Benjamin Schwarz has an excellent essay on Mad Men in the November issue of The Atlantic. He addresses the cloud of hype (naturally); the phenomenon of the “megamovie” TV series; and the valid complaints of naysayers like Mark Greif, who have pointed out the ways in which the show flatters contemporary viewers.
My parents were all excited about Mad Men in the summer of 2007, before excitement about Mad Men was totally obligatory. I watched a couple of episodes with them, and recall feeling underwhelmed. That was it? I was just coming off a Deadwood binge: after murky criminal machinations and willfully impenetrable dialogue, Mad Men seemed far too straightforward. But, writes Schwarz, perhaps its clarity is the show’s great unsung virtue:
Weiner’s policy of not allowing British actors to play American characters stems from his eminently reasonable logic that his show “is so American, it should be played by Americans.” And, unusual for a megamovie, its characters aren’t (as they say) “ethnic,” and they’re not cops, criminals, or the downtrodden. Rather, they’re predominantly well-educated, articulate WASPs. So verisimilitude doesn’t demand that the characters shave ts and drop g’s. Unlike so many fancy American TV dramas, Mad Men doesn’t require the viewer to pause and replay the DVD to make out what’s being said. Rather, the actors deliver their often fizzy but (because it’s guarded or reflective) never fast-talking dialogue with the clear, relaxed enunciation of casually elegant American speech. Unlike performers in most naturalistic American productions-theatrical, cinematic, or on television-who can only gesture at meaning with the fragmented language with which they’re supplied, the Mad Men actors are given precise words and whole, often clever and grammatically complex sentences to work with.
I came around eventually. Of course. But it’s reassuring to see someone articulate a rationale.
Also, remember when Ken Cosgrove had a moment of glory upon publishing a story in The Atlantic? Nice symbiosis.