During this spring break, I got to finally watch the first season of Mad Men. Having not watched it before, I was pretty excited about it. I mean, I don’t think there’s a more critically acclaimed drama on TV today. And I wasn’t disappointed. I finished season 1’s 13 45-minute episodes in less than 24 hours.. because it’s that great.
The different thing about the 1960s TV show is that it does not feature storylines per sé. The show, centered around the lives of various ad men (and women), is fit into nostalgic themes: cigarettes, sexism, cheating, etc.… where everyone is not who he says he is.
I enjoyed the first season, a lot. I was creeped out by some of the characters and some of the storylines but then again it is set in 1960 so that was expected. Here are my quick thoughts about the season: (Oh, by the way, I’m definitely starting season 2 today.)
Favorite Female Character: Joan Holloway
Joan, played by Christina Hendricks, is the bombshell of Sterling Cooper, the ad firm the show revolves around. But just like every character on the show, there’s more to her than meets the eye. Yes, she’s fun. And yes she’s not looking for a husband anytime soon and IS sleeping with one of the married partners in the firm, Roger, but she actually has a heart. Even though she sounds condescending and mean to Peggy, the new girl, sometimes. She always means well. She truly wants to help her.
We get to see that soft side of her especially when Roger has a heart attack. She’s weak and even more bitchy than usual. She loves him even though she doesn’t want him to know. After he has a heart attack, Roger comes to work to assure his Lucky Strike clients that he’s okay. Don and Cooper, the other partner, ask Joan to fix him up, to make him look less white than he is. “Can I kiss you?” she asks and you can see the worry and the fear on her face. She can see him slipping away and she wants to have him by her side forever, but she knows she can’t.
Favorite Male Character: Don Draper
Did you really expect me to say someone else? Don Draper is the lead protagonist of the show. He’s the popular creative director at Sterling Cooper that everyone loves and respects. Well, almost everyone. Jon Hamm plays him so well. Alternating smoothly between the cheating husband, the loving man, and man hiding away his past, Jon Hamm pulls Don Draper off perfectly. Don Draper is adored by every woman that knows him: his wife, his client, Rachel, and even a Hobo woman he had a relationship with. And I can understand why. The way he talks and the way he smiles can make every woman swoon, including myself, of course.
That said, I liked his hidden part more. The part he only let us, as viewers, see. He’s not really Don Draper. His name is Dick Whitman. His mother was a prostitute who died at child-birth and his father was a drunk. He was raised by his step-mother and her husband and hated both. When he joined the army, he accidentally bombed his unit and his commander, Don Draper, was killed. So he assumed his personality and pretended that it was Dick Whitman who died. Every time Don remembered that life he once had, you could see him weak and afraid.. human. And I was definitely a fan of that.
A Character I Didn’t Expect to Like: Betty Draper
From what I hear, she’s one of those characters that went through character assassinations on Mad Men through the later seasons that she becomes on the most vain and intolerable characters on the show. And I knew that before I marathon’d the season. I also wasn’t a huge fan of January Jones, who portrays Betty on the series. So I expected to HATE on Betty a lot. But to my surprise, I actually liked Betty in the first season. She’s a girl stuck in a married woman’s body who knows at some level that her husband is cheating on her but is ready to let it all go if he smiles to her or holds her hand. She’s a weakling but tries to put on a brave face. She’s a kid and everyone around her knows that. But the truth is all women at some point in their lives have some of the insecurities she has: worrying about getting older, about living and dying as just a housewife, or finding out that her husband is cheating on her. She’s what a typical 1960s suburban housewife would be like.
In one of the episodes, the Drapers’ dog eats one of their neighbors pigeons. So the neighbor threatens the Draper kids that he will shoot the dog if he ever goes out to the backyard. At the end of the episode, Betty grabs a rifle and stars shooting the neighbor’s pigeons. You don’t threaten her kids.
Least Favorite Character: Trudy Campbell
I never thought I would dislike any character played by Alison Brie because, well, she’s Alison Brie! Community‘s Annie! And then I met Trudy. At first, I cringed at every scene that featured Trudy and then I started fast-forwarding all the scenes she’s in. It’s probably because I’m a huge fan of Annie’s that seeing Alison play someone so vain and annoying pissed me off. And it’s probably because of the relationship this character has with Pete Campbell, her husband. She’s the trophy wife, the image of a woman that makes this show seem so sexist.
Creepiest Character (And Storyline) of the season: Glen Bishop
Son of a divorced Helen Bishop, Glen has a weird infatuation with his mother’s friend, Betty Draper. When Helen has to leave one night and can’t find a baby sitter, she asks Betty to babysit. Glen barges on Betty when she’s in the toilet. And after scolding him, he tells her how pretty she is and that he wants her hair. The even more creepy part? She gives him lock of her hair. In the season finale, Betty runs into Glen at the parking lot, and she tells him that there’s no one she can talk to. He tells her he wishes her were older and holds her hand. And just then and there, Glen becomes her confidante. Oh, did I mention he’s only 9?
Favorite Episode: Nixon VS. Kennedy
I’m a fan of politics being infiltrated in TV shows. It’ one of the reasons I love The Good Wife. In its first season, the show tackled the 1960 presidential election between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. It was so interesting to watch because we never get to see the point of view of the Republican side as much. I would imagine that in any other show, they would be rooting for Kennedy (I would.), but the characters in Mad Men were rooting for Nixon especially that Sterling Cooper was handling his campaign. The suspense buildup was incredible not because I wanted to see who won, because we all know who did, but because I wanted to see the reaction of the characters when they found out that Nixon lost to Kennedy with just a small difference. This story line actually made me want to dig out my history books and read out the election itself.
The other reason I loved this episode so much is because we got to see the other side of Don Draper, Dick Whitman. It was in that episode that we discovered who he truly is, and the flashbacks were amazing. I wasn’t a huge fan of the flashbacks of him when he was a kid, but I enjoyed the his memories as an adult in the army.
If you have watched the first season of the show, what were YOUR favorite and least favorite moments and characters from the first season of Mad Men? And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?