by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Mad Men & r & & r & (AMC, Season 1 on DVD now, Season 2 premiers Sunday, July 27 at 10pm) & r & & r &
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & o it's the Sixties. No. Not those Sixties. Not LSD and free love on Haight Street in 1967. The Sixties that happened seven years earlier. Yeah, alcoholism and clandestine adultery on Madison Avenue in 1960. That's right. Dial it in there.
For those of us born well after the fact, it's not easy to place Mad Men into a historical context. Guys wear skinny ties, sure, but they also still rock fedoras and chain-smoke Lucky Strikes. Women still use secretarial school to get out of the Bronx. Those who attend college go to land a guy and become a housewife. There are no cowhide vests to be seen. It might as well be 1945.
There's rampant prejudice. There's the misogyny.
There's the general sense, to the non-boomer, that this could be just about any time in that vague swath of military/industrial prosperity between World War II and the Summer of Love. The America of that era was a big blur of economic prosperity and fear-mongering. Or perhaps that's just the way things looked from high atop midtown Manhattan.
Through the lens of a small agency that revolves around our man Don Draper, its creative director, we get a look at an entire advertising industry on the trailing end of a 20-year orgy of wealth and paranoia. Everything's been easy to sell in this climate. Americans are richer than ever -- or want to appear so -- and also more scared. They have money. They want comfort. "Advertising is saying, 'whoever you are, whatever you're doing, that's OK," Draper says at one point. He sells them happiness, one product at a time.
The world's changing, though: The team spends 15 minutes puzzling over the allure of the Volkswagen Beetle: "No chrome, no horsepower...." Yet the ad world, still reveling, doesn't seem to notice.
Mad Men is about a segment of society -- which functions as a pretty good microcosm, both past and present -- so drunk on its power and influence it takes the better part of a decade to realize that its time has come and gone. It's a delicious and timely irony that's only hinted at in Season One. Expect that irony to grow this season. Though it chronicles an obsolete product, Mad Men's most productive years are ahead of it.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager
It's hard to tell which is worse for 15-year-old Amy. Being 15? Being 15 and pregnant? Being 15 and pregnant with the baby of a dick she met at band camp? Standard ABC Family fare so far. It's the drama that teens love as candy-coating around the moralizing that parents demand. (ABC Family, Tuesdays, 8 pm)
Secret Diary of a Call Girl
Sure, their characters are interesting and funny and bad to edgier middle-class Americans, but Showtime's seemingly just writing characters around random high-risk behaviors (mom drug dealer, sexually reactive novelist, now this). It's becoming rote. Secret Life and Secret Diary should do some collaborating. That'd make things interesting. (Showtime, Mondays, 10:30 pm)
The Baby Borrowers
"OK, so here's the concept: We give dumb-ass kids babies to take care of and tape the ways they screw up." "I like it! Just the thing to turn NBC around! But where do we get the babies?" "Dumb-ass grownups, Bob. They're also our target demographic, so we know where to find them." (NBC, Wednesdays, 8 pm)