There are many times throughout Mad Men when Don Draper is facing a deadline. When he has mere moments to spare before he is due to present an idea to clients and he’s got nothing. He knows the perfect idea exists, he just has to find it. I feel a little bit like Don Draper. I know I have a blog post in me about my favourite TV show but even now as I type, I don’t know what I’m going to say. I don’t have actual deadlines nor do I work for a huge ad agency in New York so I guess the stakes aren’t quite as high but I should still follow Don’s lead. I’m going to pour myself a stiff drink and let inspiration come to me. I won’t do very many of the other things that Don does regularly in the show. I’ll just stick with the drinking.
I’m not sure if it comes down to the writing or the actor but I’ve always found it amazing that after so many episodes and so many awful deeds I still rooted for Don right up until the end of the show. Oh that reminds me, there may be spoilers ahead for people who have not watched the show or have not finished watching it. There might be. I’m not sure yet. Like I said, I’m making this up as I go.
I started an evening class in Marketing in the hope of becoming the new Don. On my first night in the course my lecturer, unprompted, told my classmates and myself that no marketing offices in the world are anything like the ones in Mad Men. Everyone giggled. I didn’t finish the course.
The only reason I was doing the course was to get a job where I could drink in my office and take naps and leave for Los Angeles whenever I wanted so there was no need for me to be there. I have taken up drinking whiskey just in case anyone reading this wants to make my dreams come true by giving me that imaginary job. In fact, the very first time I went to a bar and ordered a whiskey for myself was because of Don.
I had spent the best part of a weekend watching the show and then on the Saturday night I was in a pretty fancy bar in Dublin. At that point I wasn’t much of a drinker at all but, as I said, the bar was fancy and my friends hadn’t turned up yet so there was no one to talk me out of it and I was feeling adventurous. I went to the bar and as usual in bars in the city, stood for an obscenely long time without being served. When the barman finally decided to notice me I asked for an Old Fashioned. Which was lunacy. It was like not being able to swim, yet diving into the deep end of a pool which was full of whiskey.
Once the words had left my mouth, I knew I didn’t want the drink. I just wanted to order it, I just wanted to be cool. I couldn’t call the guy back and tell him I’d changed my mind and that I wanted a fruity cider instead! I wanted to see the barman’s reaction and to make the people next to me take notice. “This guy?” they’d point at me, “This guy is cool, he’s getting an old fashioned!”.
Sometimes I get caught up in a show if I watch too much of it. I remember watching season 1 of The Sopranos on DVD and casually dropping “forget about it” into conversations with people like I was actually in the show. The look on people’s faces when I did it reminded me that I wasn’t in the show and I was making a fool of myself in the real world where people don’t say those things. The point being, I assumed everyone else in the world is a fan of whatever show it is that I’m watching so I naturally assumed that when I ordered the drink someone would say something about it like “that’s Don Draper’s drink” or “we got a Mad Men fan over here”.
You know what happened when I ordered it? Nothing. No women came up to ask me my name. No one offered me an amazing job. Conrad Hilton wasn’t sitting beside me… The barman turned and walked to make the drink and the people next to me could not care less about what the tall awkward fidgety guy beside them was drinking. The whole point of me getting the drink was lost, the enterprise was a failure… and it only got worse because I still had to drink the drink that I didn’t want. It tasted like punishment for trying to be someone I’m not. Ironic right? I was Donal Hanks trying to be Don Draper who is Dick Whitman trying to be Don Draper…
So far I’ve only talked about Don and although the show is heavily reliant on him, it’s nothing without Peggy Olsen. This post was originally going to be about the episode called ‘The Suitcase’ in season 4 where Don and Peggy fight, then work against the backdrop of Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) against Sonny Liston. Honestly though, I don’t feel like I could do it justice. It’s the most perfect episode of a television show that you could ever hope to see.
Incredibly well acted by Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss and wonderfully written by Matthew Weiner, it encapsulates everything that’s so special about the show. Mad Men was slow but in a magnificent way. Episodes could go by and it could feel like nothing much happened but the characters and the storylines had developed a great deal and it feels very unique because of it. It also uses the time period wonderfully well. The 60’s in America were a fascinating time of change and upheaval and the show uses true events throughout the series to accentuate events with the characters. This episode is a perfect example of that. It’s just Don and Peggy talking for the most part but you get to find out so much about them from what they’re saying and how they’re saying it and it’s all happening on the night of the Ali-Liston fight. It also has one of the most epic scenes of all time:
Moss is one of my favourite actresses and she’s managed to do something that so few are able to, which is to almost instantly disconnect from her previous roles. What I mean is that whenever I see Jon Hamm I see Don Draper and I think it’s always going to be that way. He seems like a delightfully friendly and funny man and I really hope that he does land another role that’s just as iconic as this one but I feel like he will forever be Don. Elisabeth Moss on the other hand has already transcended Peggy by being in The Handmaids Tale. Her career has been filled with interesting roles and projects and hopefully that continues because she is a wonderful actor.
When Mad Men ended in 2015 it represented something of a landmark. The show had run for 8 years which was roughly one quarter of my lifetime. 8 years of living with these characters once a week for one hour and then spending the rest of the week ruminating over what happened. That’s how TV should be. Once a week, one episode and then you talk amongst your friends who are watching it, or you read about it online or you simply just sit and think about it yourself. Giving a show time to breathe is essential to me. I love a good Netflix binge as much as the next person but the whole experience is too quick.
Netflix has screwed up how we talk to each other about TV shows. You constantly have to check to see what episode everyone in the room is on before talking about it, instead of everyone having seen that week’s episode. Plus, you know in your heart that someone in your friend group stayed up all night watching Stranger Things on its first release day and they will inevitably tell you something about the ending even if they don’t mean to.
Stranger Things or Daredevil or any of those good Netflix shows haven’t had the same impact on me because I’ve watched them so quickly that I’ve forgotten some of the details in the episodes. Attention to detail is a major part of what makes Mad Men so good and it’s something I feel I would have missed out on if I felt I needed to race through them to avoid spoilers on Twitter, Facebook or from clumsy friends.
The mark of a great show is, if someone spoiled the hell out of it, if someone told me how it ended, would I still want to watch it? Luckily that’s never happened to me but if it had happened with this show I still would have wanted to watch. If they made a show where all that happened was Don went to work, did his work, went home and went to sleep? I would watch that show. How else am I going to figure out how he does what he does?