A Mad [Men] Frenzy.

by Meredith O'Brien


It’s hard not to notice that Mad Men madness seems to be everywhere. In a big spread in Vanity Fair Magazine. In New York Magazine. As early-1960s styled Mad Men avatars pop up on Twitter and Facebook. With the Aug. 16 season three premiere of the Emmy winning drama quickly approaching, what was once a show followed by a cultish, ferociously dedicated couple million people, has become such a staple of American pop culture that Banana Republic is using the show to launch a clothing line, both Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons have satirized it and Sesame Street is planning a Mad Men-ish parody for its new season.


I’ve adored this little AMC-show-that-could – which follows the lives of Manhattan ad men and their families -- from the very first episode, which I caught while vacationing two years ago after seeing ads for it during the 470th showing of The Godfather on the cable station. Its no-holes-barred portrayal of hard drinking and hard smoking white collar New York City professionals, as well as their naked racism, anti-Semitism and sexism is brutally honest, its characters multi-dimensional. No series regular is a flat cardboard cut-out. And while its most notable feature is the deliciously handsome main character -- Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who is so ashamed of his background that he stole a dead man’s identity and continues and lie and cheat as if his life depended on it – it is the female Mad Men characters who make this show whole.


While preparing to write this column, I spent some quality time marinating in the second season DVDs, in particular, the audio commentaries by show-runner Matt Weiner and other members of the crew. After listening to what folks had to say, it confirmed for me this: Don may be the star, but the women (to complete a celestial analogy of which the lyrical advertising guru Don might be proud) are the moon providing the show its gravitational pull, which shouldn’t be surprising given that seven out of the nine Mad Men writers are women. “The writers, led by the show’s creator Matthew Weiner, are drawing on their experiences and perspectives to create the show’s heady mix: a world where men are in control and the women are more complex than they seem, or than the male characters realize,” a Wall Street Journal writer said.