ST. LOUIS — Coming back to a beloved television show is a little like catching up with an old friend. A trusted personality that isn't going to waste your time, enriching it instead. The instant the conversation begins, good vibes return and you find yourself forgetting about the real noisy troubles of the world. That's what a truly great TV show or movie can be: a genuine friend. A tasteful distraction to get lost inside of for an hour or several hours.
Now, there needs to be history there, so the show should be at least 3-4 seasons. After all, a true connection between a television show and viewer happens after the first season most of the time. You also have to remember that sometimes, a stellar series doesn't need to be revisited. There aren't many great shows that also happen to be rewatchable. While I liked what "The Leftovers" did in the end, I don't need to suffer through the misery and depression again of that HBO drama. "The Wire" didn't hit me as hard as it did others, but I still really enjoyed it. Having said that, I don't need to start at 1 and go until the end.
"Mad Men" is one of those rare treasures, a show that can be watched numerous times and give someone a new impression, or perhaps a different point of view on a subject. When I first clicked on the Netflix menu option, I figured an episode would do it for me- and then six hours flew by. I needed cigarettes and a stiff drink. Some things gain reverence and value with age; others just hit you different. "Mad Men" hit me like a ton of bricks all over again, a world that Matthew Weiner created that I had bid adieu five years ago but suddenly needed in my life.
Now that I have finished the binge (it leaves Netflix in a week), let me advise you on a few noble things about this show that you should try to forget (or savor all over again) about AMC's first hit series before you begin the rewatch.
HBO Almost Grabbed It First
True story. Since Weiner was a writer on "The Sopranos," he had credibility to pitch things to HBO. When you can write and help give TV an anti-hero for the ages, your next option will be discussed. Weiner pitched his own take on America's anti-hero, but painted him in a suit and tie instead of an Adidas windbreaker and gold chain. HBO passed and the at-the-time little known-at least for original programming- AMC took a chance. They funded Weiner's ambitions and built his world.
The little known network took chances on little known actors glowing in big roles. Imagine if AMC hadn't gotten involved and Don Draper's story is suffocated in a mini-series or tightly wound movie. I hate that idea. "Mad Men" was a show that needed to be uncorked and allowed to breathe. HBO didn't want it and it was a good reason they didn't. If their interest wasn't 110%, their resulting time and talent investment would have been pitiful. AMC went for it and won big. Now that's a success story.
Draper is and forever will be Jon Hamm's best role
This is a fact that went from fragile plaster to true concrete during my rewatch. The guy has put in some fine work since this show signed off the air, but Don Draper will always be his greatest piece of acting. The FBI agent in "The Town" was great, but not like this. Hamm's Myles in the under-appreciated "Beirut" was very impressive, but not layered as much as Draper. The actor brought this conflicted and disgraced soldier turned brilliant advertising mind to life, nailing all of his inner demons, insecurities, and self-contempt while giving off a bravado that you wish was sold in a bottle.
Hamm turned a guy who most would find repugnant and unlikable into someone you were rooting for right down to the very end. You wanted him to find happiness, at least a moderate amount before (as Draper would say) he needed even more of it. That was Hamm's gift to you, adding noble touches to Draper that most actors would have to flex too hard to put on display.
The power of Christina Hendricks' performance
Look, one glance at Hendricks and you understand why she held power over male and female viewers. She's gorgeous in an authentic way. A real woman with a real body that was the epitome of sexy. Hendricks' Joan Harris controls the room in a second, but there's a wise mind attached that gives it staying power. While Elisabeth Moss received (and at times rightly so) the most praise for her portrayal of Peggy, Hendricks had a smaller role with more ambiguity included, so she had to carve out a performance that felt real and honest. While her beautiful looks get your attention right away, her ability to nail a line of dialogue or even do enough with her eyes and expression rang truer in the end.
This was an example of Weiner giving a strong voice to every kind of man and woman during this turbulent time in our history. He didn't take a half-measure and his cast responded with the same force.
John Slattery's Roger Sterling is a man who deserves a spin-off
He stole every scene he was in and often times you laughed during it. That was Slattery's gift to audiences every week, playing a passionate, yet loyal to tradition and tenure, advertising honcho. He gave Sterling the wise-cracking humor and ability to perfectly drop a comedic line into a pool of drama, but the actor also gave the guy a heart. Something we saw late in the series and throughout the final episodes. Without that portion of humanity, Sterling doesn't work. Slattery made it seem effortless. I could watch Sterling and Draper at a bar for three hours at a time.
Great dialogue that ranks among television's all time best
The brilliance of the cast isn't just limited to their stars; the entire cast is rich and tasteful. They also know how to make a couple lines of dialogue sparkle. This was a show about interactions: people gathering and talking about things that could be related to both work and a personal life. Hamm and Slattery had a great interplay, as did Hendricks and Moss, but even the smallest of screen time produced a moment that captivated the audience. Weiner's show had a deep bench, but the rich writing gave them an advantage in front of the camera. It was writing that felt honest and true to the original idea, all the way up to that famous Coke ad.
I fell into "Mad Men" quite a bit after its premiere. I remember seeing a New York Times article about a thrilling new show about talking yet starring a bunch of new and incredible actors. That was when I needed to take a shot on a show that made advertising seem like a decade with the Rolling Stones. It became appointment television and sure, it didn't hurt that the star of the show was from our town. That's icing on the cake for a show that usually bypasses dessert for the bar.
Thank for reading and have a fine time revisiting a classic,
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