July 25, 2010, - 11:21 pm

Mad Men Season 4 Debuted Tonight: Did You Watch?

By Debbie Schlussel

AMC’s “Mad Men,” one of my fave shows on TV, debuted its fourth season tonight, and as I wrote this, the first episode just finished.  You know my views on “Mad Men,” which is about advertising executives in New York in the early ’60s.  Love the show in a guilty pleasure soap opera kinda way–plus I could watch for the clothes and cool decor alone, as the set and clothing designers pay such exquisite and gorgeous attention to period detail.

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Jon Hamm as “Mad Men’s” Don Draper/Dick Whitman

But is Don Draper a/k/a Dick Whitman (played by uber-handsome Jon Hamm)  the typical  early 1960s guy?  Not even close.  In fact, as I wrote last year, since he’s written largely by women, they’ve written him in an anti-male fashion.  In some ways, it’s even anti-American, since the show tells us that a Korean War vet and successful advertising exec can only be a serial adulterer and liar (pretty much every guy at the ad agency is–including the married gay guy, who was fired last season). Not to mention, the son of a hooker.  The guy’s a lout . . . a very hot lout.  But a lout, nonetheless.  And now, with Season 4, he’s a divorced lout living in Greenwich Village and “seeing” (euphemism) prostitutes. It’s “Desperate Housewives” played by men.

So, did you watch?  (I did not, as mine is a cable-free household, and I have to wait for the Season 4 DVD to come out, but then I watch the whole season of episodes back-to-back.)  Did you like it?  Did Season 4–with the new ad agency–live up to the usual “Mad Men” expectations and drama?  Or is it getting old?  I bet the former, though Don Draper as a single guy probably loses a lot of his appeal, since it’s no longer cheating, so not as dramatically exciting (like Howard Stern going to satellite, and he no longer has to watch what he says and broach a line he can’t cross).  But I’ll rely on those of you who watched to give me your reviews.

For now, pour me an “Old Fashioned” from the virtual 24/7 Mad Men bar.

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16 Responses

I’m gonna watch it now.

mark hammond on July 26, 2010 at 1:28 am

The sets, clothing, and general ambience really does bring one back to that era. However, the themes discussed are apparently being projected into the past from the present. The sleeping around and other activities were not really that prevalent during the late 50’s to early 60’s. For one thing, oral contraception was just coming into being at that point, and was not even legal in many states until Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1965. Free wheeling sex would have been highly risky for someone in Mr. Draper’s position. Also, “No-Fault Divorce” did not really come into being before 1970, so it would have been very tricky and and admission of pernicious conduct on Draper’s part if he admitted to adultery. Way back then, aside from some Hollywood types and wealthy people, a divorce that was caused by adultery would have quite often led to a firing. That would have been the reality.

Worry01 on July 26, 2010 at 1:36 am

I watched the first episode…
a bit rough getting into the story…and when Dan had a hooker bed him she said, “I know what you want”…he said “then give it to me” and she proceeded to slap him across the face as she sat upon him in bed with her red bra on…
jeez….I found it tawdry and felt it brought the whole show to an absurd low level….I will watch the next episode to see if is any better.

I hope the new season doesn’t end with Don’s demise by a rough hooker.

saf on July 26, 2010 at 3:01 am

Boring show, at least to me. I guess if you’re a chick and enjoy the good-looking men, then it’s no different than why I watched “Baywatch” once in a while, but don’t assert that it’s some great, compelling show.

Yeah, it was unusual seeing people being shown smoking and drinking on TV in this day and age of political correctness, but that gets old after a few minutes.

Quorum on July 26, 2010 at 7:44 am

This is all typical of Hollywierd. They re-write history in a TV show to make the debauchery we see in today’s world seem normal. In the 50’s and 60’s there was this was a sense of decency and feelings of shame. Those things are practically non-existent today.

Rick on July 26, 2010 at 9:03 am

Never heard of this show. Hell, what is AMC? Joking. No cable? How can you know what is really happening? I guess anything can now be seen on the internet.

CaliforniaScreaming on July 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I had never seen the show and watched it last night since so many speak so highly of it. I found it incredibly boring. Maybe the first 3 seasons were good, but I did not get why this show is so loved.

GianniV on July 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm

If anyone is interested, check out the july 19-aug 1 2010 TV GUIDE p.51 comments by David Hochman in a piece about MAD MEN. Apparently Matt Weiner the show’s creator has a letter from President “O” hanging outside his office. He wrote to Weiner saying he enjoyed Season 3. Not only does “O” play golf for relaxation he watches MAD MEN for ….I don’t really know. Relaxation? History lessons? The lurid parts? The smoking? I don’t really know.

marsha Schiffman on July 26, 2010 at 5:00 pm

I just picked up season one on DVD. The show is entertaining, but credit should be given to “The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”, the movie starred Gregory Peck. The principal character worked for a PR firm and was a WWII paratrooper. The show is entertaining but the office decor is only about half right and the vernacular and dialogue are off as well, no biggy, though.

