The cigarette-smoking, heavy drinking, womanizing advertisers of Madison Avenue are returning once again to capture America’s attention. The critically acclaimed AMC drama set in the 1960s is all prepped and ready for a two-hour season six premiere this Sunday.
Behind the face of actor Jon Hamm, this funny and superficial yet dark and contemplated drama has quickly become one of the hottest shows on cable television. The main reason for the show’s success is that Hamm’s character, Donald Draper, is so difficult to hate. Even though he appears to be just as ruthlessly soulless as the rest of the “Mad Men,” Don has an ever-changing family and love life as well as a difficult past. The culmination of the various parts of his life seems to give his professional decisions a more personal feel.
Growing up on a farm in Illinois gives him a very austere manner. Most of this is due to his abusive father and having been born to a prostitute who died during his birth. Another important part of Don’s past is that, in his early twenties, he tries to escape his past by enlisting in the Army to fight in the Korean War.
But Donald Draper’s true identity is that of another man. The young runaway character viewers have come to love or hate is actually Dick Whitman. Dick stole the identity of a fellow soldier named Donald Draper when he accidentally caused a gasoline explosion with his cigarette, killing and burning the other man beyond recognition. Dick Whitman then swapped his and the other man’s dog tags, returning to America with a Purple Heart and a new name. All of this information has slowly and cleverly been revealed to the audience throughout the prior seasons during the rapid development of Don’s professional advertising agency career.
Although a large emphasis is placed on Draper’s character, one gets to know a multitude of other people during the first five seasons. Betty, who is Don’s wife until they separate in season two, gives birth to all three of his children: Sally, Bobby and Eugene. She is quite passive but very passionate for love, which gives the viewer at least a glimpse of what emotion looks like. Even though they are divorced, and both remarried, the couple maintains a talking relationship through the bond of the children. Betty knows Don would cheat on her, but the children don’t. This often takes an emotional toll on Betty, as the children blame her for the divorce leading them to want to be with Don most of the time.
Many of the underlying themes of “Mad Men” are gloomy, but the life at the office adds a great deal of excitement. It is as if the office is the place the advertisers go to let loose and party whereas home is dreaded and boring. Roger Sterling, one of the partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, is a well-groomed older man with a taste for vodka at early hours in the day and young women. He is often seen flirting with the female secretaries at the office and building rapport with clients by getting them drunk.
Peter Campbell is another one of the office playboys, though much younger than the others. In a lot of ways, he is much like Sterling, which is often the source of animosity between the two. In season five, Campbell grows frustrated from the recent move to the suburbs. His long train rides in the morning and at night spark a crazed obsession focused on the wife of a man with whom he rides into town. His adaptation to the family life is in the most developed stage of the people his age in the office and grants insight into the torn life of an ad man with a family.
The show can be marked by the constant shifting of relationships, conspiracy and under-the-table dealings. Seemingly innocent characters like Peggy Olson have huge secrets, such as her unexpected child from Peter Campbell. Joan Harris, another single mother and key player in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office, accepts an offer in season five to have sex with a client to secure the much sought-after Jaguar account.
One thing is for sure: This season of “Mad Men” is going to be very entertaining.