The girlfriend and I spent the last day or so watching reruns of season three and I realized something: there’s a distinct difference in the feeling of the show. In the first three seasons everything seems perfect at a moment’s glance. Only when you spend more than a minute scrutinizing just about anything do you realize it’s all an illusion. The Drapers aren’t the fabled perfect family of the 60s. Don isn’t the benevolent leader or ideal man with a perfect life. Bert Cooper isn’t the razor sharp titan of industry. And Sterling Cooper isn’t some kind of professional utopia.

Far from it. Sterling Cooper is full of horny clumsy businessmen. Betty and Don Draper are trying to convince themselves that they’re in a satisfying marriage. Betty also isn’t content being a housewife. Bert Cooper is an increasingly senile Asia obsessed businessman. Don is incredibly unfaithful and prone to crabby fits. Oh and he’s also hiding his real identity and somewhat of a homophobe. Roger Sterling thinks the solution to his dissatisfaction with life involves leaving his wife for a secretary(and in the process endangering Sterling Cooper). Conrad Hilton and Don Draper aren’t a perfect match. The list goes on but the first look doesn’t suggest any of that.

But in season 4 the illusion is lifted. It’s easy to see that nothing is perfect. Don Draper is clearly not the ace ad man —or father or husband or lover— that he comes off as. Betty is obviously a bad mother and housewife and quite possibly nuts. The office of Sterling Cooper Draper Price looks cramped and ugly and business isn’t as easy as it used to be. Just landing an account is a struggle.

The difference between season 4 and its predecessors, I think, is how Mad Men deals with the changing times of the 60s. Things are changing for the folks of Sterling Cooper but not in the way that perfectly captures everything that was going on in the 60s. Don isn’t becoming a hippie. Roger isn’t going back to war. Betty isn’t experimenting with drugs. Those things are all in the show but either a degree away or just not happening to these particular people because that’s not how it was for every single person in the 60s. It’s all there but only where it’s appropriate and makes sense.

—Daniel

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Via The Edge of The American West, Adam Curtis has some interesting reflections on Mad Men. Here’s a snippet:

In Mad Men we watch a group of people who live in a prosperous society that offers happiness and order like never before in history and yet are full of anxiety and unease. They feel there is something more, something beyond. And they feel stuck.

I think we are fascinated because we have a lurking feeling that we are living in a very similar time. A time that, despite all the great forces of history whirling around in the world outside, somehow feels stuck. And above all has no real vision of the future.

And as we watch the group of characters from 50 years ago, we get reassurance because we know that they are on the edge of a vast change that will transform their world and lead them out of their stifling technocratic order and back into the giant onrush of history.

The question is whether we might be at a similar point, waiting for something to happen. But we have no idea what it is going to be.

Read the rest here.

—Daniel

A few years ago I used to think Old Spice products smelled terrible. I toyed with the idea of buying Old Spice deodorant a few times but I could never find a type their deodorant that I actually liked. Then suddenly —I’m not sure when or why— I started wearing it,  I found a brand I liked (Arctic Force) and then kept buying it. I got approval from my girlfriend and saved a few bucks in the process because Old Spice cost about a dollar less than the other deodorant I had been buying (keep in mind I’m a lowly college student. A dollar is equivalent to about $10 for regular folks).

Soon enough I found myself buying the Old Spice body wash. This came around the time that I started noticing the new Old Spice commercials with Isaiah Mustafah —the ones that exaggerated the virtues of wearing Old Spice farther than any other deodorant commercial, and that’s saying something!

As my friends started to notice and love those commercials too, I started to check out Old Spice’s website so that I could see the newest funny videos. In the process I was introduced to the latest Old Spice body washes and I tried them out.

As I think back to the earliest days of my Old Spice use I wonder if I would be such a faithful buyer if I the commercials weren’t so funny, and if Old Spice hadn’t advertised on youtube, t.v., its website, and twitter. It may have been in part just because their product got better. One can’t be completely sure about these things but I doubt it. I think what really roped me in was Old Spice’s commitment to continually make funny as hell commercials like this one in addition to having a good product:

The larger moral of this story is that effective advertising doesn’t just have to be funny or just have to be for a good product or just have to be on t.v. and the internet, it has to be all these things.

—Daniel

In the Old Fashioned Hangover post below I inked to this blogpost at the New York Review of Books blog. In giving that post a more thorough read just now I was struck by this line:

How else can one begin to describe the series’ principal protagonists, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Betty Draper (January Jones), except in terms of their dazzling good looks, which so effectively distract us from their underlying weirdness?

This season especially, it’s becoming apparent how imperfect both Don and Betty are. Betty’s new mother in law hit the target when she described Betty as a “silly person” and it’s hard not to see that Don is not the perfect coworker, husband, and father that he appeared to be when the show began (especially lately) but did the viewer think otherwise because of how perfect the Draper family looked? Or was it an evolution of small little quirks that, over the course of four seasons, became undeniably bizarre personality traits?

