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October 8, 2015

Mad Men: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (series premiere)

by Bob Sassone, posted Jul 20th 2007 8:08AM

Jon Hamm - Mad Men(S01E01) I think it's really appropriate that the Emmy Award nominations were announced on the same day this show premiered, because if there's any justice in this TV land, we'll be hearing a lot about Mad Men at this time next year.

The television landscape is filled with a lot of shows that are just the same as other shows on other networks. Even when we say "there's nothing else like this on TV right now," it's usually not true. There's usually something a bit (or a lot) like the show we're talking about. Mad Men is one show we can truly say is rather original. Of course, it's original by being retro. It's New York City, 1960. The world of Madison Avenue advertising men. And it is men, as most of the women are in the secretarial pool or gum chewing telephone operators.

But the women have power too, in ways the men don't see.

The setting is the Sterling Cooper advertising agency. New girl Peggy (Elizabeth Moss, The West Wing) starts the day as Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) new secretary. She's nervous, afraid of the new technology (electric typewriters!), but she also goes to the doctor to get birth control because she knows that sleeping her way to the top might be part of the job description. The other girls pretty much confirm that.

Draper is having trouble coming up with a new ad campaign for Lucky Strikes because medical professionals and Reader's Digest have begun examining the health effects of smoking. How can he come up with an ad slogan that will be successful in such a changing world? But Draper (Hamm, in a great performance that should make him a star) is actually the one who has the shades of a conscience (more than others anyway - all the other guys are drinking and cheating and pretty much those a-hole guys you and I know), even when he's trying to sell us cigarettes. He doesn't want anything to do with Peggy, even though she comes on to him, and he even apologizes to the female head of a company, a woman he insulted in a meeting. He knows the world is changing, and he's trying to adapt.

There are a couple of questions I have about the plot developments. Would Jews really be talked about that way in the business world of 1960 New York City?

This is the best new show of the year, and I'm just as surprised as you are that 1.) it's a summer show, and 2.) it's on AMC. But there is something so glorious and meaty about this show. It's for adults, and not in the same way that, say, Deadwood is for adults. This is glossy, old-fashioned entertainment, a show more about characters and social mores and the way the 1950s became the 1960s. You have to pay attention. And that worries me a bit. I can imagine people tuning into this, not knowing what to think, and finding it "slow going." There's nothing slam-bang about this show. It's all about the acting and the writing and the mood and the style and the look and feel of 1960 NYC.

Oh, the look. Is it possible to have an orgasm for the eyes? This show gets everything so beautifully right. The way everyone is smoking, the cut of the suits, the haircuts, the way the characters talk, the cars, the dresses. Even small touches, like clocks on a wall or curtains in a office and the new electric typewriters the girls use, it's all done so well that the sets are characters themselves (and not in that obviously kitschy way that modern movies usually depict the late 50s/early 60s - this is closer to L.A. Confidential than Happy Days). This isn't is a show you just "watch every week," it's a world you want to live in.

The cast is uniformly great, from Hamm to boss John Slattery (Desperate Housewives, Ed) to new secretary Moss to creepy suckup Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), who is getting married but still wants to dip his pen in company ink. This is juicy, intelligent soap opera stuff, and I mean that in the best way possible.

I usually hate saying that at a TV show is "just like a movie," because I think that it demeans TV a bit, as if TV is the younger brother who has to prove himself and "get better." But Mad Men is like a movie in the sense that it's just really well shot, like some glorious Technicolor flick of the 1950s, filling the screen with detail and life, and a respect for the audience you don't usually see on TV.

Anyway, check it out, because...well, as I said, there's nothing else like it on television.

What did you think of the first episode of Mad Men?
Wow, this is so great I think I'll take up smoking and drinking!307 (69.3%)
It's pretty good, I'll give it another shot115 (26.0%)
Eh, it's nothing special21 (4.7%)

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mcrosser, where can I get one of your calendars? I feel ten years younger already. Seriously though, I think the show is meant to be set in 1960, actually early 1960 since they are talking about assigning Don to ads for Nixon's failed bid at the presidency.

July 28 2007 at 3:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

mcrosser, 1967 was 40 years ago.

