Those who worked in advertising on Madison Avenue during the Sixties called themselves ‘mad men’, combining a New York innovative and high-risk career with a likewise sparkly and ruthless lifestyle. Following ten years in the life of Don Draper – an enigmatic and brilliant executive who was inspired by the real Draper Daniels, the creative head at Leo Burnett who invented the Marlboro man – this series explores his inner and conflictual journey and that of many others inside the business in order to construct a multifaceted commentary on American society and the pursuit of happiness.
It aired in 2007 – produced by AMC (the company behind other shows like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad), and created by Matthew Weiner (who had written the pilot many years before, in 1999) – and it’s considered to be pivotal in TV history both in terms of timing (it’s one of the last shows from the pre-Netflix era) and collateral effects on real world culture. It prompted a return to vintage trends and newly inspired outfits (double-breasted coats for men and tea-length dresses for women), together with cigarettes (Lucky Strike almost doubled its sales during the show’s run) and cocktails (Old Fashioned and Dry Martini above all). The complex and mysterious narrative of the show skirts the border between historical research and artistic reinterpretation of the Sixties (the work done by the costume and set design departments is both essential and accurate), and it also includes an on-point feminine eye within the advertising world and its power dynamics – thanks to a female-based writing room (seven out of nine) and poignant acting by Elisabeth Moss, January Jones and Christina Hendricks.
Mad Men is a visually refined, rhythmically loose and emotionally moving portrait of an antihero (Don Draper inspired an equally famous and animated alter ego, BoJack Horseman) but it’s also a story from the past that somehow echoes the present on relevant topics like capitalism, homophobia, racism and social inequality.