, they manage constantly to get what they want. Or to slyly get their own back on the men.

      Peggy in season two is particularly exciting. She becomes so ballsy, I can’t wait to see her on screen (even if she is most certainly not the prettiest to look at).

      I love Joan for her managing of the office world and the subtle powers she holds. Betty stuns at every turn with her outlandish actions that are incongruent with her Stepford image.

      Love the show!!

    • Medbh says:

      Yes, yes, I’m a big fan as well.
      I was wary of watching it because of the brief glimpses I had seen of the sexist/racist components, but once I watched a few episodes I was hooked.
      Somewhere last year I read a reviewer saying that season two could have been called “Mad Women” more accurately.

      Joan has the best wardrobe.

    • Jane says:

      I’d also love to know more on what you mean by scripting weaknesses, Fiona. It’s a big criticism to just throw out there without elaboration…a bit of a scripting weakness itself, that!

    • Mark says:

      Scripting weakness? I wouldnt call glances and awkward moments script errors. Its just good direction. Don Draper isn’t repugnant at all. I find him to be the most pained character on the show. At times he seems embarrassed by the role of “alpha male” that 60s America demands of him. He is flawed, but he is the only male character who seems aware of these flaws, despite his inability to change.

    • Fiona says:

      Apologies for the late reply to the comments above – I was on holidays. To clarify what I saw as scripting weaknesses, I was particularly unconvinced by Arthur Chase’s sudden moves on Betty, and found the stable scene where he makes the moves contrived and transparent. I know that Arthur’s delivery was intentionally clunky, but his sudden adulation seemed too obviously scripted to me. Anyone else?

    • Don says:

      Jaysus, Fiona; you hate it, cringe, shudder, you scream at the screen, you’re repulsed and turned off, you’re suckered in and terrified — what are you, auditioning for La Cage aux Folles?!

      My suggestion: just lie back and enjoy the ride!

    • Nessa says:

      I love the show but does anyone else think that it’s broadcast at an awkward time?

    • Rosie says:

      “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?”

      Let me get this straight. You are claiming that certain scenes are badly written because they reflect the degregation that female characters suffer or show unattractive traits in characters?

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