I love this show. The Hub and I started watching over the holiday break (he wasn't as into it as I was). We sped through seasons 1 and 2 and then he went to Florida to teach some people how to fly. I wanted to make it last and only rent 1 disk at a time. Yesterday I was feeling so crappy that I threw caution to the wind and rented the first 2 disks of season 3. Then I sat and watched them both. (Now I'm kind of sad that I don't have any to watch tonight.)
Why do I love it? It feels real to me. There are a few shows of which I have been a regular watcher as an adult, perhaps even a rabid watcher (The West Wing, I'll Fly Away). In the case of West Wing (1999-2006), I loved it because it was how I wanted government to be - peopled with really smart people with the courage of their convictions. They worked and played hard and they argued, but always came back together. I'll Fly Away (1991-1993) was the story of a family caught up in social upheaval - how they and the people around them reacted. They were confused, angry, and struggled to do the right thing. I never missed an episode of these shows because they transported me to a different place. Mad Men does that for me too.
During the first season, there were times when I had to walk away from the television. The casual demeaning of the secretaries - hell the forceful demeaning of any woman who stepped out of line. It was especially bad when the women did it to each other. I still click my tongue every now and again, but I can put it in the box of "the '60s" and move on.
Did they drink and smoke that much in the 1960s? I don't know - but again, it feels real. I do remember my parents had a bar set up in our house. They didn't think twice about getting hammered at a party and then driving home. My dad would frequently stop at a bar to have drinks with co-workers after work and we lived in the midwest. I can imagine this is fairly true of a place like New York City.
Everyone I knew had ashtrays all around the house. We had a couple that were actually free-standing and quite decorative. My dad even had a hookah. I remember people smoking in grocery stores and doctors offices. Hub and I decided that if we wanted to get completely lit, all we'd have to do is take a drink every time someone lit a cigarette. It would take 2 episodes, max, before I'd have to go lie down.
The bad marriages, the sleeping around, the closeted gays, the career "girls" who only worked until they got married - it all feels real. The added bonus is the visual impact of the show. The clothing, the furniture, the cars - those are the colors and styles I remember from my childhood.
I watch because the characters are intelligent people who don't always know what they want, but keep moving forward. They struggle against the social mores and the narrow roles forced on them and it makes me want to assure them that things get better. It also makes me realize how far we actually have come and lets me hope that 40 years into the future there will be a television program that shows this time period and maybe it will make some sense.