Darren Stevens or Cary Grant?

Tonight is the second episode of what has already become something of a touchstone series this summer, AMC’s Mad Men. To be sure, what has drawn viewers and thoughtful critics – like our own M.A. Peel – is the pure style of the thing. Matthew Weiner’s vision comes as an onslaught of slim-cut suits, deep colors, Barcelona chairs, panelled walls and office chic. It’s just a thing of beauty to look at.

And really, isn’t there just as rich a vein in our television and film consciousness about exactly this group of people – the same depth of cultural experience that both informed and propelled The Sopranos?

Not mobsters, of course, but the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), North by Northwest (1959), The Apartment (1960), and Bewitched (1964). We knew Tony Soprano so well because we knew Michael Corleone and Jimmy Conway; we know Don Draper because we knew Roger O. Thornhill and Darren Stevens.

Immediate recognition moved audience units with the Sopranos; recognition coupled with deep style in sets, clothing, music and dialogue. The same phenomenon is at work with Mad Men. And New Yorkers have an even deeper cultural recognition – that’s our city a generation or so ago; those are our buildings, that’s our suburb. Hey, that’s my buddy’s dad writing catchy copy and hoisting that Lucky Strike.

Tonight’s episode, “Ladies Room,” is centered on the women of Mad Men, or so the previews will have us believe. So let’s settle in, shake those swizzle sticks and start making with the observations. Like Draper on his good days, I’m off to catch the 5:54 from Grand Central. We begin at 10.

As we get ready and grab the beverage of our choice, here’s a quick thought from marketing blogger Josh Morgan:

It’s full of stereotypes. It’s offensive. It’s brilliant. I may be jumping the gun in saying that, but after watching the first episode I’m hooked. If they can keep up the momentum it will be a great show and could become great watercooler (wow who says that anymore) fodder for those of us in marketing.

Well said, and here we go. Who likes those opening credits?

Hey, it’s the Stevens and the Tates – only there are no yucks and no wrinkled noses. I vaguely remember the kind of tableside restaurant service portrayed here.

“Stoned on martinis” doesn’t seem like whitebread 1960 executive dialogue to me, perhaps I’m wrong.

Two references in two weeks to black restaurant workers and their second class status.

OK, I found that rather inane – “who’s in there” to her sleeping husband. Thank God we’re back to the office where the real stuff happens.

And Dick Nixon. “An admission wrapped in an abstraction” – yeah, that was Nixon’s problem.

The frat pack isn’t terribly clever – but the sets are. Hitler youth indeed. Cartoons, they are. Best fill them out or they’ll kill the show. Loved the old coffee shop, though.

Ah, no seatbelts of course – another reminder of thos perilous times. That and how quickly a woman’s status can change. January Jones is a good actor, especially when she has no lame dialogue to deliver. Her character has real possibilities.

Throwing the television out of the window – ooooh, symbolism related to her lover’s well-being.

OK, a commercial – wanted to ask whether it’s apparent this show is having a tough time writing for women? I think so – at least, so far. The sexism is overbearing.

In her post today, Blue Girl tells the story of her own early agency days – though much later than the time period in question – when she found rampant sexism still in effect, during the Reagan Administration, shall we say.

…when men were real men and women were women who did feminine frilly womenly things.

I’ve been in advertising for more than 20 years. Not old enough to have been part of this wonderful industry’s glory days. So, I can only imagine what some of those womanly things were.

Seems a clear and certain gender split so far for Mad Men – women have a strong reaction against the second-class status their mothers and grandmothers faced on the job. Men are attracted to the stylish presentation and the dialogue.

The sickness in question here is paralelled by Don’s own post-traumatic stress disorder from the war. His hypocrisy is fairly sad, but so is his ignorance. (And yeah, it’s a Sopranos thing).

OK, there is – so far – no evidence of Don Draper’s brilliance in advertising. Rockets equal alien attacks equal survival of the species on far-off planets? C’mon! “Some myterious wish we’re ignoring.” Sheesh.

Another black food service worker who gets a single line. Three in two shows. We can get some depth for the black man, can’t we?

Now this is good – the ad industry does indeed run like that – or it did. Creative was just the sizzle on the steak; it was the ad buy that made the millions. Doesn’t work like that anymore.

“We live in troubling time” but “Who could not be happy with all this…?” There you have this series – too much happiness. Some greatest generation icon Don Draper turned out to be.

Blogger Grant McCracken writes that Mad Men has another stereotype to go along with the more obvious ones, the..

… central idea of this series that the ad executive in 1960 was craven, soulless manipulator. In this first episode, Don Draper, creative director of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, is trying to find a way to sell a product he knows to be dangerous. But of course he does find a way, because, you see, he is an ad man, and the stereotype tells us that ad men in the post war period were deeply complicit in the enterprise to enlist Americans in a cargo cult of materialism and dumb down American culture.

Matthew Weiner takes aim at many of the horrors of this period, women treated in a manner that was highhanded, diminishing and abusive, anti-Semitism both casual and ubiquitous, gay men obliged to conceal their sexual identities, executives who never escaped the Frat house mentality that shaped them in college.

But he missed one stereotype completely: that ad men prayed upon culture and consumers. Bad luck, old chum, otherwise Mad Men is great television.

But commenter Doyle Bernbach says MM’s period dialogue doesn’t always ring true, that modern parlance slips through, Deadwood-style. Let’s watch for that.

We need to learn more about Midge for her to be interesting. Village, easy sex, throwing televisions away, interest in art and “living for the moment” – well, we need more. Otherwise, she’s a cartoon.

Well that was awkward – and I do mean awkwardly written and way, way too obvious. “I’m from Bay Ridge, we have manners.” Sure.

Can somebody give January Jones (and what a name that is) some dialogue? “Can I smoke in here?”

Odd observation – the ancient pop references of the fake “young” guys on Studio 60 – which Lance always credits me for point out – almost touch the “contemporary” pop references of this show. The Merv Griffin Show was only two years away!

Alright folks, my quick take: a step down from the series premiere. Stylish, filled with fetishes. But the characters aren’t worth caring about yet. Also, 1960 was a year of change – let’s start seeing that change.