Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's Not The Sopranos*...

…but I am enjoying AMC’s new show, Mad Men, which takes place in 1960 New York in the brave new world of the Madison Avenue advertising business. It’s surprising how exotic this setting seems to the contemporary eye:

They all smoke! In their offices!
They all drink like fish! In their offices!
No worries about sexual harassment suits since they’re all flirting like rabbits! In their offices and in 1960s era bars like P.J. Clarke's (still around in NY, boasting a noteworthy hamburger).

As horrible as it was to see this, it was almost other-worldly that Betty’s psychiatrist called her husband to report to HIM on Betty’s progress. We’ve come a long way baby…. (The diagnosis, unsurprisingly, was that she wasn’t very “forthcoming.” Hmm…might she have a hard time TRUSTING him since he’s telling her husband everything???)

The Jackie Kennedy-style women’s clothes are well-chosen, and despite the fact that most of the female characters are either secretaries or wives, they are as complicated as the male characters, with their own struggles to find/hold power. The storylines have become increasingly subtle and intertwined lately, and anti-hero Don Draper is a dark, brooding lone wolf-type with interesting secrets that suggest some major issues, and this before the phrase "major issues" was invented. There’s a subtlety to the plotting that suggests a novelistic approach, which I find is common to many of the shows I am religious about watching (The Wire, The Sopranos).

There’s a good mix of personal and work life, though I could always go for more work life in art; I wish there were more, great books about work, especially since that’s where most people spend most of their waking hours. Why does the poor office get such short shrift? The focus on work is one of the reasons I enjoyed Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris, Intuition by Allegra Goodman, and Bombardiers by Po Bronson. Richard Ford’s Independence Day had a good bit about the life of a real estate agent. But I find the workplace is often missing in modern fiction. Honestly, I may sound like a shallow, grubbing Washingtonian, but one of my first questions about a character is always, What does he/she do for a living?

Go here for more info about Mad Men (which airs on Thursdays at 10 pm on AMC).

For an interesting take on the realities of that era in advertising, go here.

*Though the executive producer/writer did work on The Sopranos.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.