Binge Fest: Mad Men

Binge Fest: Mad Men

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).

Binge Fest: Mad Men

He may have tossed as many ideas as relationships in the bin, but we still have Don's interests at heart due to his truly torrid start in life. Otherwise his intolerable behaviour towards Peggy Olsen (the imperious Elisabeth Moss), the inexcusable theft that powers much of the early seasons, and his absenteeism as a father (it is the 1960s, mind you) could have made the show unwatchable.

The pilot episode began in similar vein to its final seconds: with Don Draper dreaming up a brand new ad campaign. Whether he was getting drunk in a Manhattan bar to work on a fresh slogan for cigarette brand Lucky Strike or hanging out at a Californian retreat meditating his way to the iconic I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke ad of the early 70s (or at least that's what's the impossible-to-predict end-scene appeared to be suggesting), Don Draper was very rarely off-duty.

Funniest scene: Roger Sterling could probably steal this with any number of punchy lines, but the award should go to the time when Pete and Trudy Campbell tore up the dancefloor with a storming Charleston. Or, if you're in a particularly dark mood, the intense scene when an out-of-control lawnmower sliced off an executive's foot: Roger inevitably has a deliciously inappropriate line to puncture the horror.

Saddest moment: when Freddy soils himself before a vital pitch, or a key character's in-house suicide.

Weirdest developments: either Ginsberg chopping his own nipple off due to paranoia that his IBM computer was taking control of everything. Or, less ickily, Roger Sterling's mind-bending LSD trip.

Possible spin-offs: Sally Days with Don's daughter making her own way in the advertising business; Roger That, in which Sterling becomes a one-man gag machine as Mayor of New York; Peggy Sue as Don's protégé wields her mercurial yet Machiavellian skills as a hotshot lawyer.

Mad Men is available on Netflix.

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