Mad About "Mad Men"

**FILE** In this file image released by AMC, Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in "Mad Men," returning July 27 for a second season on cable's AMC channel. "Mad Men," AMC's sleek drama set in the advertising world circa 1960, and FX's legal thriller "Damages" made Emmy nominations history Thursday, July 17, 2008, as the first basic cable programs to gain best-series nods.
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The hit cable television series "Mad Men" is about a subject near and dear to us in commercial broadcasting … the world of advertising. Here's David Edelstein:

"Mad Men," the AMC series that's all the rage, is part-satire, part-soap opera, part-head trip.

It tackles a familiar theme, the individual versus the social order, in a strange way - or strange for TV, which generally showcases rebels, heroes who aren't slaves to fashion.

They are here: controlled, constricted, lobotomized by their culture. Even stranger is the period, the early 60s, which we thought we knew from cheerful old sitcoms but have, it turns out, repressed.

Did people really smoke that much? Could men really get away with treating secretaries - all women - like servants or whores? Were we really such prisoners of the social order? Are we still?

Matthew Weiner created the show, which centers on a Madison Avenue ad agency. The protagonist is executive Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm: a madly attractive actor in a madly elusive role. Look at that name: Don - like Corleone, powerful; Draper - hidden, isolated.

Don mines his real emotions for phony-baloney advertising slogans - he's a cynic, he believes in nothing. But he has a moral code.

But every time you're ready to embrace him as a hero he doesn't rise to the occasion. He's too much of his time.

That's the fascinating thing about "Mad Men": the hero isn't much of a hero, and the villain, a squirt named Pete Campbell played by Vincent Kartheiser, isn't much of a villain. Pete is an ambitious heel - but he is also a child, a miserable prisoner.

I love that you can't get a clear fix on the characters; they're always trying to reconcile what they're supposed to be with who they want to be.

Don's secretary, Peggy, played by Elisabeth Moss, has been drilled in female subservience by Christina Hendricks's Joan - kind of the office's chief courtesan. But her ambition keeps sneaking out.

"Mad Men" has been made with 20/20 hindsight, and part of its richness comes from our knowledge that it's set on the threshold of feminism, the civil rights movement, and a counterculture that would blow this conformity away. Yet it's also the infancy of national TV advertising, which would usher in Youth Culture - a big theme in the second season - and another kind of conformity.

Very dizzying, but don't be afraid to surrender your bearings. Take your cue from the great credit sequence - reminiscent of "Vertigo" and "North By Northwest" - and take the "Mad Men" plunge.