I’m coming up on an anniversary. This summer I celebrated the “big ten” with a little show that changed the zeitgeist — Matt Weiner’s masterpiece, “Mad Men.” To be clear, the show itself premiered eleven years ago, but I was highly pre-occupied in 2017 (more on that later) and didn’t get around to the offices of Sterling Cooper until just before the premiere of the second season.
My introduction to Don, Peggy, Roger, Betty, Pete, and Joan came while I was sleeping on a foldout sofa in the home office of the apartment I shared with my (then) boyfriend. We were on the skids — largely for reasons related to my harrowing dance with illicit substances. Actually, the problem may not have been so much my use of the substances as it was my constant lying and theft in service of getting the substances. But let’s not split hairs.
I was on the foldout in the spare room — a room equipped with a computer, which was doubling as my TV/ DVD player combo. I kept that thing spinning with every disc I could find in an effort to keep myself distracted from the narcotic delights just outside the door. Streaming services weren’t really a thing at this point, so my entertainment selection was restricted to the analog options on-hand. Luckily, my soon-to-be-ex had purchased the first season of “Mad Men” at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square — R.I.P.!
The boxed set was pretty cool — shaped like a big zippo with the metal case hinged on one side. The discs were still kicking around the apartment, and so…on July 9, 2008 — at the lowest point in my life — I flipped open that cleverly-designed package and popped the first of four bright red DVDs into the white iMac on the desk in my makeshift bedroom. What unfolded before me was the story of a fella not unlike myself on a journey not unlike mine. The fates had thrown me a lifeline.
Over the next seven seasons, I’d witness a man fight his demons as he stumbled through the waning years of his thirties, and then not so gracefully face his forties. I’d watch him weigh the pros and cons of artistic fulfillment and financial stability. I’d watch him shed relationships he had thought would last forever while desperately searching for new love that might fill the well of self-doubt within him. And then I’d watch Don Draper do all the same things.
So, in honor of my very formative past decade, I’ve decided to revisit the show. With the exception of that pre-season-two, boxed-set-in-the-iMac, first-season-catch-up, I watched “Mad Men” play out in real time. I haven’t re-visited even one episode in the intervening years. But now, three years on from the water cooler conversations surrounding the series finale, I’m going to take the journey all over again. And I’m taking you with me.
This isn’t going to be a typical episode-by-episode rundown. There are plenty of those out there — excellent ones, in fact — because the rise of “Mad Men” gave equal rise to episode recaps and day-after think pieces. In fact, I’d highly recommend a comb through Matt Zoller Seitz’s archives if that’s what you’re looking for. His critical assessment of each episode is gold.
No, this is going to be something different. At least that’s what I’m envisioning, anyway. This is going to be something more personal. I’m curious to see how my reaction to Matt Weiner’s masterpiece may (or may not) have changed over time. Will I still see so much of myself in Don? Will the journey of a man through his mid-thirties still resonate with me now that I’m nearing the middle of my forties? We’ll see.
I have no idea where this will go, but I’m challenging myself to see it through and write as candidly as possible about that time in my life, as well as my reactions to all 92 episodes of what is commonly referred to as one of the best shows ever created — a benchmark of this “Golden Age of Television.”
Next, we’ll tackle Episode One: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Until then, pour yourself a rye and pull up a chair as we get ready take a tumble through the sixties.