—Daniel

Old Fashioned Hangover

August 7, 2010

  • Jon Hamm is in a new movie that looks kind of like The Departed:
  • Why do Miller Light ads have to make women seem like they uniformly don’t like to have fun?
  • Speaking of bad ads, will Olive Garden ever actually start trying to advertise?
  • Here‘s the sneak peak of tomorrow’s episode.
  • Not all the fashion inspired by Mad Men is a good idea.
  • Christina Hendricks on the cover of the Britain’s GQ this month. Read the interview here.
  • There’s a lot of detail that goes into warddrobe and set design on Mad Men notes the New York Review of Books blog.
  • New York, arguably the best magazine on the Mad Men beat, has a Q&A with Alexa Alemanni, who plays Don’s new secretary.
  • Brazilian ad agency Moma tries out a 60s style ad campaign for the web:

What else deserves a link?

—Daniel

One thing I should make clear is that I think Christina Hendricks is the Millenial generation’s Helen of Troy or Marilyn Monroe. But like a lot of things, I think Hendricks is also grossly misunderstood most of the time. This article is a perfect example of so much that’s wrong with the way the media has approached Christina Hendricks: Read the rest of this entry »

Old Fashioned Hangover

August 3, 2010

Editor’s note: Introducing Mad Men Shrugged’s Old Fashioned Hangover, a roundup of Mad Men and Mad Men related links.

What else is link worthy?

—Daniel

Mad Men’s Love Theme

August 2, 2010

Disclaimer: I have to wait a day before I see the latest episode so I’ve avoided reading any commentary about the show, even Ned’s which, I’m sure, is excellent. The following is my immediate raw reaction from seeing the episode about three minutes ago.

I must admit I didn’t like the season premiere, this one was much better. Now that the viewer is a bit more oriented it’s easier to pay attention to the parts of the show that are most interesting. For me that’s the theme of love this season. Unlike past seasons love and romance play a much bigger role in the show. To be clear, I’m not talking about sex. There was plenty more of that in the previous seasons. Rather, I’m talking about actual physical-emotional connections.

We know things are extremely bleak for Don these days because he’s sleeping with hookers, breaking his no-sex-with-coworkers rule, and failing to capitalize on romantic opportunities that cross his path. What I like most about this theme for Don is that he’s also experiencing a highly consistent truism that when you look for love you can’t find it, and when you don’t, you can. I don’t think I’ve seen anything more timeless than that in the entirety of the show. That implies another truth about love: even the best looking among us aren’t free from the agonies and loneliness of love.

The love theme affects other characters too. We didn’t see too much of Betty and Francis’s relationship —clearly imperfect à la last episode— but we did see a fair amount with Peggy, who is often the show’s greatest enigma (at least I think so). I can understand why she didn’t tell her boyfriend that she’s had sex before, she’s in denial that her affair with Pete and their child ever happened. Completely pretending it’s a fiction means leaving no air for that truth to breathe. But what’s really interesting to me is the fear she showed in this episode about being alone on New Year’s eve. “I don’t want to be alone on New Year’s” she said. That’s a common fear for just about everyone, especially the most lovesick amongst us. And the expected result is she does something she’s not ready for: sleep with her boyfriend.

Over all I found this episode to be a refreshing, if a bit high and mighty, exploration of a few major themes about love. The moral, as Freddy Rumsen eloquently put it, is that “it’s not a joke.”

—Daniel

So here we go again. In less than a week Mad Men season four begins and in anticipation of the premiere the show has been on my mind. My girlfriend and I (who, I should note, met because of Mad Men and thus hold it in a special place in our hearts) have been watching old episodes and through each of them I’ve found myself wondering how much longer the show can continue while being as good as it’s been. The brilliance of Mad Men, in my opinion, lies in the finite amount of stories that can be told about Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, and the rest. The core story of the show is about emptiness despite everything that should make us excited and happy: a successful career, a beautiful family, respect, allure —all those things that an advertisement implies will come if you buy the product. But there are only so many stories you can tell with the same characters, even in the 1960s. The point eventually gets dull.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The best movies, books, and television shows stop after a while. The Sopranos comes to mind as a show that ended when it needed to. The Star Wars universe, on the other hand, didn’t and so episodes I, II, and III exist. If Mad Men is going to be regarded as one of the great t.v. shows, it’s going to have to end before the stories become stale. The question then is when is a good time to end? Mad Men‘s creator, Matthew Weiner, doesn’t think that time is near (warning, spoilers): Read the rest of this entry »

Salon.com’s Heather Havrilesky is my favorite television columnist. Hands down. Here she is picking up on some bits I missed from the season finale. Spoilers ahead! I liked this part of Havrilesky’s piece in particular:

In particular, the difference between Peggy and Joan and what they each want was beautifully expressed in seconds: Roger, Joan and Peggy are hunched over the books at the old offices, exhausted from their scrambling attempts to bring as much with them to the new firm as they can before they’re locked out, when Sterling asks, “Peggy, can you get me some coffee?” Without wavering, Peggy snaps back, “No.”

Read the rest.

—Daniel