February, 1962

by Tom Watson
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It is particularly tempting for me to relish the details of style and fact embedded in the non-drama that unfolds Sunday evenings as Mad Men, particularly in this new second season launch tonight. The ad boys return on Valentine’s Day, 1962 – exactly a week before my arrival in the New York suburbs of that period. Details are worthy. Stylish costumes and sets can hold the eye for a bit. But I do think this series – so praised by critics and prize committees – needs to introduce a narrative that goes beyond middle class self-loathing, drinking, philandering, and bad copywriting.

But indulge me for a moment in my 1962 worship. That particular week is fertile territory that I’m sure the writers will explore. On the 14th, Jackie Kennedy gave a television tour of the White House that has become an iconic piece of black and white footage. On the 20th, John Glenn made his historic flight in orbit of the earth. The next day, the first New York Mets reported for training camp – and I reported for duty at Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville. It snowed buckets, as it did that Valentine’s Day (see how obsessed Matthew Weiner really is by checking the weather on tonight’s episode). There were a bunch of ’62 babies with names you may know: Darryl Strawberry and Jodie Foster, Roger Clemens and Axl Rose, Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise, Jon Stewart and Sheryl Crow, Ralph Fiennes and Jon Bon Jovi.

Lance Mannion suggests that Mad Men is not about the time it’s set in, that “all the attention to period detail is a trick.” But I’m afraid Weiner and his crew – portrayed as accuracy-obsessed in the Times magazineare trying too say something about the mythical Camelot years in New York, and failing. As Lance suggests, the inclusion of all the “fads of the time are meant to place us in an alien world.” And to this New Yorker, it is alien; that is to say, outside of the costumes, Mad Men doesn’t look like the New York of the 60s. They’re trying a bit more this year: promotional pictures have Don Draper in the real Grand Central Terminal (not Station, as so many Hollywood writers mistakenly describe it – Grand Central Station is the subway stop below the grand and glorious terminal). I found myself on the Times Square shuttle this morning, and it’s all decked out in Mad Men promotional decals: ersatz 1962 Grand Central in the subway in Grand Central – makes the marketing mind spin. Robert Morse’s Bert Cooper would never have greenlighted the campaign.

Over at Basket of Kisses, the best of the obsessive Mad Men blogs, the tea leaves for Season Two have sprawled naked in the bottom of the cup for months. And the proprietors don’t like our house theory of Mad Men, either. “Deb and I are a little sick of hearing how this is a show where nothing happens,” wrote Roberta Lipp. And may be she’s right – stuff does happen. Accounts are won and lost. Affairs stir, fire, and fizzle. Health erodes. The elevators run up and down. Here’s the complete list, a real service for those who need reminding.

Still, as my Mad Men blogging partner M.A. Peel argues, “it’s still the perfect summer fare, and the sixties are the place to be.” That’s why we’re here! We may think it’s a plot-starved train wreck of a drama – but it’s a damned good-looking plot-starved train wreck of a drama, and we enjoy the critical company. “How many times can you watch the show’s star, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), furrow his brow, smoke an herbal cigarette while pretending to smoke a real one, and take a long, pensive pull on a fake alcoholic drink, and convince yourself that this is real drama as opposed to a televised version of an interior decoration magazine?” asks Brendan Bernhard in the Sun [via Jim Wolcott].

Here at newcritics, the answer is clear: all season long.

So let’s get back to February, 1962. The Beatles have signed with Brian Epstein three weeks earlier and are playing the Cavern. Bob Feller and Jackie Robinson have just been elected to the Hall of Fame. There are 500 military advisers in Vietnam. Gene Chandler’s Duke of Earl is the big single. And there’s trouble – of some sort – at Sterling Cooper.

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  • thebluegirl
    July 27, 2008

    The elevators run up and down.

    lol. That's about as deep and meaningful as this show ever gets to me.

