Sunday, February 22, 2009

The coolest TV show ever

Of course it's Mad Men. Every single detail from the casting to the set dressing and camera angles and music choices are intelligent, layered, complex and fascinating. And no, I don't really fancy Don Draper. I think John Hamm is amazing and I love watching him, but also all the other denizens of Sterling Cooper, the little and large secrets and tensions and quirks that emerge so gently as the series unfolds. Apparently there are those who dislike it for being too slow - but that is part of its wonder and cool. Wiener and his team of writer/producers aren't afraid to take time, leave ends dangling, create small mysteries that may never be answered.

Of course, it's got a great pedigree: Wiener, the guy who devised it, was a Sopranos graduate, and it took me a little while to place the reptilian Pete Campbell, who under the brylcreem and baby-face was Vincent Kartheiser, formerly known as Conor, Angel and Darla's son who did some havoc-wreaking of his own very effectively, and Marti Noxon, writer/producer on Buffy, was involved in Season 2.

We glommed up season 1 on DVD and are now waiting week by week for S2 to unfold on the BBC. I'm busy proselytising the show's wonders to my fellow-box-set addicts at work, and this forces me to work out what it is I love about the show. Part of it is sheer nostalgia: at one point, Don and the guys are drinking out of little spherical tumblers with a silver band that were exactly like a set my parents owned: the silver band tarnished and faded in the '70s. Betty and Don threw a bridge party at which their 8-year old daughter Sally was busy mixing Tom Collinses for the guests, taking me back to being taught the basics of booze blending, and there was a shot of the kids sitting on the stairs, listening to the grown-ups, because sleep was elusive. Sally has Lanz of Salzburg PJs - I had the nightgown. So, a big part of the appeal is seeing my childhood resurrected.

But there's more to it than that. The characterisation of every single role, even down to the secretary who says perhaps 3 lines in one episode, or the hot Asiatic waitress offering Don Draper consolation, is inhabited by an inner life fraught with the compromises and contradictions innate to human existence. I can't remember seeing such consistency in a cast, such wealth of subtext and subtlety in a show. For the first time, I feel as though I am seeing a great novel made palpable and real, the interface between my imaginings and the page brought to life, and it is all gloriously, unapologetically adult - not in a smutty porn way, but in that for once, the producers and writers of a show are treating their audience as sentient, thinking beings.

The themes of the show are classic, huge: the nature of the American Dream, the significance of the blurred boundaries between appearance and reality, the search for happiness, the meaning of life...it's all there, brave, ambitious and unashamedly brilliant. The third series is contracted - let's hope Wiener has been given the raise that will keep him at the helm of this
gorgeous, poignant piece of tv that reveals so much through its prism into our past.

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