In the February 24th issue of The New York Review of Books, Daniel Mendelsohn takes a critical look at Mad Men. If you haven’t watched all the episodes yet, don’t read it or this, because there are spoilers. If you have, take a few minutes and read Mendelsohn’s piece, and then come back here to see why he’s completely wrong.
Mendelsohn takes issue with almost everything about the show, and finds himself searching for why anyone likes it. But most of the article is spent on attacking the writing, which left us wondering if he watched the same show we did. Mendelsohn’s main problem seems to be that the writing doesn’t delve deeply enough into the issues at hand:
Most of the show’s flaws can, in fact, be attributed to the way it waves certain flags in your face and leaves things at that, without serious thought about dramatic appropriateness or textured characterization.
Anyone who has seen the show knows that sometimes things seem squeezed together, but isn’t that exactly how life happens? Thoroughly discussed emotions and events rarely happen in real life, so why does Mendelsohn expect it to happen in a TV show?
For an example of how little thought is given to the writing, Mendelsohn brings up how Mad Men has dealt with race so far:
Although much has been made of the show’s treatment of race, the ‘treatment’ is usually little more than a lazy allusion—race never really makes anything happen in the show. There’s a brief subplot at one point about one of the young associates, Paul Kinsey, a Princeton graduate who turns out—how or why, we never learn—to be living with a black supermarket checkout girl in Montclair, New Jersey. A few colleagues express surprise when they meet her at a party, we briefly see the couple heading to a protest march in Mississippi, and that’s pretty much it—we never hear from or about her again.
But that’s exactly the way life is – or was! Why would a show about rich white people dwell on race, when during that time those kinds of people would have little interaction (if any at all) with racial issues?
Mendelsohn attacks the writing – and the acting, of course – for being too shallow, but that’s what makes the show so fantastic. Life is shallow. Life isn’t carefully planned out. Life rarely affords us the opportunity to be completely good. And that is what Mad Men is about: the huge gray area called living. That’s why we love it. Mendelsohn wants more from Mad Men – better writing, more complex plots and acting – but he’s not going to get it. And maybe that’s the way it should be. Life, after all, isn’t easy.
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