Smart, Mad Men.
The Pilot episode of AMC’s series Mad Men titled Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Taylor 2007) plays a subtle, yet thorough game of show and tell. Contextually, the episode’s thoughtful restraint imitates that of the series’ central theme, advertising. The sex is present, as are the anti-social tones, though as is practiced in the business of generating consumer desire, the viewer is a victim of both allusion and illusion. Don Draper (John Hamm) for example, is introduced to an audience ambiguously. In a busy room of faces, his is the one withheld from the viewers gaze. When an audience first see Draper complexion, his features are creased with anxiety; he is wearing the look of a man uncomfortable in his skin. This prompt equivocation implies one of Mad Men’s subtle qualities and exemplifies it’s creators acknowledgment of, and respect for, a discerning audience by demonstrating the quality brand of story-telling that shows you something, tells you less, and alludes to a viewer that the wait for the unveiling of mystery is going to be worth the stay. In Mad Men’s case, this is achieved in the opening scene.
Mad Men’s felicitous quality seems consistent with the consideration of less is more. This idea of minimalist design makes up the foundation of the episode Smokes Gets in Your Eyes and considering the competent restrain practiced in the pilot, it feels safe to assume this series is in no rush to expose all of its secret, but rather radiate a slow-burning narrative that crackles and pops with intriguing developments. It is evident from the first episode that Mad Men’s advertising theme is going to assume the role of a suggestive conscious for an audience. The central characters of Draper, Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) introduce various external mechanisms of status, capacity and consequence, whilst cultivating a penetrating social study of how the workplace not only represents how sexism, racism and economic gain influences identity, but also the extent to which one’s professional life can breach their private life, a concept that could be considered as relevant today as during the consumerist onset of the 1960s.
Where an audience is concerned, a series like Mad Men has the right ingredients to accomplish the complex challenge of appealing to, and all likelihood, sustaining the appetites of a varied audience. An older viewer privy to the social attitudes, political climate and altitudes of industry present in Mad Men’s impression of 1960s New York may find themselves quite aroused by fond sentiment, and perhaps equally dismayed when contemplating how far society has shifted by way of prejudice and sensibility, such is the controlled potency of the script and production quality of the episode. On first viewing, Mad Men appears to recognize relevant social fabrics of an elapsed society, reproduce them in a fashion so as to appeal to an audience of mixed contemporaries, bridging the generational gap of baby-boomer (pioneers of the television audience) and the seemingly more indulgent Generation X, and Y. No mean feat considering that this breed of television steers conservatively, yet alluringly wide of gratuitous sex, violence and language. However, many of the themes examined in Mad Men feel best served lukewarm, the temperature that intermediates great change. It is indeed clever writing, minimalistic set design and costume, understated camera work and strong performance from the get-go that emphasizes the success of Mad Men’s pilot episode. Where alternative television programs often fail to create initial interest because the script attempts either too much or too little, the actors struggle to strike an honest accord through their characters portrayal, or the dialogue tries unsuccessfully to balance wit, substance and pertinence, Mad Men enjoys paramount success.
In consideration of Mad Men it should be no surprise that Matthew Weiner, the series creator and writer of numerous episodes of The Sopranos (Chase 1999), has allowed an audience to see quality of the eggs in his basket, whilst also ensuring that they’ll taste just like quality eggs should. And if eggs were in fact Television shows attempting to recreate a periodical setting, the scenery and characters pertaining to an early 1960s New York with the simplistic quality of a supremely natural theatre-piece, at home in the warm, uncomplicated camera work and transitions that could only be the result of creative minds honing, collaborating and presenting the cream of their craft (short breath) … then the pilot episode of the first season of AMC’s Mad Men delivers a fundamentally and effectual rise in a long dozen.
Taylor, A 2007, Mad Men Episode One, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Lionsgate Television.
Chase, D 1999, The Sopranos, HBO.