Ahead Of The Curve

The final seven episodes of Mad Men haven’t even aired yet, but Eric Thurm is already assessing the impact of one of the best-written shows in television history.

One significant idea that Mr. Thurm raises but does not develop in his essay as fully as he might have is Mad Men‘s self-reflexiveness:  its deep awareness not only of its fictional characters functioning within their fictional careers as ad men, but also of television’s primary purpose in America:  not to bring us entertainment like Mad Men, or Breaking Bad, or The Good Wife, but to sell us products.  Other shows, as Thurm points out, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Sports Night (one of my favorites), and even Bewitched, with its ad-man husband Darrin Stevens, have been about television; but only Mad Men has been about television’s purpose, its cold, cruel, relentless, 24-hour-a-day purpose to sell us products we don’t need.  Thirty-Something almost got there twenty-five years ago with its depiction of Miles Drentell (played by David Clennon), the manipulative boss for whom Michael Steadman (played by Ken Olin) worked, but only Mad Men has shown us as clearly as fiction can the struggle, tension, and destruction which inevitably arise when art is made to serve the gods of deception and falsehood rather than the gods of truth and beauty.


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