In October, I managed to watch the first three series of Mad Men, which I'd somehow failed to catch over the last few years. It's gripping stuff, despite the fact that not much happens in most episodes and I'm glad that I've now knocked off 51 episodes so that this Wednesday when I see the final episode of series 4 I will be completely up to date.
If you don't know the show, it's set in the 1960s and tells the story of the Madison Avenue advertising executives through a fictional agency and particularly through the messed up central character, creative director Don Draper, an anti-hero for our time, as much as any other.
The title sequence is a graphic tour de force and takes you straight into the mindset of Don Draper, who appears to be falling from a high floor of a New York skyscraper.
Mad Men Title Sequence from Caleb Woods on Vimeo.
Across series 1, we see Don's series of adulterous relationships set against the backdrop of his family life, creating a tension which is then layered with flashbacks to his own childhood, revealing his secret past. By series 2 it becomes impossible to contain all his secrets as his marriage starts to disintegrate and in series 3 it falls apart completely. Series 4 sees him in a bachelor pad in New York, but unhappier than ever as his life and work seem to unravel around him.
But this is only a part of a complex web woven by the writers; there are several interesting characters who develop over the four series, notably Peggy, who starts episode 1 as the new girl secretary introduced to the firm but by series 4 has developed into the only female creative in the company and in many ways the only character who can handle Don- possibly because she is one of the few women who hasn't had a sexual relationship with him.
The programme is all set against a backdrop of American social and political history in the 1960s, including Kennedy's election and assassination, the black civil rights movement, the Cuban Missile crisis and the Beatles at Shea stadium, but it is also a fascinating analysis of power relations, especially the role of gender in US society of the time. Despite the appalling behaviour of the male characters at times, especially Don, the viewer is drawn into a strange sympathy with them as their complexity is allowed to emerge. It is an interesting example of the American tradition of quality TV drama, as seen in the Sopranos, ER, House and others, but in its ad agency setting it defies the usual genre characteristics of the crime series or the hospital show. If you haven't seen it, there's a box set of series 1-3 available (£30 in HMV), but be warned, once you start you won't be able to stop!
And here's the official site, where you can play games and even take on the role of characters