Mad Men Season 5 on Netflix

We just finished viewing Mad Men Season 5, which we came close to bingeing on, as Netflix only posted it recently. It is such an engrossing, well done series. The acting, directing, writing, are all done by people who care about their “product”.

Nearly every scene carries emotional weight. The interactions are often emotionally, effectively disturbing, as good movies can sometimes disturb you. Weiner understands you don’t need special effects or fashionable distortions of story to keep the audience rapt.

With all that said the hollowness of the enterprise still bothers me. The characters are cardboard representations of societal stereotypes.

Another issue is “authenticity”. It is as though Weiner thinks if every detail were not correct about the era it would not be as good a show. He did not have to define the show as a Classic Comics journey through the recent pop culture past in America. But Mad Men is so obsessed with being surface authentic that it loses depth and human truth. You can hear the distracting ping of obsessive accuracy way too often.

Weiner and crew tell stories so well, and write character interactions so well, that they really did not need the prop of “surface correctness” to achieve authenticity. Given the chosen predicate of Mad Men though, with thin characters walking through a Disneyland of the horrible past, Mad Men is forced to resolve serious issues without applying serious weight to the issues – a default of pop media. Characters don’t reveal their essential humanity in the dialectic of drama, they, in soap opera fashion, go from crisis to crisis.

The real problem though is that the show ingratiates itself to contemporary audiences, making them feel superior to those bad old times. We have come so far and aren’t we great – look at how dumb people were before we came along. Mad Men expresses a sickly solicitousness, a winking flattery to the audience, assuming pre-approval for shared superiority. In the art world, there are some artists who do this, thinking they are insulated from scrutiny by the contemporary correctness of their views – assured of their seriousness by choice of attitude or subject matter.

(One funny outcome is that though the show is heavy handed in its condemnation of the past, Mad Men has created contemporary fashions based on what they supposedly condemn; watching a World War 11 movie and running out to buy a Hitler costume would be the paradoxical analogy. Mad Men has lines of goods milking those terrible times.)

When you like a show you feel more strongly about its disappointments. One is often moved by Mad Men, but we are being condescended to as well.