Ah, Mad Men. The show that restored America’s faith in basic cable. The show is reaching near legendary status, something of a modern day Sopranos, which is no surprise if you count that Matthew Weiner – the shows creator – was the writer behind some of the bigger Sopranos story arcs and classic episodes. Regardless, his show Mad Men is about ot start its third season in August and we here at Manolith are practically squirming in our seats waiting for it.
Lets get the small stuff out the way. The DVD comes packaged in what looks like a shirt box. For those of you reading this in your board shorts and Big Johnson t-shirts, the shirt box is what expensive dress shirts are sold in. And boy, was I confused when I got it in the mail. The package henceforth contains three discs with somewhat minimal extras for its price: a few vignettes highlight the style of the period and the growing influence of women in the workplace during the time, but aside from that and the de-rigeour commentary, there’s not a whole lot.
Wait. I’d just like to highlight the fact that this is one of the best shows of the last ten years easily, and that minimal extras on a dvd should not in any way hinder your purchase. What sets this apart from other shows is its intense drama. Now, drama, as a genre, gets a lot of bad rap. And rightly so. When a guy thinks of drama he’s often thinking of melodramatic monologues from men in high trousers and evil sounding string music permeating the score. This is not the case. I hate to say it, but think of The Sopranos, and think of Hitchcock. Yeah! I said Hitchcock! And we’re talking about a show on basic cable (the show runs Sunday nights on AMC – a channel up until recently best known for its afternoon movie blocks). The show is that good.
A little backstory: the show was (infamously) passed up by HBO where it would’ve made a natural fit, and was picked up by AMC as a large gamble by the network, a gamble that has seriously paid off considering Mad Men’s now rabid fan base. Anyway, I wouldn’t suggest watching Season 2 without first watching Season 1 (naturally). You’ll be lost in the characters and where they’re going at the start of Season 2, which opens about a year after the first season closes. Trust me. Watch this from the beginning and you won’t be disappointed.
The quality of the DVD image (we at Manolith have no Blu-Ray to speak of) is pretty average when watched upon your average television. When the camera does a fast pan – which isn’t much – it can be hard for your eyes to keep up with the action. However, it’s not a huge problem, but it’s somewhat noticable and takes away from the action oh-so-just-a-little that you might notice it. Watching this on anything but a widescreen television and you’ll be missing half the fun of the show which is the set design and atmosphere of the early 1960′s advertising world. This in my opinion is the DVD’s only real flaw but a flaw that I garner only those watching it on sub-par equipment will be able to notice. The audio however is downright impeccable. You can actually hear cigarette drags and ice in tumblers. I’ll say it again: the audio. Is. Amazing. Not that you’ll need to, but if you have a 5.1 surround sound system, you’ll get a huge kick out of hearing a door open behind you, just like you’re actually in Don Draper’s office. Another thing that stands out is the depth of color in the show, as it seems that a lot of effort went into post production to give it the right color palette for the time period: once again, this’ll be mostly hidden from those with older televisions, but if you have the luxury of watching this as I did on a great system it’ll be worth every single fucking penny. Not to give away any of the season, but the episodes where Don Draper – the lead character – is in Los Angeles, are jaw droppingly gorgeous to look at.
And hey you guys, can we talk about the costumes on the show? For a show shot in 2008 their attention to sartorial detail is AMAZING. Right down to the cut of even the minor characters suits, the art direction in the show is without a doubt a huge asset to its success. Not only are you transported into the time period but you’ll practically be salivating at the mouth if you’re anywhere into fashion at all. This is coming from a dude writing this piece in shorts and sandals; you’ll be blown away by the attention to detail and daydreaming of a higher paycheck to afford one of Don Draper’s suits by the end of the first episode.
There’s a lot you could say about the show. This isn’t a show for little boys, or, I’d gather, for anyone who’s a fan of Entourage. This is the anti-Entourage. An episode won’t end with high-fives and the banging of supermodels. It will, however, end with the same smoldering intensity of a Kubrick movie or an early period Hitchcock. It’s been written before by countless journo’s but it’s a genuinely brilliant show. My personal highlight: Betty Draper, played by Ashton Kutcher’s ex January Jones, steals the show with an alarming and deeply fucking moving performance that will blow you away.
I wish I could sound like I’m not gushing about everything about the show, but if you appreciate… I dunno… good things in life… like you’ve ever read a Hemingway novel or ever appreciated good whiskey or hell, ever seen a pretty girl in a pretty summer dress, you’ll easily appreciate this show. The DVD is Google-able for around $30 yet the list price of $45 more than makes sense for a show of this quality. A few more extras, maybe some screen tests from the cast, would have gone a long way. But this is without a doubt THE show to watch or start watching. I implore you to get up out of the chair and run – not walk – to the nearest place this is sold as it is simply the best DVD purchase you’ll make this summer.