What WHAP’s Watching

My friend Jon Weisman, over at Screen Jam, spent the summer hyping up “Mad Men”. When fall brought a host of new series, Weisman maintained — though he liked “Pushing Daisies” as much as me — that “Mad Men” was better than all of them.

I don’t take many of Jon’s pop culture suggestions lightly, we seem to agree on movies more often than not, and by God, the guy writes for Variety. But I did take this one lightly. Maybe it was because the show was on AMC. Maybe it was because the creator, Matthew Weiner, had previously written for a show I never sunk my teeth into, “The Sopranos”. Maybe I didn’t think 1960 America intrigued me very much.

Well I was wrong. Thanks to the beauty of AMC marathons and TiVO, I am not more than halfway into the “Mad Men” series. And while I’m not ready to offer a “MM” vs. “PD” post yet, it certainly is forever in the pantheon of shows I will watch regularly. Other than the creator’s past, the show is relatively non-descript, especially star Jon Hamm, who plays the handsome, smart and witty Don Draper and Draper’s wife, the beautiful January Jones, who you’ll only recognize from “American Wedding”.

The show is extremely smart, each character has wit and a host of quips that give the show a voice of its own. It’s also extremely detailed, never forgetting its Manhattan setting or connection to the 1960 advertising business. It turns out the ad business is an extremely interesting one, and the show’s run-ins with different clients — from Lucky Strike post-Reader’s Digest to Richard Nixon himself, is wonderful.

If anything holds the show back for me, it’s that I care much more about the Draper storylines than those of the ensemble cast. Draper’s rival Pete Campbell, boss Roger Sterling and secretary Peggy Olson are all given off-shoot plotlines, and during them, I’m just wondering what’s happening with Draper’s job, his wife, and his mistress(es).

Matthew Weiner created “Mad Men” before he wrote an episode on “The Sopranos”, and when the show was offered to HBO (and presumably other networks), it was turned down. Kudos to AMC, words I never thought I’d write, for recognizing brilliance in a year that lacked much of it.

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