We live in a digital age where every movie, television show, book, and video game are hyped up as much as possible. We’re bombarded with ads and praise for things that rarely deserve it. Hype’s a double-edged sword — everyone wants their product to be known but too much hype can lead to higher expectations than the property can deliver on. AMC’s original show Mad Men has received such high acclaim and is one of the rare shows to truly earn it. But what is it about this show that draws in audiences and earns heaps of Emmy nominations? What is it exactly that makes this show tick?
In a show where there are no weak performances and the writing is always crisp it’s a joy to see that Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is that key reason. The show centers on Draper and his family life and business life, which he keeps separate. Draper’s adept at keeping secrets and thus there’s little overlap between the two and what little does exist tends to make him melt down a bit. The entire show mirrors Draper as it goes at its own steady pace keeping secrets from the audience which are answered when the show deems it necessary. It’s sleek and cool. It’s sex and cigarettes. And there’s always more going on under the surface.
This season finds the characters asking themselves who they are and what it is they can and cannot do. The theme of identity is important as they each try to come to terms with themselves and their surrounding. For the ad agency Sterling Cooper this means a marriage of creative and accounts among the young up-and-comers, and a future with a possible merger with a larger British company. Betty Draper (January Jones) questions her role as housewife and whether she even wants to stay with Don. Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) is hounded by guilt and is forced into reevaluating her faith. And Don himself isn’t who he says he is and literally has to figure out who and what he is.
Everyone else at Sterling Cooper feels the pressures of the new and young bearing down on them. The arrival of a Xerox machine starts off the season and soon the offices are flooded by young applicants. Clients demand younger creative/writer teams to represent them. There’s also the rise of Peggy Olsen from secretary to copywriter with her own office, which doesn’t go over well. Don travels to the west coast and finds he cannot keep up with the excesses of the youth. There’s a cultural shift appearing on the horizon and what that will mean for Sterling Cooper is one of the better promises of future seasons.