Set in the days when men were men, dames were broads and everyone could hold their liquor, AMC's original drama "Mad Men" is a striking look at a New York ad agency circa 1960. (The name comes from Madison Avenue, where the advertising industry was centered.)
In addition to the usual kind of office intrigue and personal problems you'd expect from a high-concept serial drama, "Mad Men" really revels in early-1960s culture. Everyone smokes, all the time, everywhere. They guzzle booze before, during and after work. And what would a lunch meeting be without a pitcher of Bloody Marys?
One of my favorite lines came after the ad agency's creative director gave a bravura presentation to a client. His boss, impressed, marvelled: "I don't know if you were drunk, or not drunk." You know, whatever it takes to close the deal.
The show is simply gorgeous, a period-perfect visual feast. The costumes and sets are great, but even more impressive are the props the characters get to play with -- cocktail glasses, cigarette lighters, fountain pens. (The show's creators are clearly proud of their accomplishments in art direction, and rightfully so; the website is filled with behind-the-scenes tidbits, and each episode ends with a brief explanation of 1960s culture.)
Unfortunately, "Mad Men's" one failing is in sometimes taking the history lesson a bit too far, going for easy jokes or trying to make big statements: The ad agency won't employ Jews, sexual harassment runs rampant, pregnant women drink and smoke, kids don't wear seatbelts. Historic context is one thing -- and I appreciate the attempt at accuracy -- but we don't need to be beaten over the head with the obvious to see How Much Things Have Changed.
Come to think of it, if everyone drank and smoke and never wore seatbelts, how did anyone survive to see 1970?
Still, it's a minor quibble. "Mad Men" is for the most part an enjoyable drama and a really rewarding peek into the stylish and smokey world of 1960s advertising.
"Mad Men" Thursdays, 10 p.m., AMC Grade: B+