The accolades keep coming in! The Chicago Tribune’s television columnist, Maureen Ryan, gives her list of the best shows of the year, and as we’re coming to expect, Mad Men is number one.
Ryan writes with particular insight about the show (emphasis added):
“Mad Men” (AMC): In interviews, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner has talked about how, in his experience, people rarely say what they really think. That’s true in any era, and the intelligent exploration of that core idea meant that this enormously impressive drama was far more than just a pitch-perfect period piece about men and women in the Manhattan ad game of 1960. The characters in this extraordinarily well-acted “Mad Men” ensemble not only don’t say what they think — they often don’t know what lurks in the corners of their own hearts. And it’s frankly easier (and more fun) to have a round of highballs than to try and figure that out. Don Draper (the masterful Jon Hamm), is an expert at excavating emotion for the purposes of ad campaigns, yet he has purposely tried to erase the wounds of his own heartbreaking past. But even the apparently perfect life of Don and his wife Betty (January Jones) is full of frustration, evasion and suppressed anger. Yet when these fascinating “Mad Men” characters do connect — with each other, or with their own deepest longings — the impact recalls the best of “The Sopranos,” which Weiner used to write for. They’re a mystery, the people of the Sterling Cooper ad agency; their actions are frequently surprising yet never seem arbitrary. And I for one can’t wait to see what they do next.
These are things I wish I saw more reviewers acknowledge; that, as fabulous as the style, fashion, and zeitgeist of the period piece are, MM is fundamentally about people who cannot communicate and long for more. Longing is the heart of MM, and perhaps it is best set in a more repressed era because we can see the longing more clearly, more poignantly. In the women, especially, they long for a freedom they don’t know is available; “They want what they haven’t seen,” to quote Peggy in a particularly telling moment. That might be harder to portray in the present-day, when people have seen so much. Yet longing is universal, and not confined to those hairstyles and all that smoking and drinking.