I thought “Mad Men” would end up more highly regarded than “The Sopranos,” and it wasn’t just the late night and the well, wow factor the last episode left me with. It’s the same kind of show – episodic, layered, one big arc sheltering a dozen small plots – and it also deals with a Big Subject, but there are crucial differences. That means a long “Mad Men” essay follows, so if you don’t care, well, farewell! See you at buzz.mn. (And Twitter.)
Nearly everyone in “Mad Men” is a likeable character in some ways despite their flaws, and nearly everyone in “Sopranos” was mostly unlikable but redeemed for the moment by plot and dialogue. I suppose that’s why the latter was lauded; there’s something perverse and vicariously appealing about caring for bad guys. Aren’t we naughty. But even the not-so-bad people in the Sopranos were unappealing, really; the wives were all shrews content to float along on murder money, the kids were empty shells, and the mobsters – while always fun to watch and listen to – were cruel men without qualities, only tics. Did anyone care if Christopher fell off the wagon? Anyone care about anyone, except whether they would be the Whacker or the Whackee this season? When you think about it, the grand tale of modern mobsters yearning after a bygone time when they had the nabe in their hands is a little like post-Communist block captains lamenting the end of the Soviet Union. Cry yourself a river. Put on the Sinatra and deal with it.
The show gets smaller as we get away from it, and in a way you start to feel a bit abashed for having gotten sucked in. “Mad Men” inhabits a far more interesting world, has people making an honest living, dealing with art in a quintessentially American way – through commerce – and takes place at the same time as the Soprano’s good old Good Old Days – except these guys aren’t stealing or hurting or killing. They don’t have any good old days; these are the good days.
Well, at least until the end of this season, which is set in 1963. This was the penultimate first season episode. So it stands to reason that the crew of the good ship Sterling-Cooper are slowly drifting into one heckuva Boomer-era iceberg somewhere near the conclusion of this season’s story arc.