From Alison Brie to Zach Randolph, and everything in between.
Sunday April 7th marks the return of Mad Men to AMC, as various magazines and the Internet have made us well aware. Full disclosure: Mad Men is my favorite show in the history of television. It’s also vastly underwatched by any standards- last season’s finale, reached a series pinnacle at 2.7 million viewers, barely half that of True Blood the same night. For a show that’s racked up 4 Golden Globes, 15 Emmys and countless nominations, it’s puzzling that even at it’s best, more people watched a show about sexy voodoo vampires. There are only a handful of dramas on television currently that can be tossed in the fray for best TV show, and Mad Men should come out on top. What’s that you say, you prefer dragons, zombies, bare skin, and crystal meth? Here’s why Mad Men is superior to your favorite show (aka welcome all internet trolls!):
One of my favorite aspects to the period drama genre is being able to revisit history through a lens independent of anything in a textbook. Mad Men has integrated themes and events of the sixties seamlessly, without banging it over your head. Some of the best moments of the show have been gently straddled by a sixties milestone, whether it was Jackie or Marilyn, race riots or JFK’s assassination. There have been several memorable musical moments as well- Don out of touch backstage at a Stones concert and listening to Revolver, Roger’s dark Beach Boys-infused acid trip, or Nancy Sinatra in the last scene of Season 5 #YOLT. Personally, this time machine has lead to bonding experiences with my father, who marveled at the accuracy of the reaction to the JFK assassination- as a teen he nearly drove to Texas when he found out about it. It’s an anecdote I’d never have known about my own father had Roger Sterling’s daughter’s wedding not been the weekend of November 22, 1963.
(This brief scene sums up the series)
Boardwalk Empire takes you to an era of joyless existence, when alcohol was ILLEGAL and a man who inspired this horrifying tumblr provides the only access to it. Who would ever want to live in that time? Producers of the show even admit the show is mostly fictitious, the most egregious deviation being that the real Nucky was an imposing figure at over 6 feet tall and 225 lbs. Steve Buscemi is 5-8, 150 lbs soaking wet. As great of a character actor he is, he doesn’t exactly intimidate the way Nucky Johnson was known for. Sure, the set pieces and costumes look great, but at least Mad Men can serve as a guide for stylish men today, whereas Boardwalk-inspired attire is rarely found outside of the Salvation Army anymore.
Walking Dead is the highest-rated cable television show of all time, for good reason. It has taken advantage of the zombie genre on television, and stretched the limits of gore allowed on cable. It’s a fun fantasy, but the acting leaves much to be desired- Rick Grimes & co. have less dimensions than Ms. Pac Man.
Zombies are fun to speculate about, but media saturation has taken away any real terror. What’s scarier, a little blood and guts, or a 9-5 zombie going through the motions, emotionally dead to his wife and kid, feasting on the misfortunes of others to survive? Pete Campbell is scarier than any horde of walkers or one-eyed politicians imagined.
Game of Thrones
Venturing into hallowed territory here, but as a reader of all five books, I come from a place of adoration for the recently-returned HBO series. Daenerys Targaryen in particular is one of TV’s few strong female characters that can hold up to Carrie Mathison and Peggy Olson. One of the few faults of Thrones is its ever-expanding universe. In 50 minutes of show every week the showrunners have to develop a dozen characters and counting, with increasingly divergent paths. Think about it- last week’s episode ended with the appearance of Baristan Selmy in Astapor, the first character ever in the show to physically connect her to the Iron Throne she craves so dearly. Sorry, fans of Arya, Bran, Varys, Theon or Jaime- after waiting months for last week’s Season 3 premiere, your wait drags on another week. Mad Men at least consistently intertwines the fates of its characters- unlike Thrones the show’s scope isn’t creeping into an unsustainable web.
On a lighter note, the web presence of both of these shows is astounding. Brilliant recaps are abound for both every week, specifically Andy Greenwald‘s are nearly as good as the shows themselves. The epic tumblr battle of Arrested Westeros vs Emotions with Jon Hamm is a bloody affair. However, the video below seals the deal.
The Sophie’s Choice of television. Both of these will be remembered for years as masterpieces of this generation, two of the first episodic movies that were able to sustain audiences in the Internet age. Both are full of intensely flawed main characters- it’s nearly impossible to justifiably root for a war deserter, a recovering addict murderer, a philandering alcoholic or a manipulative opportunist crystal meth king, but we do. Breaking Bad is exhausting to watch in bulk- you pray for a Saul or Badger scene as relief from the depressing drug use and brutal, sometimes cartoonish violence. Mad Men operates at a glacial pace in comparison, but it’s often the slow burn that yields the most satisfaction. The way Matthew Weiner toys with the audience- inserting details as innocuous as a stolen glance, misleading as a broken elevator or as blunt as a rotten tooth is a thrill to experience and dwell on afterwards. Breaking Bad does the same with ominous foreshadowing, but in that universe the “best” that can happen is living on another day in the desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The lifestyle porn aspect of Mad Men puts it over the top for me, but if you prefer a life of danger and drug use, Breaking Bad won’t steer you wrong.
Before you tell me what you think of me because (insert your own favorite here) is so much better, refer to the following clip:
And for more fun Mad Men highlights, see Grantland’s YouTube Hall of Fame.