Thursday, October 4, 2007
TV EYE-Captivating Period Piece
When the chaos and hurly-burly of the 2007 television season finally dies down, Mad Men (Thursdays, 10:00 PM), AMC’s first original series, may indeed take the prize as the sharpest, smartest, best executed series of the year. Created by Sopranos writer/producer Matthew Weiner, the show delves into a captivating period in recent American history (the brief, false idyll when Eisenhower reigned), and depicts, more specifically, the day-to-day orbits of the square-jawed men and well-rounded woman (wonder bread white and middle-class uppity)—all drinking deeply from the artificial fountains of newly minted suburbia-- who peopled the Madison Ave, New York advertising world. Mad Men’s impeccable set design deserves a love song to itself, but the look, the tone, the toe-dipping bits of understated drama, all contribute to a project that is as well conceived, as it is unerringly delivered and unimpeachably penetrative. The central figure, Don Draper (Jon Hamm, in a simultaneously subtle but breakout performance), is a Gregory Peck/William Holden-type, straddling the cusp of the 50’s-into-60’s with an air of existential distance, a no nonsense seducer brimming with a just under-the-surface combination of anger and disdain, a man in a gray flannel suit heading towards either a mid-drift bulge and a drinking problem, a break out and head turning first novel, or a leap into the whirling void of the oncoming sixties. (Both John Slattery as the unctuous boss man and Vincent Kartheiser as the agency’s high strung lost soul register highly, and the supporting cast of women, especially Elisabeth Moss, Maggie Siff, Rosemarie DeWitt and January Jones are amazingly lovely to look at while turning in fetchingly unmannered performances.) Weiner has hit upon something special here—a look at the filtered past with a gaze from the present that is in turns disapproving and envious, a gut shot and a blow to the head, a scintillating TV cocktail that’s part-Martini and part-mother’s little helper, with a drop of acid sure to come.