i Editor's Letter: Mad Men - try it. You will thank me.


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The Independent Online

I don't often recommend things in this space, partly because I don't like any hint of being compromised, and partly because – well, why on earth should you care what I recommend?

But, every now and then it's my civic duty. One such moment is tonight's return, with a double episode after a very long break, of the best drama series on TV (although Homeland is running it pretty close): Mad Men.

Yes, it's the start of series five. OK, bad news first: like so much of the best drama, it has been swiped by Sky. So, if you hate Mr Murdoch and all he stands for, you will have to wait for the DVD box set. I cannot.

The star of this gloriously nuanced and finely observed romp through the 60s' heyday of the advertising industry on New York's Madison Avenue is Don Draper, the besuited, suave, impossibly handsome, and just plain impossible creative boss of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency. Draper as played by Jon Hamm in the role of a lifetime, must surely be the ultimate existential anti-hero for our times. No matter how successful, messy, sordid and complicated his life gets, he sails on with a detached air of confidence that makes all men want to be him, and all women just want him. Is it in spite of, or because, he is a serial emotional pygmy? Do we all love a bad guy?

It's the fragility of Don's act that is so thrilling; the glimpses into the fake war hero; the humble roots he tries to hide; the disastrous home life and subsequent divorce from the beautiful ice queen Betty (diffident January Jones being magnificently "elsewhere"); the private insecurity about the worth of what he does that translates into the public bullying of clients, junior staff and women – all except Joan!

Mad Men is about so much more than this. It is the story of the 60s, in painstaking detail: from straitlaced early years, through the arrival of beatniks, civil rights, feminism and plaid. What elevates it above merely fascinating to addictive is the detail a $2.8m budget per episode allows; the fashion, how giddyingly un-PC it all is, the taut acting and a delicious refusal (like The Sopranos, its only peer) to tie everything up neatly.

Try it. You will thank me.