Mad Men – Cool kids on the block

Loughlin Sweeney 9 July 2012

Loughlin Sweeney tells us how Mad Men is keeping it cool, as the ‘60s heat up…

The culmination of the latest series of Mad Men last week was a slow burner compared to the massive upheavals rocking the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce for most of this season.

Overall, however, season five was yet another success for the consistently excellent programme, currently enjoying its highest ratings ever.

It has become almost a truism that each subsequent season of Mad Men is hailed as the shows greatest. Much like its charismatic leading man, it manages to continually re-invent itself in the face of the changing world of the Sixties, without compromising the identity of characters we’ve now followed across a six-year storyline.

In the season premiere, the suave Don Draper hits the big 4-0, and, while intent on starting a new life in which he prioritises his happiness above his working life, he nonetheless lapses into a midlife crisis amid concerns that he’s losing his edge as a genius ad man. The way in which Don deals with this issue is, according to some reviewers, the major question driving the season: can the new Don Draper, family man, really exist alongside the old hard-drinking, womanizing advertising king we’ve all come to know and love?

It’s 1966-67, and the firm is still reeling from the loss of the Lucky Strike account in season four. At the office, slimy socialite Pete Campbell is the rising star, bringing in a slew of new business and keeping the company afloat almost singlehanded.

However, he’s also growing increasingly unhappy with his suburban home life in Connecticut, and misses the noise (and indiscretions) of the city. Bookish Lane Pryce is keeping the company’s accounts in order, but his financial acumen doesn’t seem to translate quite so well to his home life and his personal problems permeate this season’s episodes, building to an alarming conclusion. Chief copywriter Peggy Olsen’s feelings of being under-appreciated are compounded by the arrival of hot-shot copywriter Michael Ginsberg, and this season we learn just how far Peggy can be pushed. In addition to hiring a Jewish copywriter, this season also sees a black secretary coming onboard at SCDP – all evidence that the privileged WASP-y world of Madison Avenue is changing.

As we enter the ‘real’ 1960s (the last episode leaves off mere months before 1967’s Summer of Love), we see the Mad Men contending with the drug culture, feeling increasingly out of touch with contemporary youth movements (Don memorably can’t get his head around The Beatles’ Revolver), and the welcome return of previous seasons’ characters including alcoholic-turned-teetotaller Freddy Rumsen and Bohemian-turned-Hare Krishna Paul Kinsey.

At its heart, however, this is a show about human interaction, and it is a testament to the strength of its writing and performances that viewers have remained interested in the drama, even against as compelling a backdrop as mid-Sixties Manhattan. Highly recommended viewing.

Loughlin Sweeney