    Not sure how much I'll be able to participate in the live blogging tonight. I have to watch it downstairs and run upstairs to comment.

    Now, if I had an elevator here and it went up and down, it might be a different story.

    Have fun, guys! I fall into the Wolcott camp on this show. Don't really like it, but I'll be watching.

    Sigh.

    p.s. I had to register as “thebluegirl” cuz “bluegirl” was already taken. Waaaa?

  • July 27, 2008

    Yes, just dropping by to say that I won't be able to join in the fun this week. I'm writing the last few pages of my book tonight, so I can't afford to take a break. Hopefully I can join in the fun next time.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Hi all – how much obvious foreshadowing of later events in the series will tonight's premiere contain?
    The over/under is 46.

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    I'm sure after the first couple I'll pass out from being hit over the head so hard.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Horse-jumping accident
    Heart attack
    Barbiturate habit
    Freak copy machine injury

    …to name just a few

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    I like the “freak copy machine injury”…

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Certainly a body part will be copied in the near future at some office bash.

  • July 27, 2008

    Was Pepsi new in the sixties? Must go Google

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Forgetting a meeting!
    Draper's slipping to Watsonian levels of corporate competence.

  • July 27, 2008

    NOOO–Pepsi is from 1903. I had no idea it was that old

  • July 27, 2008

    “Air travel is too expensive to waste on your wife”—And we are back in top form, folks.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    BTW, there was a big air crash in March, 1962 – chances we'll see that next week?

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    Aren't the young guys young?

  • July 27, 2008

    As though they are some “Fresh version of us”–that's a great line

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    The budget is obviously bigger this year. The backdrops outside the offices are photographic 3D, rather than cut off by closed blinds. Already, a location shooting with the horses.

    Of course, some NY locations would really help.

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    Definitely more money.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Yeah, doesn't SC already have a buncha young guys?

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    Nice, icky parallels hitting us over the head.

  • jameswolcott
    July 27, 2008

    Sterling Cooper, still Madison Avenue's laziest ass ad agency. I'm still trying to determine the source of stress in Draper's worklife, considering the office's snail pace.

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    Yes, he even doesn't have to cover for his poverty-stricken past anymore.

  • July 27, 2008

    Yike, Don is really coming apart at the seams—

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    It's the ennui, man – the ennui!

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Let's see if Jackie Kennedy works on ole Don….

  • July 27, 2008

    I happen to know that not too long ago, Jackie's tour of the White House was one of the top programs requested at The Museum of Television & Radio–

    Nice connecting conceit here, just like the Seinfeld episode when Will and Jack kiss on the Today Show

  • jameswolcott
    July 27, 2008

    Everybody's line readings are strangely timbreless. Packed in cotton padding.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    18 months later – what's changed? Can anyone tell me what's changed? Don's still “on the edge.” His wife is still in the throes of “existential stupid.” The firm's still lousy. Sexism reigns. What is new here?

  • July 27, 2008

    Oh my gosh, one of the Clancy brothers is applying for copywriter

  • jameswolcott
    July 27, 2008

    Shouldn't Peggy be less robotic by now?

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Hee hee. Good one.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    She so wishes she had a single golden ounce of Shirley MacLaine.

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    Didn't Don push for Duck to come to the firm in the first place? I guess that's the change in 18 months.

  • July 27, 2008

    Stepford Cooper is very strange. Well, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956—maybe it's really Pod Peggy, Pod Don

  • July 27, 2008

    Okay, who did say “sex sells”?

  • jameswolcott
    July 27, 2008

    Gallantry isn't dead, at least in the elevator.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    The Esso – nice reference.

  • July 27, 2008

    Belle du Draper in her dreams?

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    Betty annoys me to no end. Partially because I think the actress is just not very good.

  • jameswolcott
    July 27, 2008

    That overhead shot at the mailbox must mean something–but what?

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    God, I think these explanations at the end to be so obnoxious. How many times do we need to be hit on the head with what happened?

