I feel like this Alessandra Stanley preview of the upcoming first episode of Season 5 of Mad Men is a predictable as a Pitchfork review of a band’s 4th album after album 3 hit is big–it reflexively can’t be as good because we’ve moved on to something else.
The downside of success is too much devotion. “Mad Men” fatigue is brought on by all the fuss and cute imitation: the Banana Republic fashion line; copycat shows like “Pan Am” and “Magic City,” a new Starz series set in 1960s Miami; ’60s memoirs, coffee table books, cookbooks, cocktail recipes and magazine spreads; “Mad Men” costume parties; and “Mad Men” drinking tours of Manhattan.
It’s not fair, really, but a show that became a hit because it seemed so original has been so co-opted that it now looks like a cliché.
Seventeen months have passed since last season’s finale, and other shows have come along that are set in a present that suddenly seems fresh and unexplored, like “Homeland” on Showtime and “Girls,” which begins on HBO in April.
The personalities on “Mad Men” don’t change, but the times do. At this point, the context may be more interesting than the characters.
Note that none of this has anything to do with the quality of the show itself. She calls the first episode “long and a little dreary.” Could be, but of course Mad Men is always a show that builds slowly toward its season theme. I also think the worst criticism of Mad Men is that because it is set in the 60s, it should reflect the major political and social themes of the times. Well, no. I mean, it could and it often does. But I think the show is at its worst when it tries to shoehorn in the decade’s major events. These are rich white dudes, they don’t care about civil rights or Vietnam except in how it affects advertising. And that’s fine. But the show is not about people’s idealized view of the 60s. It’s about a narrow slice of society, which is far more indicative of the actual 60s than a decade’s greatest hits.
Also, this is not a case of the Sex and the City, where by the time of the second movie they were celebrating a lifestyle that seemed grotesque in the middle of bad financial times (never mind that the lifestyle was actually grotesque for the entirety of the show). Mad Men may celebrate the fashions of the time, but not the people and behavior itself. So I don’t see how the murder of Trayvon Martin somehow makes the show less appropriate for our times.
In any case, the quality of a show is dependent on many factors–acting, writing, production, etc. And until there’s evidence that this has declined, which in season 4 it most certainly had not, then I simply refuse to believe that somehow it is old hat because Pan Am was bad.