Confession: I’m a Netflix junkie.
My love of watching entire TV series at one time began when a friend of mine lent me all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls the winter of my sophomore year of high school. After Gilmore Girls there was Heroes, The Office, Desperate Housewives, and The OC. However, all of these shows were difficult to come by, since I had to either borrow DVDs or rent them from Blockbuster if they hadn’t already been taken out. Netflix was somewhat of a Godsend, as it has all the episodes of more television shows than I will ever have the opportunity to watch in a lifetime. Needless to say, it has made the process of finding, watching, and loving a TV show so much easier than it has ever been before.
After a torrid affair with How I Met Your Mother, I decided that I needed something more serious, something an hour-long so that I couldn’t watch five in a row because… it is just 20 more minutes. That’s when I remembered Mad Men, which I’ve been meaning to watch forever since it is extra zeitgeist-y and has owned all the Emmys for years. And now I am hooked.
Mad Men is the best example of what television can do as a medium. The writing is consistently excellent, the period details are well-crafted, and the story is paced in a really great way. You never really notice pacing in TV shows unless it is really bad or really good, and Mad Men‘s slow burn approach to story lines is absolutely perfect. But of course, it is the writing that truly sets this show apart from every other one on television about a charming, tortured, middle-aged, white, male (The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Dexter, all of the crime shows. All good writing, interestingly similar premises).
Like many shows, Mad Men has kind of a gimmick in that characters often pitch ad campaigns that somehow always have to do with the theme of the episode. Shows like Glee have relevant songs, crime shows have nicely analogous crimes, and my beloved Buffy had oddly symbolic monsters. But Mad Men‘s use of ad campaigns to explore the overall narrative have been nothing short of brilliant. Most notably, Don Draper makes a speech about a slide projector at the end of the first season that simultaneously explains how he is feeling about his life, making an excellent pitch to a client, and directly calling out the audience for watching the show because of nostalgia for an age that was not what it seemed. This, my friends, is how you execute a gimmick. Also a soliloquy, most shows really don’t go for moments when one character just talks for awhile, but Mad Men is not afraid of the soliloquy. Don has gotten a few lovely ones, and so has his wife Betty, whose speech during her last psychiatrist visit was one of the most intense scenes.
The characters are complex and well-drawn, everything that could ever be said about Don has already been written by anyone who has ever written about television. My personal favorite is Peggy Olson, who could have been a one-note Girl Friday sort of character, but whose drive and focus gives her definition.
So if you’re going to watch/write a television show, may I point to Mad Men as inspiration?