Mad Men – the best thing on television

Jon Hamm and January Jones, channeling their Mad Men characters. Photographed at the Lightbourne House, in Lyford Cay, Nassau, the Bahamas. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz; styled by Michael Roberts.
(Source: Vanity Fair)

Mad Men season 3 premièred in the UK this week to a small but discerning audience. An audience blissfully disinterested in celebrity fly-on-the-walls so beloved of the MySpace generation (i.e. Big Brother), or doctor and detective dramas that proliferate across the mainstream channels (with the exception, of course, of Wallander, which has sadly now finished).

The much-trailed return of acclaimed US drama Mad Men drew 370,000 viewers to BBC4 last night, Wednesday 27 January.

This represented 1.8% of the available multichannel audience between 10pm and 10.45pm, with another 257,000 and 1.9% tuning in for the second episode of the new series between 10.45pm and 11.35pm, according to unofficial overnight ratings.

Although the audience was modest given the huge amount of hype around the third series of the heavily garlanded drama about a fictional advertising agency in 1960s New York, it was an improvement on the 242,000 who watched the debut of the second series last year. (Source: Media Guardian).

There is a good article in the Daily Telegraph this week about just why Mad Men is so good. And if you want a recap of series 1 and 2, New York Magazine has a slideshow with a very short summary and photo of the first 26 episodes (that comprise the first 2 series). Worth a look if you’re a fan.

Do also read the 7-page Vanity Fair feature from whence the photos came.

8 thoughts on “Mad Men – the best thing on television

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  1. I’ve noticed before you have commented favorably on Wallander. We’ve seen some episodes here in the US. TBH we weren’t too terribly impressed. Kurt Wallander seemed to spend half his time crying and honestly didn’t seem to be doing much of any actual detective work: his staff seemed to be doing his job for him.

    Plus, it’s not like there isn’t other good detective stuff in the UK. Midsomer Murders was always a lot of fun (though the mysteries were usually insanely ridiculous and the body-count absurdly high for a “cozy”); the resurrected Marples (especially the Geraldine McEwan ones) are delicious (far superior to the wooden, unpleasant, unwatchable Joan Hickson); though to be honest there’s been an awful lot of bad stuff too — if I had had to put up with one more mood-swing of Inspector Lynley or his sullen side-kick I would have screamed. But Morse was just phenomenal, and Inspector Lewis has improved and is now pretty damn good; plus what about Foyle’s War? In any event, I’m hoping that the new set of Wallanders, which haven’t made it over here yet, will prove less irritating than the ones we have had so far, and that he starts crying less 🙂

  2. Justin – did you see the BBC ones or the Swedish ones? The Swedish ones are worth watching (with subtitles) if you can get it out there. I don’t watch the other stuff you mention (Midsomer Murders etc). Did watch a Lynda La Plante the other day (Prime Suspect?!) but wasn’t that good. Yeh, Morse is classic! Did you see Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes? Loved those.

    Daphne – yeh, taken by Annie Leibovitz who is a photography legend and it shows!

  3. Milo — I’ve only watched the BBC ones, but I thought those were the ones you were referring to in your blog. I think it might have been @squawkbox, who is a major Scandinavophile, who alerted me to the existence of the Swedish ones, though it might have been another tweep. I don’t know if the Swedish ones are available for love or money on this side of the Atlantic, but I’m intrigued.

    They’re still making Prime Suspects? The first two series I thought were excellent, though even back then when they were first made, I thought they laid the whole sexism thing on awfully thick with a giant trowel: it just seemed like by the late 1980s having a woman rise to the level she had wouldn’t have been controversial in the UK, though I do kind of suspect that the USA is (hard though it may be to believe) more progressive than Europe when it comes to sexism, so maybe things really WERE that bad in England at the time. The first series was also where I first saw Zoe Wanamaker, who I worship and adore, and Ralph Fiennes (in a tiny bit part). The second series was about race, and I thought was a fantastic mystery, very thrilling, very well done.

    The third series was all about pedophile rings. I’ve noticed that there is an awful lot of British tv about pedophiles and corrupt pedophile rings full of people in high places (there was even one of those in a Wallander!). It just seems overdone to me. On the other hand, I don’t watch any American crime TV (CSI, Law and Order, etc.), and they’re probably all about pedophiles, too.

    (Which reminds me of a hilarious episode in The IT Crowd — which is just one of the BEST. SHOWS. EVER. and which I only just discovered last October.)

    Another thing I’ve noticed about a lot of British shows (at least the ones that make it over here) is that there is a gigantic amount of fin-de-siècle, world-weary, bitter, bitter, BITTER cynicism. Lots of conspiracy-theory corruption-in-high-places stuff (such as in Prime Suspect III), lots of people getting away with crimes because that’s the way the game is played (like in Prime Suspect III), lots of unsatisfying, dark, cynical endings that make the world look a lot bleaker and nastier than even I was thinking it is in my most paranoid and horrified years during the Bush era. I’m thinking of A Very British Coup and House of Cards / To Play the King as well.

  4. Daphne, The pics are okay, but they’re not as good as the photography of the actual series, srsly Annie Leibovitz or no. The styling, costumes, photography, props and colours of Mad Men is total brilliance.

    The characterisation from season 2 on is not as challenging as the first season, but the storylines remain interesting from s2E06 onwards. Jon Hamm is likely as not the new Clooney, but Slattery’s my favourite, his timing is remarkable.

  5. Richard – do watch it, I think you’d like it. Spooks series 8 was OK. I think the last series was better, but was still worth watching.

    Justin – oh, I was referring to the BBC version of Wallander in my review, but do check the Swedish ones if you can. V.good. I also liked the old Prime Suspects. The recent Lynda La Plante I watched (and didn’t think up to much) wasn’t a Prime Suspect I don’t think. Forget the name now. Storyline was OK but acting seemed wooden. I like ‘A Very British Coup’ and also ‘State of Play’ (similar theme, check it out if you haven’t seen it – the original UK tv version). Yes, dark motifs do repeat over here. Not sure why that is.

    Mark – I’m only 3 episodes into season 2 so far. Am recording all of season 3. Agreed that the photos, though good, don’t quite capture the glorious attention to detail that you see in the cinematography itself.

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