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Yeah, especially “things have changed.”

    Ridiculous!

  • clairehelene7
    July 27, 2008

    My favorite was, “It's been 14 months and Don is older and feeling it.” It's been a year and now he's 36 instead of 35. He's aging quickly. Sheesh.

  • July 27, 2008

    The color of the hedges in that scene and the red of the mailbox were entering Pushing Daisies territory.

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    He's still haunted and searching at 36.

    Most promising new character?

    The mechanic, hands down. What's his home life like?

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    That was so clearly a soundstage.

  • July 27, 2008

    It seems like a crutch for Weiner. If he hasn't gotten his point across, he knows he can just tell us about them.

  • July 27, 2008

    Oh, we forgot to speculate who Don is sending O'Hara to–

  • tomwatson
    July 27, 2008

    Well, I always enjoy the encore presentation – until the clever opening credits are over. Then it's good night!

  • James S.
    July 27, 2008

    Did anyone read the Sunday Times biz section today?

    I think I found the year 2035 remake of “Mad Men”…

    “In depositions and court filings in the second suit — ultimately settled under undisclosed terms — Ms. Epstein and other Endeavor employees described office escapades that included rampant pot-smoking, obscene hazing at corporate retreats, sexual frolics on desks, and one agent demanding that his assistants book prostitutes for him.”

    Those poor souls had no idea of the impending cultural tsunami that would totally change their world…

    Right.

  • tomwatson
    July 28, 2008

    Hahaha – yes, I await that cultural tsunami with great interest indeed. I may have to put my narrow ties away.

  • Thirteen1031
    July 28, 2008

    Pepsi wasn't new, as you've learned, but (and perhaps you already know all this, but hey, indulge me!) this is one of those layers and nuisances that makes the show so glorious. First, remember that for someone like Dan Draper, a depression era kid, sodas were special. They may have only cost a penny, but a kid rarely had that penny and when they did, it was precious. If they had the money, parents bought much needed milk, not indulgent soda for their kids to drink. By the 50's however, that age of prosperity, the kids were taking sodas for granted; they had the money to buy one anytime they wanted one. These “kids” that they're taking about in the episode are the sort who were raised on soda, not milk, and pour it on their cereal. It implies that they take for granted what Draper sees as a special. Further, soda at that time was seen as a kid's drink and coffee an adult drink. When a kid was given coffee rather than milk or soda, he/she was an adult.. To pour soda on their cereal emphasizes that these “kids” refuse to grow up.

    Also (and, once again, here's the wonder of this show, that this one line has so many layers), Pepsi had started a new campaign in the 60's making itself hip and, yes, youthful. In fact, it beat out Coke because of it. It was the drink of a “new generation.” That was the ad slogan. And the ad campaign involved things like pop art to make it more hip. In fact, your googling didn't go far enough, because the title of this episode comes from, yes, Pespi. To quote:

    “1961: Pepsi further refines its target audience, recognizing the increasing importance of the younger, post-war generation. “Now it's Pepsi, for those who think young” defines youth as a state of mind as much as a chronological age, maintaining the brand's appeal to all market segments.

    1962
    Pepsi receives its new logo, the sixth in Pepsi history. The “serrated” bottle cap logo debuts, accompanying the brand's groundbreaking “Pepsi Generation” ad campaign.”

    By 1963, Pepsi would be telling the baby-boomers that they were the “Pepsi Generation,” connecting themselves with all things young, new, vibrant and hip. All of which is probably a lot more than you wanted to know–and maybe did know, but I do adore the incredible richness of this show. One line says it all.

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  • July 28, 2008

    Thanks Thirteen, I do find this interesting. I completely forget about the “Pepsi Generation,” which was still around in the seventies, when I heard it. Of course I didn't realize the import of that slogan. Poor Don Draper–he is so not part of the drink of a “new generation.”

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