This was the first time I’ve ever watched Mad Men (I know, I’m behind the curve), so I was curious to see what all the hype was about. And after watching the pilot episode, I do understand why the show is so enormously popular. As the Atlantic Monthly article mentions, Mad Men is highly stylized, from the costumes to the settings, even down to the way the characters speak. It is clear from only a few minutes of watching, that every aspect of the show is very carefully thought out and executed to the point where the whole look and feel of it seems closer to watching a film than the average television drama. I understand now why so many people are calling shows like Mad Men and the Sopranos “Megamovies” rather than TV series. These shows have the production value of a high budget film, from the way they are shot to time and consideration that goes into the art direction.
Furthermore, the concept of the show is very thought provoking. I was at first shocked by the blatant sexism in the show’s characters, which seems exaggerated to the point where the writers are purposely testing our modern day conceptions of political correctness. I found myself getting angry at all of the characters for being so narrow minded, especially Don Draper, who I thought originally I was supposed to empathize with. When I saw that he had a wife and kids at the end (great twist to get us to want to watch the next episode), all of my notions that he was simply a well off bachelor were pulled out from under me. I then wanted to empathize with the new secretary character, but when she ends up being just as passive and accepting of women’s roles as the rest of the men in the office (making a pass at Draper and accepting the younger advertising exec into her room late at night), I really didn’t know where my sympathies would lie. The only female character that was at all empowered in the show was the Jewish department store owner, who finally gave me some satisfaction when she spoke to Draper on an equal level. I had the sudden urge to shake all of the other female characters and say, “Stop letting men treat you this way!” (surprised by my sudden burst of feminist rage).
However, I then realized that I felt frustrated for a reason. This is what women’s roles were, and to an extent, still are in much of the business world today. The episode stuck with me long after watching and I am still thinking about my strong reaction. I suppose this is why so many people keep coming back to Mad Men for more.
I also have never watched Breaking Bad. However, I had trouble getting into the plot of the show. I think that has something to do with the fact that I didn’t start with the first episode, a testament to the importance of watching this type of show in order, from beginning to end. Unlike sitcoms, viewers cannot come in and out of “megamovies,” without missing essential plot points, just as one cannot miss entire pieces of feature films. As a result, I had difficulty sympathizing with the characters, feeling that I didn’t really know them. I also found the exaggerated camera angles and colors in the show to be distracting from what was going on. Even the characters themselves, were highly exaggerated almost to the point of being unrealistic, which took me out of the show (like the two meth addicts). Maybe this would change if I watched from the beginning…