Prestige drama Mad Men is beloved by critics and those who give out awards. Now one critic is railing against the show's first four seasons as "weak" and "haphazard." Could he possibly be right?
The writing is extremely weak, the plotting haphazard and often preposterous, the characterizations shallow and sometimes incoherent; its attitude toward the past is glib and its self-positioning in the present is unattractively smug; the acting is, almost without exception, bland and sometimes amateurish.
As someone who greatly enjoys the show, I staunchly disagree, but that answer sounds like an immature, "Nuh-uh!" to Mendelsohn's well-honed critique. His argument against the show is very persuasive, especially this passage.
The problem with Mad Men is that it suffers from a hypocrisy of its own. As the camera glides over Joan's gigantic bust and hourglass hips, as it languorously follows the swirls of cigarette smoke toward the ceiling, as the clinking of ice in the glass of someone's midday Canadian Club is lovingly enhanced, you can't help thinking that the creators of this show are indulging in a kind of dramatic having your cake and eating it, too: even as it invites us to be shocked by what it's showing us (a scene people love to talk about is one in which a hugely pregnant Betty lights up a cigarette in a car), it keeps eroticizing what it's showing us, too. For a drama (or book, or whatever) to invite an audience to feel superior to a less enlightened era even as it teases the regressive urges behind the behaviors associated with that era strikes me as the worst possible offense that can be committed in a creative work set in the past: it's simultaneously contemptuous and pandering. Here, it cripples the show's ability to tell us anything of real substance about the world it depicts.
I think that is fairly true, but the point that he's missing is that, like any good historical drama, the show isn't as much about the '60s as it is about the modern day. It uses the (admittedly swanky) props of the past to show how, in many instances, we're still dealing with the same problems of identity, gender politics, race, ambition, office politics, marital dissolution, and constant nagging disappointment now as the characters were back then. That they are removed from us in time only highlights the similarities. It blends the art-decorated specific with the universal. For those who view it as a fantasy world to travel back to or some sort of easy object lesson in how not to behave aren't watching it deeply enough to really understand what is going on.
Even if you disagree with it, Mendelsohn's piece deserves a read in it's entirety. What do you guys think? Is this show crap and we've all bought into a giant delusion or is he the one missing the point? Please mount your own defenses of the show in the comments.