30 Pilots in 30 Days: Mad Men

Had I seen it before: Nope

What IMDb says: A drama about one of New York’s most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm’s most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper.

Why I picked it: Mad Men is one of those shows I knew I pretty much HAD to include as soon as I thought of this project. It lasted for seven seasons and had a nice string of Emmy wins. It was also the first scripted AMC original, paving the way for other hits like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.

Success aside, I will admit that the subject matter is certainly intriguing as well. Several people told me to watch Mad Men when I was in high school and first started talking about going to college for advertising/public relations/something along those lines. I’m excited by the prospect of a show that explores the ethical dilemmas that can arise in this field as well as the sorts of people that choose to work in it.

What I liked: The pilot held my attention the entire time, which is particularly impressive when you consider that I watched it first thing in the morning before having any coffee. It establishes an interesting conflict right away: Don Draper has to come up with a campaign for cigarettes right after people have figured out that cigarettes can kill you. Throughout the pilot, we don’t really see him struggle with the fact that the he’s trying to sell a product with dire health consequences, just the challenge of doing his job.

I also love the big twist at the end: Don Draper has *gasp* A FAMILY IN THE SUBURBS. I of course knew this already having waited a solid decade to watch the pilot, but I can still admire a good structural decision when I see one. Right when we think we have a firm grasp on Draper’s character and are already interested in that character, the writers drop a huge bomb on us to get us all excited for Episode 2.

What I didn’t like: I really didn’t find myself interested in any of the characters besides Don Draper. And while focusing on your main protagonist is certainly a rational choice to make for a pilot, I couldn’t help but feel like I was expected to care about the supporting cast in a way that I didn’t. I don’t give a shit about the dude getting married with a name I didn’t bother to learn. He’s not villainous enough for me to hate him in a “how dare you threaten Don’s job” sorta way and he’s not likable enough for me to root for him in a “yeah boy you go get Don’s job” sorta way. He’s just there.

Peggy at least shows potential to get interesting in future episodes. She’s on birth control in an era where birth control is even more controversial than it is now. She makes a move on Don, but it’s unclear whether or not she really likes him or is just trying to get ahead. She also sleeps with the dude who’s about to get married, but once again, her motives are unclear. She gets a lot of screen time but yet we don’t really learn anything besides “She’s a single secretary who doesn’t mind having sex with dudes.” I have questions about her, but I’m also not emotionally invested in the answers to those questions the way I’m invested in the questions I have about Don’s life.  

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I want to watch Episode 2, but I’m also not entirely convinced I need to watch must past Episode 2. Some pilots make you think “wow, I need to watch every episode available to me as soon as possible” and this wasn’t one of those. This was a “I guess I could take in another hour or two of this and see how I feel then.”  And it’s not like I’m completely heartbroken that I have to wait a month to watch Episode 2 either. 


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