Mad Men, Good or Great?
By Bert Ehrmann
August 6, 2010
The fourth season of the most critically acclaimed drama on TV, Mad Men, returned to AMC a few weeks back. I've been a huge supporter of the series since it debuted and have consistently called it the one of the best series on TV. But the fourth season of any TV series is unusually important for the long-term viability of a show.
I suspect that TV audiences will give the creators of a series like Mad Men a few seasons of TV to get the story going, but after that they'll expect the show to start moving towards some sort of resolution/conclusion. Look at the fourth season of a series like Lost where the fans went from being incredibly supportive to actively questioning the direction of the show. And I can't count the number of times I'd read online where a viewer would complain after the fourth season of The Sopranos that, "If someone doesn't get wack'd soon I'm going to stop watching!"
Here are some reasons I think that Mad Men will go from a great show to a just a good one during the fourth season.
Though the characters of Mad Men are interesting, it's just that they haven't evolved that much over the course of the show — and remember, Mad Men has covered around four years of TV time. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is still, when it comes down to it, a world-class jerk. His wife Betty (January Jones) is still a doormat to men and while copywriter Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is a woman making it in a man's world, she's really been doing this since the first season of the show. I know that evolution is a glacial process, but surly some of the characters of Mad Men would be recognizably different from the first season to now?
In fact, at the start of the series I thought the main story of Mad Men would be about change. I always thought that all the things we found shocking starting with the very first episode of the show — women were treated horribly, back in the 1960s people used to live really, really unhealthy lifestyles, men used to get away with a whole lot, etc., etc., etc. — would all be leading towards something more. I get that people back in the time period of Mad Men used to live differently than we do today, I guess I just don't see why that's so important to the series other than for raw shock value which is losing its edge.
That being said, here are the reasons I think that Mad Men WILL remain a great show through the fourth season and will go onto become a TV classic.
Simply put, the writing of Mad Men is top-notch and has been since the beginning. Series creator Matt Weiner has skillfully created a period specific show without falling into the traps other series covering the same period has fallen into. For example, the NBC series American Dreams (2002-'05) was also set in the early to mid-1960s yet was mostly focused on having modern musicians guest-star as popular musicians from the 1960s. Like, "This week Hilary Duff plays the lead singer of Shangri-las in another exciting episode of American Dreams!"
Though Mad Men does deal with pop-culture events Weiner has so far kept them on the edges of the story instead focusing on character dynamics in the show. I can't ever imagine that we'll ever see "a very special" episode of Mad Men where character Don Draper meets The Jonas Brothers all skillfully disguised as The Beatles and thank God for that.
That being said, this setting/period of Mad Men has allowed the storylines of the series to go into some completely unexpected directions. Things like the war in Vietnam and the Kennedy assassination are what dominated my high school text books of the period and that's what I'd assume would dominate the story of Mad Men much as it did a show like The Wonder Years (1988-1993). Though these events have played a small role in Mad Men, Vietnam stories has been playing in the background on some TVs in certain scenes and the assassination of Kennedy did play a role in one episode of the series, neither has dominated the storyline of the show to any extent.
Even though I think I know what's going to happen historically on Mad Men I'm never quite sure what's going to happen to the characters and that is a very good thing. New episodes of Mad Men are currently airing on AMC Sunday nights at 10 p.m.