The skies are clean and bright outside while I sit behind a mahogany desk in my shapely, icily air-conditioned office. I call in my secretary, affectionately known in the office as “Cupcake”, to dictate a letter. As the phones ring outside, I swerve in my Corinthian leather chair and light a cigarette. Nothing is better than planting your ass in that soft, buttery cloud of a chair, if it weren’t for that persistent howling outside. Repetitive, almost like caterwauling…
With a spine-cracking jolt, the fantasy dropped. I had no office, no buttery-ass chair and no cupcakes. I’ve been sitting in my Super Dave beanbag chair this whole time. The howling I heard was my brother’s cat, Rick Cheeseburger, reminding me that his litter box is full of shit. My glamourous dream world has been swallowed up by a temperamental cat’s bowels.
Watching Mad Men will do that to you. Reality seems like a cruel joke after spending an hour in its sleazy fantasy world.
For those not in the loop, Mad Men is a TV series airing on AMC, detailing the personal and professional lives of the men and women of the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency in the early 60’s. Central amongst them is Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the company’s creative director, whose closet contains more skeletons than the 1929 Disney short “The Skeleton Dance”. Despite his heavy drinking, loveless marriage and absentee parenting, Draper still has a twinge of morality that frequently comes into conflict with his life and work. His attempts to maintain a loyalty to his clients, co-workers, wife and children (in that order) are the series’ main lure, as he just seems to sink deeper and deeper into a personal hell. Equally compelling are the company’s young blood, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), who embody both sides of the game. Olson is flawed, but retains her humanity; Pete is as vacuous as they come.
The show’s received a lot of attention for depicting an unflinchingly sexist club, but there’s a lot more going on than empty shock. The lewdness and sideways glances at every woman’s butt feel real, as do the the rivers of cigarette smoke and the constant alcoholism. The debate about Mad Men’s factuality is unimportant because it is written and performed in such a way that it seldom seems implausible. No one would dare claim Mad Men to be reality, as it’s arguably as much of a soap opera as Dallas was. The melodramatic aspects are part of the fun; so much so that you almost forget how tight the writing really is.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean a litter box.