July 26 2007 at 5:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have one more thing to say about this subject - I actually have been to a male ob-gyn who used the term "pu$$y" in his conversation, during my exam. I actually took my firstborn to a pediatrician who smoked during the exam, oh, and the other doctor smoked in his office, too. I don't like watching medical shows because I spend way too much time in medical facilities because my husband has cancer. I don't want to see a "heartwarming" show about a person struggling with Alzheimer's, because I watched as my father slowly left us with that horrible disease. I guess, what I am saying is, been there, done that, don't find it very entertaining, hence my comments. Others may just love it and think it is the best show they have ever seen and recommend it to everyone they know. I guess that is why I find sci fi so enjoyable. Odds are I am not going to be in a spaceship or meeting any aliens (that I know of, that is) any time soon.
I just wanted to clarify my statement. Oh, and my dad smoked Lucky Strikes when I was young (in the fifties), so there's that, too. That almost killed him before the Alzheimer's did. So, I hope "Mad Men" is a very successful show. I am just not that impressed. And that's that.

July 23 2007 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh, I got the point, The Dee. And for the record, I am in my fifties, so I am not a prude, or someone who doesn't understand the reasoning behind why certain things are done. I just said that I did not enjoy that part, it made ME uncomfortable, which is why, in the comfort of MY living room, I have the right to change the channel whenever I want to do so. I was just stating my opinion. You know, you don't have to constantly show something to get the point. A little mystery is a good thing. If you think it should have been in there, well then that is just great. Enjoy the show!

July 23 2007 at 5:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The Deej

tricia: not every woman shares your opinion, in particular this woman.

The Doctor's comments were SUPPOSED to bother you because at the time when the pill was first used, that's how single women who wanted the pill were treated. It was not about titilating the male audience. You completely missed the point

If anything this show serves to show how much progress we've made. While some of this behaviour can still exist, it's not acceptable today.

From the first episode I am impressed and want more. I was concered I wouldn't be able to catch this up in Canada, but we have AMC on here.

July 23 2007 at 2:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BC McKinney

"Maybe some women were like that in 1960."

Some women were like that in 1860. While many women gave up the expanded horizons they obtained during the Depression and WWII for domesticity in the 1950s, not all did. Probably part of the attraction for Draper--he doesn't have to worry about her wanting him to get a divorce and marry her.

July 23 2007 at 12:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Draper is cheating too, isn't he? With the artist at the beginning of the episode?

That was the only thing that struck me as odd about the premiere. Her character seemed a little too liberated for the times -- but I wasn't alive then. Maybe some women were like that in 1960.

July 22 2007 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


If you think about it your discomfort at watching was nothing compared to the discomfort the character felt.

The reason for the scene was to show what lengths (pelvic exam, basically being called a whore/slut) she was willing to undergo to get the tools she thought she needed to succeed.

As a man, I can't say I understand the discomfort on a physical level, but like most women, the health issues of female plumbing are not exactly titaliting to men either.

July 21 2007 at 6:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought the show was very well shot, well written and full of depth of character; not moral character mind you, but character nonetheless.

I watch many many pilots. Most drama pilots end up looking like a movie, because the producers/directors/writers put so much effort into it in order to get it sold. My hope is that after the first season, or even throughout the first season, that it will retain at least some of the charm, decor and effort that went into this first episode. One example was the tomato juice with celery sticks in the conference room, was it tomato juice? bloody mary's? there for the jewish woman for some reason? Whatever it was, it was eye candy, and noone just puts tomato juice based drinks in a conference room for the heck of it, there was purpose behind it.

Sometimes, my wife and I just gaped with mouths open that women and jews were openly treated that way only 30 years ago (since it was based in the 60's, not necessarily 1960, it could've been 1967).

I encouraged by more and more cable outlets at least trying their hands at television. I just hope they have the resources and wherewithall to keep the show going the way it deserves to keep going. And of course, the whole beauty of the many cable networks is that this may be some kind of niche show, but hopefully the niche will be able to support it. I know that we'll keep watching.

July 21 2007 at 4:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I changed the station when they showed Peggy getting a pelvic exam. Why do men think that is something that needs to be on a show?? Even the doctor's comments bothered me. We women do not glamorize it or talk about it, other than with disdain that it has to be a part of our life. Just show the girl coming back in with the pill, after showing her getting called into the exam room. We do NOT have to see her spreading her knees and some ACTOR pulling on rubber gloves! I am always so embarrassed for the actress who has to do that. I guess it must be such a titillating sexual turn on for the writers because it is showing up more and more in television shows. And for all of you who say, oh, that is realistic, so get over it, well, yeah, it's realistic, I DO NOT WANT TO SEE IT IN MY LIVING ROOM!! And I am sure I am not the only woman who feels this way!!
Just my opinion.

July 21 2007 at 1:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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