A decade ago, AMC was just the channel you’d skip because it was playing an old movie you’d either never heard of, or you’d seen toomany times already.
But when AMC’s “Mad Men” premiered ten years ago today, and it quickly became one of the most iconic shows of all time, and proved that television was in a Golden Age.
Mad Men was AMC’s first try at an original series.And before it aired, expectations weren’t high.
Itstarred mostly unknown actors: No one knew who the lead, Jon Hamm, was.
The biggest draw to the show was thatMatthew Weiner, the show’s creator, had written on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” which ended its run about a month before “Mad Men” started. But in 2007, showrunners and television writers weren’t really big names yet, they were more behind-the-scenes.
While the first season of “Mad Men” wasn’t very popular, it was a hit among critics and at awards season in 2008. Recognition at the Emmys and the Golden Globesgave it a broader audience that includedfans of shows like “The Sopranos.” “Mad Men” was character-driven and challenging for viewers, but different enough that it felt fresh and new. And it proved that a great show didn’tneed big names or a big network.
“Mad Men” also paved the way for AMC’s original showsincluding “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Better Call Saul.”
Here’s why “Mad Men” is one of the best shows ever, and the best to come out of television’s Golden Age:
The twist never drove the narrative.
AMC via Netflix
Shows like “Lost,” “Westworld,” and “Breaking Bad”havestorylines that aredefined by a twist, and luredviewers in with mysteries and cliffhangers. And that’s not a bad thing. But especially at this point in television, twists and cliffhangers aren’t all that surprising or unique anymore.
“Mad Men” rarely used cliffhangers, with some exceptions – Don proposing to Megan in the season four finale, for example – because it didn’t have to. The season-one twist that Don Draper was actually Dick Whitman was a big reveal, but the most shocking part was that the show didn’t make a big deal out of it. True to character, Don brushes off Pete Campbell’s discovery of his stolen identity, and so does their boss, Bert Cooper.
Don’s identity crisis is a big part of the show, and one of his defining character traits. But by staying true to its characters, and to the fact that it’sa show about flawed people, “MadMen” stood out among all the other shows that were desperately trying to draw viewers in.
Every character is memorable.
AMC via Netflix
If you took any character from the cast of “Mad Men,” and lined him or herup among a million people, each would easily stand out. From Don Draper, to Roger Sterling, to Pete Campbell, to Joan Holloway-Harris, to Peggy Olson, you know and understand every character to the point that you feel like you’re right there with them. And no matter how deeply flawed and awful they are (some of them are so awful – we’re looking at you, Pete!) you love them, and you care what happens to them.
The same goes formore secondary characters like Ken Cosgrove, HarryCrane, Paul Kinsey, Mona Sterling, Bert Cooper, and TedChaough.
Pete Campbell is like the Christopher Moltisanti (“The Sopranos”) of “MadMen.” Campbell is slimy, selfish, and generally speaking, a very awful guy. But somehow, he isone of the best parts of the show. And even as he gets worse with every season, there is some part of you that cares about him, and wants to see his good side come out. Pete is complicated and is played so well by Vincent Kartheiser that you kind of forget that they’re separate people.