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News and reviews for the big and small screens…where potatoes fear to tread.

Break out the chip and dip! It’s back!

madmens

The cast of 'Mad Men'

Fantastic news! The stunningly gorgeous ‘Mad Men’ is back on BBC4 on 10 February! Season 2 aired in the States several months ago, but I’ve been a good girl and decided to wait for it to arrive here rather than jumping the gun. This is partly because I loved the first series so much that I wanted to save up the treat of new episodes.

If you haven’t seen any of this show, you simply must. The first season is available on DVD, but it should also be easy to get a handle on the characters and storyline if you jump straight into season 2 – ‘Mad Men’ is simply and subtly plotted. Set in the early 1960s, it is based in a fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency, Sterling Cooper, an office filled with intriguing characters. Don Draper (played by John Hamm) is the show’s central figure – enigmatic, brilliant and devilishly charming, the success of the character arguably lies in ‘the Gene Hunt’ effect: in a somewhat nostalgic sense, men want to be him, and women want to be with him. As a true 21st century girl I am repelled by his open misogyny and racism, but at the same time there is something undeniably attractive about a man who knows what he wants and gets it – in the boardroom AND the bedroom. The feminist in me dislikes the notion that today’s women are just longing for a ‘real’ man, but the success of Draper and Hunt suggests some need to play with these desires in a ‘safe’ setting. Acknowledging our nostalgia for a time before political correctness and new ideas of gender does not mean we want to return – and it is here that the power of the show lies, in evoking our longing for the past whilst clearly stating that it is, in fact, another country.

What Don is to men, Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) is to women. With her fairly astounding voluptuous figure, Joan (the office’s head secretary) is reminiscent of an old time screen siren, and she uses this to her advantage, flirting with the men and bitching at the women to achieve supremacy. One of the most interesting relationships in the show is between Joan and new girl Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who is drafted in as a specifically unattractive secretary for Don (to avoid further distractions). She initially finds herself thrown into something of a lions’ den, where women are knowing prey for the hungry copywriters, and over the course of season 1 we see her struggle with her desire to be taken seriously and to fit into the existing social structure. This is exacerbated by her growing creative talent – something I hope will be further explored in season 2 – and her conflict with the obnoxious Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). Pete has his own struggles as he oscillates between admiration for and intense jealousy of Don, as well as his sense of emasculation following his marriage. Another fascinating character is Don’s wife Betty (played by the exquisitely doll like January Jones), whose perfectly groomed façade conceals a multitude of neuroses.

Indeed we might take this as one of the show’s central messages – that beneath the lacquer there lies an ugly interior, just waiting to burst out of the restraints of manners and social expectation. The hints of change in the air are tinged with irony– such as the characters’ dogged belief that Kennedy will never become President. We imagine the faces of Roger Sterling and Don Draper if they could see the world now. We live their worst nightmares and their wildest fantasies.

Creator Matthew Weiner is apparently something of a perfectionist (according to this article from the Telegraph), and it certainly pays off. The style of ‘Mad Men’ is delicious – I covet every item from Betty Draper’s wardrobe and quite a lot from Joan’s too. Perhaps we here in Britain have another layer of rose tint on our spectacles, too – ‘Mad Men’ reeks of evocative Americana, making me positively ache to go back to New York every time I watch it. Everything about it is languorous, luxurious and stylish – so whilst it sometimes seems to move slowly, I feel this only heightens the experience.

Thankfully once I’ve seen season 2 I can go back to reading the marvellous Basket of Kisses blog. Season 3 has just been confirmed by original home AMC, great news as it has been slightly touch and go as to whether Weiner would be back (due to money related negotiations). Luckily he is now on board, meaning Sterling Cooper will still be in business for a little while longer at least.

You can find a great interview with Elisabeth Moss in the Guardian. The critics are crazy about this show, as you’ll see.

– Mad Men s2 starts on BBC4, February 10th.

ETA: Interview with Christina Hendricks also in the Telegraph. I particularly love this line:

‘For some reason – and I love this – I keep hearing people say they have had more sex since watching Mad Men,’ she says with a burst of laughter. ‘I love that. It’s a sexy show, you know. It’s sexy, because in some ways it’s dangerously sexy.’ – just in case you needed *any* more persuading to watch it!

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One Response to “Break out the chip and dip! It’s back!”

  1. […] Men season 3 (BBC 4, Jan 21st) – what more to say about Mad Men? I wrote this piece last year to herald the arrival of season 2 on UK shores, and it still holds true. Mad Men is a […]


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