A pregnant housewife pours a gin and lights up a cigarette. An errant child is told to hush as he runs round with a plastic bag on his head. A black waiter is berated for making eye contact with a customer. A gynaecologist puffs away as he examines a patient. A giggling secretary is wrestled to the floor so her male colleagues can see what colour her underwear is. The office’s closet homosexual cheers them on to keep his cover intact. Meanwhile, in a sunny suburban street, a cheated wife walks out of her front door brandishing a rifle…
Welcome to the American Dream, ’60s style, and potentially the greatest TV show since a Mob boss started getting anxiety attacks. Created by former Sopranos scribe Matthew Weiner, it’s perhaps not surprising that Mad Men’s mix of sharp suits, casual sex and lots of cigarettes bears comparison with the Mafia masterpiece. As you’d expect, lush production values, intricate plotting and sly performances are all present and correct, not to mention a whole slew of highfalutin’ metaphors for those so inclined to find them.
Aptly titled opener ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ sets the scene... We’re introduced to Don Draper ( Jon Hamm), a brilliant ad exec with a murky past. He can flog cigarettes, deodorant or even Nixon to Middle America but can barely face himself in the mirror. Over the course of 13 episodes we begin to unravel not only his identity, but also America’s – a nation that’s in the throes of social, political and economic revolution, peopled by folk both bemused and beguiled by the opportunities on offer.
This is smart, compelling television, bolstered by some brief but decent extras. There’s a short but fascinating doc on the world of US advertising in the ’60s and featurettes on the looks and sounds of the show. There’s also a smattering of commentaries, from creator Weiner, some of the leads and the series’ regular director Tim Hunter, whose deadpan delivery disguises perhaps the most informative gab track. Most pleasing though is the underlying sense that season one is just the start of something very special.