Monday, 16 August 2010

Mad for it

Hurrah for modern technology enabling one to enjoy television programmes when (and where) one chooses.

Current addiction is the remarkable US series Mad Men, a saga of satisfyingly Dickensian scope and complexity set in the high-energy world of a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the early 1960s.

It's one of those shows that would remain compulsively viewable if the sound failed, so sumptuous is the conjuring up of the styles of the day: the hair, suits, furniture, specs, hats and, wafting through every scene, the billowing clouds of cigarette smoke.

These are the styles and 'looks' that I pored over as a child in back numbers of Readers' Digest and National Geographic, featuring in mouth-watering colour the station wagons, refrigerators and washing machines that symbolised the prosperity of Eisenhower's America. Everything bigger, bolder and more exciting than the pint-sized versions available to cash-strapped British consumers.

At the centre of the story is alpha-male ad executive Don Draper, all slicked-back hair, chiselled features and sharp, cynical intelligence. Perfect job, beautiful blonde wife, two children, gleaming home in the suburbs - oh yes, and a mistress plus (early in series 1) a mistress-in-waiting.

No wonder he sometimes skips the early-morning push-up routine.

Don, finger magically on the pulse of the times, is selling dreams of prosperity and well-being, motivated by some as yet only hinted-at compulsion to escape his past. And yet despite his trophy wife, home and possessions, he's restless and insecure. Hence the Dickens reference.

Mad Men is funny, sharp, perceptive and absorbing. It's going to keep me intrigued all winter....

And rather uncomfortable as well.

I think I'll fix myself an old-fashioned and light up a Lucky.

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