Smoke, Drink, Man, Woman
Mad Men, the Golden Globe–winning AMC drama, begins its second season next month.
by Jonathan Kelly June 2008
Oh, the good old days, when men could knock back a few martinis at lunch and bed women as compulsively as they smoked Lucky Strikes, while no one furrowed a brow at the office.
This high-water mark of male chauvinism is the milieu of Mad Men, the Golden Globe–winning AMC drama, which, after picking up a legion of obsessed fans, begins its second season next month. Set in 1960, the show follows the advertising executives of the fictitious Madison Avenue firm of Sterling Cooper as they one-up each other with cynical jingles and dream about the Pan Am account, with its perks of flying first-class to London, with service by the stewardesses resuming at the Dorchester. Despite the fact that he was born on the eve of Woodstock, creator Matthew Weiner, 42, has recaptured the era with authenticity and without nostalgia. His secret? “Good fiction of the time—I’m talking about Salinger and Cheever—gives you a sense of place. That’s what I wanted this to feel like.” (The pilot, written eight years ago, was Weiner’s entrée to the writers’ room of The Sopranos.)
But it’s the characters who fascinate: Don Draper (Jon Hamm), dark, mysterious, breathtakingly handsome, yet emotionally castrated; Roger Sterling (John Slattery), a well-oiled dandy who laughs at his own jokes and sees arrogance as his greatest asset; and Sterling’s mistress, bosomy office manager Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks). Perspicacious and flirty, she is the precursor of the flower generation, while Draper’s wife, Betty (January Jones), is the gorgeous orchid, frozen in Eisenhower-era black-and-white. The appeal of these characters transcends time. “Men were allowed to do different things back then,” says Weiner. “They feel exactly the same way now, but they just can’t act on it.”