Last night’s ‘Mad Men’ review

by Lynn Connolly

Last night’s premiere of season two of Mad Men on BBC4 was one of the best shows I’ve seen of late and I’m now just really hoping I can catch up with season one online somewhere! So if, like me, you’ve never seen it before, it’s basically an American drama series that’s set on Madison Avenue in New York during the late 1950s and early 60s.

There’s intrigue, back stabbing, false identities and complex men and women with one thing in common; their lives are changing as America enters a new era and some cope well with that while others are sinking.

The plot centres around the Sterling Cooper advertising agency and one of its partners, Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm. He’s a high-flying advertising exec, and we follow his life including the people who matter most to him and the clients who’re in and out of the office…

Mad Men has deservedly received extensive critical acclaim, particularly for its faithful representation of historical authenticity, complete with – often – racism, prejudice and bigotry that many would possibly find distasteful, but to not include it would negate the portrayal of the time period.

The characters are all interesting too with their various foibles; for instance, Don Draper’s a confident man who ‘knows how to handle women’, or so he thinks, but when in last night’s episode he was faced with two women who weren’t prepared to wait for women’s lib to allow them the right to voice an opinion, Don was flummoxed and didn’t quite know what to do about it.

Don’s home life is typical of the time; his stay at home wife Betty is, on the face of it, dutiful and loyal, but the housewife stuff – the cleaning, cooking and making their home the envy of their neighbours – is slowly sapping her will to live. So in a bid to make her life more interesting, she started small by taking riding lessons, however, as her forays into the big wide world expand, she’s learning that flirting with men will get you lots of things you need.

Batting her eyelashes at a mechanic got her a freebie fan belt, but worryingly, Betty’s encounter with a former friend – who is now a ‘call girl’ – has given Betty more ideas about ‘spicing’ up her life. However, when Betty sought to test out her sexual horizons on Don by wearing stockings on Valentine’s Day, his only response was a decidedly unenthusiastic “Wow” that was uttered in a tone that would’ve been the same if Betty had just announced one of the washers on a tap needed replacing.

A character who’s more than happy to play the traditional wifey though is Trudy who’s only ambition is to have a baby but sadly for her, she’s married to the odious Pete who’s an ambitious and seriously unpleasant man who’ll step on and over anyone who gets in his way.

In case you missed it last night, it’s repeated tonight at 11.20pm on BBC2 and it really is well worth watching. Here’s the US trailer for the show that gives you a glimpse of the characters and plots…

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Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.