The days when businessmen had three-martini lunches, chain-smoked on planes and kept women out of the boardroom may be long gone. But yesteryear can be remembered — and, for some, seen for the first time — on “Mad Men.” Unlike many shows on cable and network TV, the Emmy-winning series takes cues from dramas that push the envelope.


The mystique of “Mad Men” is driven by its flawed and complex characters. By the design of creator, writer and producer Matthew Weiner — also known for his work on “The Sopranos” — the characters make mistakes and have less-than-noble intentions. And like their counterpoints on “The Sopranos,” “Weeds” and “Six Feet Under,” they aren’t virtuous or kind. Though most people won’t personally relate to a 300-pound mob boss or a mom who deals pot, the characters’ flaws as well as their honorable intentions are relatable. Shows like “Mad Men” offer unique storylines and characters without relying on clichés or redundancies. Their flawed characters and social commentaries speak to all people because the issues are prevalent in daily life.

“Mad Men” ‘s flawed protagonist, Don Draper (Jon Hamm, TV’s “What About Brian”), has dabbled in countless extramarital affairs while simultaneously acting as a doting father, husband and hard worker at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising firm. At first glance, Don’s actions and secrets are despicable and off-putting, but when he realizes the impact of his mistakes on his family, it’s hard not to sympathize with him. Throughout the two elapsed seasons, Don’s past has been slowly revealed, offering a glimpse of the driving forces behind his poor and selfish decisions. Though it’s difficult to forget his slip-ups, Don’s actions become somewhat understandable in the context of his marred past.

Don’s stand-offish demeanor and his success in advertising rub off on his unlikely protégé, Peggy Olson. Like her mysterious boss, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss, “Girl, Interrupted”) has her own secrets to keep. Many of her co-workers think of her as a prude goody two-shoes, but she actually has shocking skeletons in her closet. In season one, while working as a secretary at Sterling Cooper, Peggy showed that she has a strong work ethic and more balls than the men she works during the first few months on the job. While she is a savvy individual, Peggy seemed like an unlikely candidate to rise in the company simply because she is a woman. To the surprise of many, however, Peggy was promoted from an unimportant secretary to a junior copywriter with her own office space. At the conclusion of the second season, it’s clear that Peggy and Don are more alike than initially perceived.

“Mad Men” ‘s characters are more realistic and multi-dimensional than most others on TV. For example, the ongoing romance in ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” between characters Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd (McDreamy) is self-indulgent, wildly unrealistic in a hospital setting and, at this point, downright annoying. In addition to melodramas like “Grey’s Anatomy,” numerous crime dramas — like the “CSI” franchise — largely depict cops and agents as heroes in pursuit of stereotypical criminals. Unlike melodramas and crime shows, “Mad Men” gives voice to characters inspired by real people who make both good and bad choices without always facing consequences or receiving rewards.

In addition to the show’s authentic characters, “Mad Men” integrates social and political issues into the storyline, like the roles of women in the workforce and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Incorporating historical events and issues allows the show to elucidate how these events affected Americans. “Mad Men” doesn’t feel like another boring history lesson; instead, these events provide a realistic perspective on what actually happened during that time. For example, watching both the male and female employees of Sterling Cooper grieve Marilyn Monroe’s death shows how much of an impact the icon had on everyday people.

Unlike many films and TV shows depicted in the early ’60s, “Mad Men” sheds a dark light on an era that is often regarded as perfect. Through Don’s dysfunctional relationship with his family and the male characters’ patronizing interactions with their female associates show that the early ’60s was far from perfect. “Mad Men” reveals that its characters and today’s families and professionals experience similar challenges.

Although it may not draw as many viewers as network dramas, the show refuses to imitate the style of popular television programs. Instead, it follows the footsteps of groundbreaking shows like “The Sopranos” in terms of depicting unconventional characters and storylines. “Mad Men” refuses to normalize its characters and makes a compelling statement about personal and professional life in the early ’60s.

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