Mad Men is coming to an end. We have just a few weeks to go before Don Draper leaves our lives forever. Launched in July 2007, the TV series was created by Matthew Weiner and has charted the careers and lives of the advertising executives at Sterling Cooper, an upstart agency on Madison Avenue.
For those who have stayed the course – and millions have – the lure has been watching characters evolve, or unravel, in what feels like real time. It’s the 1960s and they are gently melded by the civil-rights movement, man landing on the moon, the assassination of a president and women’s slowly hatching liberation. So you see the first black employees being hired who are not janitors, gay characters who no longer hide their secrets, hippy hair falling on to shoulders, joints being passed around.
Mad Men has also been glorious in its choice of settings, furniture and costumes. And while lots has happened, scriptwriters have never been forced to add crazy storylines to keep the real fans hooked. Indeed it could be criticised for a certain slowness. And the final episodes have also been tinged with sadness; so far, Don – played by Jon Hamm – does not seem to be heading for a happy place.
Weiner’s shelves have buckled under the weight of all the Emmys it has received and some believe it to be the best TV series ever made. But there’s more here at play than cool settings and sharp scripts.
Mad Men shows a world where we can see that all is not well; the really grim sexism and racism make that clear. But it also shows us a world where there were fewer rules – a greater innocence – and for many people there’s something in that intoxicating mix of alcohol and cigarettes, of sex in a time before Aids, of fast-ish cars and rule breaking that is very seductive.
Watching Mad Men is like looking through a window at a wild party; sure, you know there’s a headache to come, but for now it looks kind of fun. Mad Men also wins through because it asks us questions about how we see the world today by making us reflect on the things we have lost and won since then. It questions us about our need for a little craziness in a rule-bound world. And that’s why when the final credits roll I know I am going to miss having the flawed Don Draper around.
Andrew Tuck is the editor of Monocle.