Mad Men: The Big-Little Show That Could

mad-men_embedPHOTO: FRANK OCKENFELS/AMC.
Full disclosure: We love TV. So much so that sometimes we'd rather spend a whole weekend in front of the tube than dancing at da club until 3 a.m. Feeling left out because you canceled cable? No problem! You can get by just fine on Netflix, Hulu, and the myriad other streaming services rapidly taking over the home-entertainment industry (thank you, Internet!).
Some shows are just better when binge-watched. Whether it's the latest BBC comedy, a PBS miniseries from the '70s, or just that cultish show prematurely scrubbed from a network — we're hooked on the stream. So, we've unrolled Staying In(stant), a feature highlighting the best of streaming content. Each week, we bring you a show we're obsessed with and think you should be, too.
This week? AMC’s classic period drama Mad Men. It's one of the many anti-hero stories dominating the zeitgeist, but never has one so richly explored a time period with enough finesse to make it timeless. Now in its seventh (and final) season, the fall of Don Draper is nigh. The conspiracy theories are running amuck, but in order to understand how we got to Draper's demise, we have to go back to the beginning.
Where To Watch:
Netflix currently streams all six seasons. You can catch the seventh over at AMC on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
How I Got Hooked:
My father has long been raving about Mad Men. I was too caught up in action stories to care back in 2007 but had kept abreast of its "spot-on" depictions of the '60s and character-driven plot. It wasn't until I heard rumblings of season six's finale, where the gender-roles between Elisabeth Moss' inspiring Peggy Olsen and Jon Hamm's Don Draper were flipped, that I decided to get Mad. I flew through the first season, fell in love with Betty Draper and her sad housewife life, and made it a point to be more like Christina Hendricks' Joan character in the office. The story slows as the seasons trudged through the '60s, but I held on because I had become so invested in the characters. You see, the story comes second to Don, Peggy, Joan, and Co.'s personal development. One episode you're rooting for Peggy and the other you're hating her. These are complex individuals who, at times, feel real. That's the kind of television I'm interested in. That's the kind of escape I want from a show. Did I become Mad? You bet.
Best Episode:
Season 6, Episode 9: "The Better Half." Sure, you have to invest six seasons worth of time, but this is the most important episode of the entire series. It exists in reality but feels like a dream. Don and Betty play the couple they were meant to be. Distance has, however, given Betty (a character many hate) hindsight to summarize Don in one sentence. "That poor girl," she says referring to Don's new wife. "She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you." And, thus begins the real fall of our anti-hero.
Why You’ll Love It:
Mad Men is, as mentioned above, an investment. It's rich in its character development and lush in its environments. The creators know what they're up to when they subtly reference Sharon Tate. Nothing on screen is erroneous, and everything matters. If you're keen on detail, Mad Men will give you more pleasure than Things Organized Neatly. Don Draper's story — the double life, his instability, but hyper-awareness of his place in the world — provides solid ground for reflection. His musings on life paint a portrait of a changing America, and the changing, ever-connected world we live in today. The truth of Don and his cohorts of Madison Avenue ad people lies in the details of the individual. Each character is complex enough for a viewer to identify with each one — even if it's a small moment in their development. I guarantee you will find yourself nodding, hating, and, in some cases, cheering on each and every character.
The fate of Don Draper is 12 episodes away, but the build toward his fall is a trip worth splurging on.

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