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Mad Men Watch: Lucky Strike

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I’ve decided to add AMC’s advertising drama Mad Men to the Watch rotation this summer, although, truth be told, it’s been so long since I watched the pilot that this first one is going to be a bit more of a Mad Men Did-You-Watch post.

When I first saw the pilot, I was worried it was a case of pilot-itis, the too-good-to-be-true first episode that the following episodes can’t live up to. I’ve seen next week’s as well, and it holds up, but I was still shocked that what I was watching came from AMC. It looked like an HBO level of money went into that pilot, and while I’m sure there are ways of working around the expense–fewer location shoots than an HBO show, for instance–I still suspect the people at AMC sold their gold fillings to pay for this one.

I had a few quibbles with this episode, most of them having to do with leaning a little too hard on the this-is-what-it-was-like-back-then statements. In particular, one or two very obvious signals that art director Salvatore is closeted is plenty, thank you. Still, the evocation of period was amazing, not just in the loving visuals–the dark clubrooms, the modernist furniture, the lush clouds of cigarette smoke–but that feeling of being at a cusp of history, not quite the ’50s, not quite the ’60s. You have the sex, but not the women’s liberation (the gynecologist dispenses both birth control and misogynistic judgment); the end of the Ike era but not quite the beginning of the New Frontier. (This is 1960, and the Kennedy-Nixon campaign will figure in to this season. When I interviewed Matthew Weiner for my column earlier this summer, he noted that in that election, Kennedy hired a modern advertising firm, while Nixon with with an old-fashioned PR agency. By 1968, Nixon learned his lesson.) And while I found Don Draper to be a bit of a dud at first, it becomes clear he’s hiding some dark goings on behind that placid half-smile.

Anyone watch it out there? Or have I not made the sale yet?

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