WhaddaUknow on July 26, 2010 at 8:11 pm

I can’t believe anyone watches this crap!

BK on July 27, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I find the series is not written per show but it builds up and up. Some episodes are better than others. This one seems to be building up to the next or next. You really have to watch the whole season. I don’t think the show is terribly preachy and lib like many others though. We’re not going to get an accurate character portrayal of this time, but that’s who’s in Hollywood…

Jennifer on July 27, 2010 at 7:20 pm

One interesting contrast is the idea today that your productivity and connection to your job is through your desktop computer. Therefore, there is an IBM selectric on every desk in the show. It didn’t work that way then, even in my entry into the business world two and a half decades after 1960, no one had a typewriter or computer on their desk except the secretaries to the higher management and typing pool. The art department at the company, I first worked for, had thirty graphic artists who worked all the charts by hand. The company had spent a million dollars trying to get computers to make simple charts and were no where near getting there. You had to research ideas back then, not take for granted what wikipedia told you. You had to visit clients, listen to people, gather information, seek out the wise people for counsel. All the BS today is simply re-inventing the wheel; each time more mediocre than the last. This series is entertaining and that is its first responsibility, something fresh for a change.

WhaddaUknow on July 27, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Chick flick (show).

Phil Dayton on July 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm

@Phil – You wrong (period).

By the way, how could the same writers that had Don Draper tell the rude guy in the elevator to take his hat off allow a Memorial Day scene at the country club with a host of servicemen with their hats on indoors? That is absolute proof that not one idiot who served is on the production team…idiots! Who outfitted the Spanish American War Veteran, a clown?

WhaddaUknow on July 29, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I’m glad Schlussel picked up on the anti-American aura of the lead character. It’s not only Don Draper’s character, however; that aura permeates the whole show and most of its characters in a cleverly subtle way.

(I haven’t yet begun to watch Season 4, as I rely on Netflix instead of cable TV, and Netflix always waits several months before making shows available.)

Basically, the implicit theme of the show, lurking and wafting between the lines like cigarette smoke, is how regressive the 50s were measured by all the liberal progress America has gone through since then. In the context of this theme, dramatic tensions are played out among the various characters showing them struggling with the 50s in their individual conscience and in social and romantic interactions, in a more or less semi-conscious way.

The modern “enlightenment” of the writers and directors is reflected in varying degrees by various characters. The bearded office worker, for example, who has a black girlfriend, spouts vaguely Trostkyite nonsense, and went on a Martin Luther King bus ride at one point, obviously represents the progressive curve; while the silver-haired womanizing prick “Roger Sterling” (played wickedly by John Slattery) epitomizes the gold standard of the 50s Unevolved Man. Indeed, Roger Sterling is depicted as a worse “lout” than Don Draper (as Schlussel calls him) whom the writers and directors tend often to endow and imbue with vaguely progressive (i.e., liberalish) qualities of character: one scene vividly showed this, when Roger Sterling, at a garden party among 50s business bigwigs, put on a blackface minstrel act on the stage set up in a gazebo, and was unselfconsciously reveling in it, while Don Draper scowled and sulked in the wings then stalked off in a liberally indignant huff. Many more scenes of various kinds throughout the seasons could be adduced to illustrate more or less the same point.

In this light, I find that the show often dips a little too unctuously into a kind of arrogantly self-congratulatory/self-flagellating denigration of the era of the late 50s/early 60s in its heavy-handed mocking of their “regressive” ways compared to all the unquestionable “Progress” we enlightened politically correct New Americans have managed to develop since that time. (In this respect the show resembles the CBS television drama “Cold Case”.)

In doing so, it indulges in the Myth of the Fifties that has been constructed by 60s-era counter-cultural academics and their progeny in the various pop media throughout the 70s and beyond.

Like most effective myths, the Myth of the Fifties is not 100% false: it weaves many facts and truths about the era deftly in a tapestry of caricature, satire, exaggeration, and agenda-driven mockery, denigration and hypercriticism. (One of the more trivial examples of this mockery occurs in scenes that show one or more of the characters hacking and coughing because of their habit of smoking cigarettes with abandon: this comes off as a little too heavy-handed and rings more of burlesque buffoonery than of realism.)

I just wish the show would more often err on the opposite side — toward celebrating the martini-guzzling cigarette-smoking secretary-chasing-around-the-desk joi de vivre of the 50s, Dean Martin style; rather than indulging in exposing the dark, sad and regressive side.

Hesperado on January 9, 2011 at 2:56 pm

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