It’s tough to pin down Mad Men’s appeal. It could be the mesmeric setting — Kennedy-era America, bright, gleaming and confident, but on the cusp of the dream turning sour, with Vietnam and that Dallas knoll looming near. It could be the amusing sight of the titular Mad men (slick ad-agency hustlers based on NYC’s Madison Avenue) chugging bourbon and chainsmoking cigarettes without a health warning in sight. Or it could just be the fact that the two leads — Jon Hamm and January Jones — look really, really good in ’60s clobber.
It had critical acclaim from the off, but this second season saw Mad Men arrive, as US ratings soared, the title sequence got spoofed by The Simpsons and its creators were rewarded with a heap of trophies. Rightly so. Creator Matthew Weiner is a veteran of The Sopranos and it shows — while chiselled hero Don Draper (Hamm) doesn’t share Tony’s weakness for late-
night fridge forays, beneath the veneer he grapples with demons just as complex as the Mafia kingpin’s. Here we finally delve into his backstory, revealing that his idyllic life is a front; in reality he’s Richard Whitman, a whore’s son who’s taken on
a dead man’s identity. Meanwhile, his beautiful, brittle wife Betty (Jones) wanders further down a lonely path, going quietly loco in her perfect home, befriending an oddball child (it doesn’t end well), learning to exploit her power over men. And the other employees of Sterling Cooper — from smarmy Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) to busty Joan (Christina Hendricks) — continue their own detailed arcs.
The whole thing’s as seductive as one of Don’s pitches. And as Season 3 and the Cuban Missile Crisis approach, it’ll be fascinating to see where Weiner next takes his band of smoking salesmen.
Reviewed by Nick de Semlyen
Mad Men: Season 2
Released: 13 July 2009
Incisive, context-rich commentaries, featurettes (Birth Of An Independent Woman, on ’60s female empowerment; An Era Of Style, on fashion) and interactive Time Capsule bits to fill you in on the history. Note: the Blu-ray version has many more commentaries than the DVD.