Fathers and Sons and "Mad Men"
You hear about the “sophomore slump” all the time. You know, when a singer’s second album doesn’t quite have the punch of the first one. Or when the It Boy's second book seems to be lacking the raw power of his initial effort. It makes you wonder if creative genius is fleeting. I know I was particularly worried about that very issue going into the second season of AMC’s critically acclaimed program “Mad Men.”
“Mad Men” is a fantastic show about a Madison Avenue ad agency in the early 60’s. Though the show wasn't a breakout hit last season, it recently garnered 16 Emmy nominations—more than any other drama on television this year. I kept wondering if this second season could possibly live up to last year: Should I even bother watching? Would I just get frustrated when the quality of the show declined?
My worry was for naught. If anything, the sophomore season of “Mad Men” is even more enticing. It’s not just the fall-down good looks of leading man Jon Hamm. Or even the uncanny way the show captures the 60’s in everything from clothing and office décor to hairstyles and dialogue. The strength of “Mad Men” goes beyond easy-to-list bullet points.
Each episode gets at big issues we all face. You know, words that usually begin with capital letters: “Identity,” “Family,” “Guilt,” and “Death.” But the brilliance of “Mad Men” is that these ideas aren’t tackled in grandiose, sweeping scenes. Instead, the show captures these issues in the fine details and the tiny quiet moments that happen around all of us, each and every day.
In last night’s episode, the main character, Don, sits on the sofa with his wife drinking the least bloody Bloody Mary I’ve ever seen in my life. His wife begins to tell him that he’s too easy on their young son, not strict enough. “You think you’d be the man you are today if your father didn’t hit you?” she asks. And it’s not until two or three days later when she needles him again that he answers her matter-of-factly. His own dad beat the hell out of him and all it did was make him fantasize about killing him.
It’s a shocking answer, and sad. And mostly it just feels real. And the moment is even more poignant because Don has just finished talking to his son about his dad.
“What did he look like?” the son asks.
“Like me, but bigger,” Don answers.
“And he died?”
“Yes, a long time ago.”
“Then we have to get you a new daddy,” Don’s son concludes.
I fear I’m not doing the show justice in my description, but I’ll tell you that “Mad Men” doesn’t as much entertain as it pulls you into the lives of characters who seem to live and breathe as concretely as we do. If anything, the second season has surpassed the first because we have gotten to know its characters even more intimately. If you do yourself a favor and watch, you’ll be surprised at how much these people and their intricacies will begin to get under you skin and inside your head.
(photo credit: © 2008 Frank Ockenfels/AMC)