Golly, I’m sure there’s a latin word for it, but there’s a certain amount of mourning one has to go through when a TV series ends. Mad Men has just done that.
It’s finished. Ended. Complete. Over.
And yes, I do feel bereft. Over the past eight years, Mad Men has become part of my life: the characters, the sets (fuelling my passion for anything 60s and 70s), the music. And now I have the harsh realisation that I will never watch a new episode, yet I still have that elated feeling that the final episode gave me. I think of the final scene and can’t help but smile. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here.
But now that the series has drawn to a close in spectacular fashion, is it possible that there has never been a bad episode of Mad Men? And if not, does Matthew Weiner’s 1960s period drama have a legitimate claim to be considered the Greatest Television Series of All Time?
I can’t blame newcomers who find it hard to believe that across 92 episodes there’s not a single misfire. And I’m sure there are naysayers who ask, is it possible that there’s never been a good episode of Mad Men?
But the extraordinary hypothesis that Mad Men has lodged a perfect record is informed by something more than personal taste. When critics identify a bad episode of an otherwise outstanding television show, the failure is usually the product of writers having run out of ideas for plots. Rarely an episode will flounder due to a poor acting performance, unless that actor is a guest star — and Mad Men has always attracted top-notch Hollywood talent even in bit parts. Even in those uncommon instances when an otherwise impeccable regular cast member struggles with a specific piece of material, the real culprit is probably the script for offering up uncharacteristic lines or subplots — which can be stumbling blocks for even the most accomplished thespians.
But Mad Men rarely encounters problem plotlines because, frankly, there’s very little creator Matthew Weiner seems to care less about than plot. You could call that “patience with story”, but it’s more a matter of Weiner choosing to focus his energies on two very specific elements of the medium: mood and character.
In terms of mood, it’s nearly impossible for even the show’s biggest detractors to find fault in the elegant and era-specific production design and the haunting, beautifully-composed cinematography. And in terms of character, it’s very difficult to find an example where a member of the cast, regardless of the size or importance of the role, behaves in a way that rings false to the time period or the broader crux of humanity. Each verbal aside or subtle facial tic betrays the trauma, loneliness, and anxiety festering beneath the surface of post-war prosperity — a suffering that is only aggravated and perpetuated by the repression mandated by the mores of polite society in the 60s. The show’s less enthusiastic viewers may snarkily refer to these personal miseries as #firstworldproblems — however the desperate need for affection and the profound loss that’s felt in its absence are universal to the human experience. The audience could be watching characters watch each other watch paint dry — and occasionally episodes centering around tiny administrative conflicts are just as banal — but even the most commonplace occurrences play a role in the slow poignant unfolding of decade-long story arcs defined by dashed ambitions, repressed desires, and unfulfillable emotional voids .As the lover pointed out after watching series one, it’s the sort of programme where something happens without you actually noticing. Perhaps that’s what puts a lot of people off the programme, there’s no immediacy to it. Like real life, things unfold at a normal pace. Ok, so there are times where things happen and smack you in the face with a wet kipper, but then life plays dirty like that and each episode really does make you think about how your life could be, is, and how it shouldn’t be.
That’s to say nothing of the majority of the episodes, which are so full of humor, tenderness, and heartbreak that audiences may see their own fears and anxieties reflected back at them is a rare feat in any medium.
I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t watched it, but give it a go – you’ll soon become embroiled and if this isn’t an advert, I don’t know what is.
That, and come on – can you find any one more beautiful than Jon Hamm?
The Knitty Gritty
Available on: DVD, iTunes, Amazon Prime and I believe you lucky people in the US can watch it on Netflix.
Original Run (TV): 2007 – 2015