When I was a kid I grew up watching the Bob Newhart Show, and I don’t mean the one that took place in a hotel. I mean the old school show where Bob was the psychologist in the big city. I remember watching that show and dreaming of New York (I had no idea the exterior shots of the buildings used in the show were from Chicago), over the years I’ve always had a huge place in my heart for the Big Apple. Whether it was being saved by Spiderman, slammed by Seinfeld, blown up by aliens, backdrop for my favorite Woody Allen movies, or my favorite action movies, New York is my “dream city,” as much as I’d love to live in San Francisco, if I was rich I’d spend a few years living in New York before I die. Heck… I even watch the Today Show most mornings mainly because it’s such a New York show.
It’s the New York from the 60s and 70s that I remember from my childhood, the one from French Connection, Midnight Cowboy, Annie Hall, Muppets Take Manhattan… You know the classics. I’m fascinated by the idea of a completely man-made place where endless concrete and steel serves as the doorway to America. That from one side of Manhattan to the other it’s completely covered with streets, buildings, shops, houses… No rolling hills or tree lines like we have here.
Enter AMC’s critically acclaimed drama, Mad Men which returns for its sixth season this Sunday, the latest chapter in the fictional history of New York. It’s the story of Don Draper and his struggles as he becomes one of Madison Avenue’s most celebrated ad men. The most compelling part of Mad Men is that Don is literally not who he seems to be. Spoilers aren’t needed, because it’s well known Don is really Dick Whitman, and has been hiding his identity ever since the real Don Draper was blown to bits in front of him in Korea. The ol dog-tag switcheroo and Dick becomes Don, and gets a ride home from the war with a Purple Heart. Don came back from the war and started writing copy for Sterling Cooper, a prestigious New York ad company that was wrangling huge 1960s companies such as Lucky Strikes and Kodiak. Years of lying about his identity and acting as Don Draper have turned this man into a brilliant schmoozer, the king of the board room. Seriously, Don Draper could sell cigarettes in a iron lung.
Mad Men is set in 1960 in the first season, and has subsequently moved forward in time over the tumultuous decade. Often the date is relayed through the events in the show, the Kennedy Assassination in the early seasons, and now the Civil Rights struggles has quickly become a hugely compelling storyline. It’s always done with genius and an eye for detail. Why do you think Mad Men won the Best Drama Emmy 4 years straight? I’ll tell you right now, it’s not because this is some stuffy intellectual show. This is the essence of the human condition, reflected through the lens of one of the most important times in history… And it’s SO New York. It’s got beatniks and junkies and smoke-filled offices filled with drunken sex and infidelity. It’s got smokey bars and taxi rides, high-rise apartments and back-alley infidelity… And I’ll tell you what else Mad Men‘s got. Joanie.
Like I said, season 6 of Mad Men starts this Sunday night, and season 5 was just put on Netflix today, so if you need to catch up, now is the time. I’ve got it queued up and ready to go. While I’ll admit the show has lost a bit of what made it great in the beginning, the pitches, the products, the Draper… I absolutely love how the story has evolved, things change, people die, while Don gets even more rich and powerful, his inability to keep his “Dick his pants” so to speak gets harder and harder. I guess that joke does work both ways.
If you look hard, you’ll even notice a similarity between the Bob Newhart Show and Mad Men, and that’s the AWESOME sunken floor in the Drapers’ new house. It’s a gorgeous house that we get a good tour of in the opening shots of season 5… Right before Sally (Don’s teenage daughter) goes all creepy-sexual over daddy’s new 20-something wife half-naked in bed. This show is SO good. I’m tired of pleading with people that haven’t watched it yet. Your loss! I’ll see you all Sunday night when we’re all glued to the TV.
And yes, I’ll be watching it without cable.