Can’t Stop the Madness

1200416540I admit I’m late to the party, but it wasn’t until last week that I realized that on top of all the other things I so inartfully juggle (parenting, my job, my husband’s job, our daughter’s meals, her pre-school applications, cleaning, pretending to read important books, etc.) I now have to add another: Mad Men.

I usually resist cable series television. For years, I bristled under the tyranny of Sunday night HBO—I didn’t sign on to The Sopranos until way late in the game, and never took up Deadwood, The Wire, or Six Feet Under. And, so, lumping it in with the others, I initially dismissed Mad Men, the AMC series about an advertising agency in 1960 Manhattan.

But it had gotten to the point where I was smacking into references to the series at every turn and started to feel too far out of the conversation for my comfort. My husband, who considered his “To Do” list too long to add another item, begged off, and so a few nights ago, I settled into bed, grabbed the laptop and downloaded my first episode from iTunes. Five hours later, at about 2 a.m., I had to force myself to stop.

Since then, I have spent my daytime hours edgy and distracted, waiting until nighttime when my daughter is asleep so I can start watching again. Just knowing that the entire first season is available online makes me anxious for a fix.

But here’s the thing: I’m not even sure how much I like it. I don’t know how long the “joke” of seeing now-taboo practices undertaken so blithely will last. Yes, it’s jarring and funny the first time you see a pregnant women drinking alcohol and smoking, but that wears off after a while.

And it’s obvious we’re supposed to feel smug/ashamed for how far we have/haven’t come from the days when white men treated women, and racial and religious minorities (as well as the bonds of marriage) with such disregard and contempt. Also, the notion that advertising is a cynical enterprise and conformity-obsessed suburbs can smother the soul are not exactly ideas that have been left unchronicled. I could go on with my problems, but I can’t stop watching.

Part of the draw is the soap opera story line and the unnerving sense that something sinister is about to pounce, but part of the appeal is also that it looks so damn good. The sheer beauty of the cast-members is seductive enough, though that’s nothing new for television, but, as has been amply noted elsewhere, the set design is incomparable.

The interiors of the NYC apartments, the suburban homes, the restaurants and bars, and the offices of the fictional advertising agency are an ode to mid-century design that rarely descends into kitsch. As for the clothes, expect to see echoes of the starched shirts, sharply silhouetted dresses, pointy bras, deeply pigmented lipsticks, clutch handbags and dressing gowns in upcoming collections from American designers. Yes, it’s a romanticized version of life, but the crick in my neck from watching on the laptop until 1:30 a.m. last night is all too real.

Mad Men airs on AMC, Monday nights at Midnight.