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Why Mad Men is the prettiest boring show on the box

Image: AMC/ MAD MEN/ SMH

Words: Mike Nicholson

This will not make me a popular guy. I expect, nay, deserve the hate mail and abusive tweets I will receive for my stance. I pity the moderator of comments at TheVine. But bear with me as I explain to you why the most overrated – though beautifully shot – drama on television is Mad Men (or Mad Meh as I affectionately renamed it).

I watch a lot of television. Unhealthy amounts if I’m being honest. Mad Men and Chuck Lorre crap aside, I’m pretty non-discriminatory when it comes to my viewing habits. I’ll watch Scandinavian political drama, ten minute Adult Swim comedies, dabble in reality TV or throwback to past Judd Apatow’s hits that were before their time. I feel this puts me in good stead to pass judgement on AMC’s snooze fest of a period piece.

My biggest gripe with this show is that in the three and a half season I’ve watched, NOTHING HAPPENS. The pilot is a great piece of television but from there it’s all downhill. I must have started the first season about four times never getting further than a few episodes in. I swear I watched an entire episode literally revolving around whether or not the head of the advertising agency was going to attend a work party. Even Godot didn’t have to put up with this. Mad Men is also set in New York City’s good ol’ days of the 60s advertising world so of course there’s womanising, drinking and smoking. We get it. How about showing us something we didn’t already know?

Now if you’re going to be one of those fans that tell me, “it gets really good from season four” then I’m going to have to respond by saying, “tell it walking, thanks but no thanks.” I may be an ADD suffering, twitter obsessed member of Gen Y, but sifting through thirty-six slow moving episodes to get to the good stuff is a hard sell for anyone. The biggest jaw-dropping moment, and I use that term loosely, arrived with the discovery that Jon Hamm’s character, Don Draper, **spoiler alert if you care*** has Principal Skinner-ed everyone and is not who he seems. The reveal isn’t even satisfying.

Of course Jon Hamm could act his way out of a paper bag and is so debonair The Internet has labeled him the Robert Downey Jnr. of television (probably). But judging from his other roles in shows such as 30 Rock and his hilarious cameo in Bridesmaids he would be better served sticking to comedies. With Rob Lowe’s exit on the horizon, I hear a position has freed up on Parks and Recreation. Strike while Pawnee is hot.

Then there are the other characters. I nothing them. Fred Armisen’s Scientologist ex-wife wears a really weird fat suit for a while as the repressed secretary Peggy. That kept me sort of engrossed in a morbidly fascinated way. January Jones’ turn as a cold, miserable wife makes the audience ponder whether she’s a great actor or just playing herself.

I also like to think that the son in Angel, Connor, is actually a real person and not a fictional person dreamed up by Joss Whedon. In my reality he does a fantastic job of acting as human Vincent Kartheiser rather than the other way round. Has there been a more punchable face on TV in recent times than his version of Pete Campbell?

My feelings, or lack there of, towards the main characters continued to be a stumbling block with connecting to the show. When they’re all participating in extra-marital affairs like it’s going out of fashion, my care factor was zero. I felt no sympathy. When a lawn mower saws off a characters foot, I figured ratings need a bump or something.

You want to watch a show with layered characters? Watch Six Feet Under. The Fisher’s have so many flaws you’ll need a lift. There are episodes that will shake you to the very core. You will bleed for these characters. And when the credits roll for that final time whilst Sia’s ‘Breathe Me’ plays out, I challenge even the coldest of hearts to avoid the ensuing waterfall of eye moisture. Now that’s a cable drama.

Who am I to knock Jon Hamm & Co. when I’m actively watching, and publicly on record live tweeting*, trash like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal? Well, the difference between these types of shows and Mad Men is that Shonda Rhimes’ soaps don’t set out to be anything but fast-talking, emotionally extortive, pop song heavy melodramas. What you see is what you get with the Meredith Greys and Olivia Popes of the world. Not to mention a hugely diverse cast that the majority of other networks could only dream of rivaling.

“But what of the critical acclaim?” Oh please. Mad Men has been awarded top honours from the same people that year after year decide The Big Bang Theory is a comedy, and a top comedy at that. The Academy can go jump. Until Amy Poehler wins all of the awards, their relevance is moot.

However, there is one redeeming feature of Mad Men; now that it’s over we’re edging ever closer to Breaking Bad being back.

What I love most about television is that it divides the masses, or in this case, everyone else and me on my lonesome. So tell me, why is Mad Men so great? Or have I hit the nail on the head with my diatribe against Mad Meh?

--

Mike Nicholson is a 26 year-old freelance media graduate from Adelaide, South Australia. When he's not undertaking a variety of temporary media and non-media related work you can find him avidly tweeting, trawling the internet for memes or attempting to forge a career in radio. Check out his innermost thoughts on twitter: @Mikey_Nicholson.

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34 comments so far..

