Binge Fest: Mad Men
- Brian Donaldson
- 4 February 2020
We start our new semi-regular, spoiler-heavy column about shows from the near-past that have ended but whose legacy still lingers
Legend has it that Matthew Weiner was once asked about the similarities between the writers' rooms on The Sopranos and Mad Men. His retort is believed to be that both sets of scribes mainly sat around talking about The Sopranos. As well as providing brief cameos as a TV-friendly expert on the Mob, Weiner became one of David Chase's go-to scriptwriters for later episodes on The Sopranos, and used this experience by striking out on his own with Mad Men, a show that many critics suggest runs the New Jersey-set drama pretty close in the best-ever-TV-show stakes.
The through-line from The Sopranos to Mad Men is indisputable. With Tony Soprano and Don Draper, they both featured enigmatic anti-heroes, essentially terrible men who cheat and lie their way through life while operating at the top of their chosen profession. They are also completely beguiling and so charismatic as to warrant the viewer's reluctant empathy: much of that, of course, is down to the exquisite central performances from James Gandolfini and Jon Hamm.
Both shows share a filmic sweep with lush and daring cinematography, while the scripts utterly refuse to spoon-feed its audience (fleeting moments or throwaway quotes may be referred to again several seasons later). And both dramas are chockful of awful people who just so happen to be really funny. But whatever the natural connections between those two shows, Matthew Weiner mined his own path to produce a work which stood tall and created another set of unforgettable characters, whether they be loveable (such as gentle giant Stan Rizzo, and the veteran Bert Cooper who seemed to do zilch work across his years on the show) or loathsome (the squirrely and weak Pete Campbell, and frequently irritating Megan Calvet Draper).