  • totallynotjoel's avatar
    Commenter
    totallynotjoel
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 2:14 PM
    Off the top of my head, in the first season alone:
    - We get introduced to the dozen major characters
    - Betty crashes her car, goes to therapy and Don has the therapist spy on her which he later gets called on
    - Don has an affair with a beatnik
    - Don has an affair with a Jewish girl
    - Roger sleeps with Joan and begins trying to ruin his life
    - We meet Don's brother, find out that Don isn't who he claims he is
    - Don coldly abandons his brother, pays him off, who later kills himself
    - We find out that Don was born Dick Whitman to an abusive father and whackjob mother
    - Also, Don was in Korea and the real Draper gets blown up
    - Peggy gets a vibrator, an account and then a job
    - Don becomes a partner, hires alcoholic Freddy Rumsen, Bert quotes Ayn Rand
    - Nixon loses the election
    - Pete goes crazy, tries to extort Don, snitches to Bert, gets fired, gets rehired
    - Peggy gets knocked up, by Pete, gives away baby for adoption.

    Not sure how 'nothing happens'.

    Also, Amy Poehler is the best and I am literally distraught at Rob Lowe leaving.
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  • Girl1's avatar
    Commenter
    Girl1
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 2:16 PM
    I think it's really boring too, but mostly because I don't care about any of the characters. At all. I just can't get involved.
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  • mikeynicholson's avatar
    Commenter
    mikeynicholson
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 3:30 PM
    I think what shocked me is that Mad Men has all the hallmarks of a show I would normally like. That's what gets me. And I've noticed a variety of people loving the show from across the demographics.

    Maybe I'm the problem!?! (This article was cheaper than therapy.)
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  • dr.elephant's avatar
    Commenter
    dr.elephant
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 4:03 PM
    If you really could find "nothing" happening in the first 3 seasons, then I fear for your TV/film writing future.

    No other show on TV says more about a time and place during a period of revolutionary change, than Mad Men. Everything is explored through these characters...the birth of modernity, racial and gender inequality and the fight for change, sexual liberation, corporate manipulation, the relevance of marriage and divorce etc etc...

    The fact that the only story you picked up on is the most obvious one, Don's fake life, says a lot more about you as the viewer, than Mad Men as a show.

    Mad Men is very subtle...and that what makes it great. It challenges you to uncover the story, and think about why these characters are doing what they're doing. It asks you to think about their context and their intentions, and it refuses to spell these out for you. Mad Men requires analysis and thought...its not something that you just sit down and absorb.
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  • kranskydog's avatar
    Commenter
    kranskydog
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 4:17 PM
    I think the point of Mad Men is that it is true Drama (with a capital D). You shouldn't watch it expecting to be 'entertained'
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  • CamillaMacaulay's avatar
    Commenter
    CamillaMacaulay
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 4:52 PM
    Well, yeah, if you think intense and complex emotional development is 'nothing', I guess it is boring.

    I guess anyone who thinks anything that Judd Apatow wrote is ahead of it's time, you would think Mad Men was boring.

    Basically, I am arguing that if you're stupid you probably won't like Mad Men.
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  • mikeynicholson's avatar
    Commenter
    mikeynicholson
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 5:04 PM
    So liking Mad Men is the only barometer for being smart? Interesting theory.
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  • Bec from freo's avatar
    Commenter
    Bec from freo
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 5:49 PM
    Mike - I know exactly what you mean - I am this show's demographic (female..40...you know the type :P) and found it mind numbingly boring when I watch the first series, so much so that I stopped watching and then re-started at season 4, initially probably because I couldn't find the remote or something like that because I remember thinking 'what am I watching this boring show for' remembering how I couldn't understand why all my friends LOVED it.
    But then it got really interesting and I was addicted, so it did get better in the later seasons.
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  • Pendles's avatar
    Commenter
    Pendles
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 6:00 PM

    MAD MEN boring television !?! Well, yes.

    But then that's just stating the obvious, and let's face it, you are not the target market.

    Of course MAD MEN is vacuous, aimless, pointless, paper thin eye candy aimed at the undiscerning female market with about as much depth as any other soap opera from NEIGHBOURS to BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

    Of course it's SEX IN THE CITY transported back to the 60s because heck, change the decade and the female audience won't notice the show is just an overblown clothes advertisement and product placement fest.

    Of course it's ridiculously over-rated because those who puff it up have a vested interest in doing so. The same way SEX IN THE CITY was over-rated. Even Cynthia Nixon admits that show was crap.

    Of course ... of course ... of course ...

    Does that mean MAD MEN shouldn't exist ? No.

    Does it mean it's on borrowed time ? Ooh yeah ...

    And when those MAD MEN fans stop blindly repeating the recycled praise pumped out by fashion and advertising types and -- perish the thought -- actually examine the show's merits through clear eyes, and the shock to their synapses is too much to handle -- then ... then you may snigger into your chest.

    Until they release a TV show or big budget movie set back in the roaries Twenties -- oh wait ...
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  • NBrand's avatar
    Commenter
    NBrand
    Date and time
    Wednesday 07 Aug 2013 - 6:07 PM
    It's everything that so many other shows on television are not - subtle, deep, intelligent, darkly humorous, requiring the audience to pay close attention. And the recaps on Slate.com are almost as good as the show itself!

    PS Thank you @AnyVainLegend -"Thrones" IS a big ol' pile of poop.
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