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The Best Show on TV: Mad Men

I think about Mad Men a lot. I think about dressing differently because of this show, acting differently. Suavity suddenly seems a more serious priority. I mean, really, I'm second-guessing wearing t-shirts, wondering if I would ever wear a suit (to go write in a cafe). That's how good it is, and I haven't finished the first season.

I'm years behind on this, I know, but how many of us watched the Sopranos, never mind The (British) Office, in real time either? Huh? Huh? So there.

In 37 seconds, the show's opening sequence that so masterfully blends music (the theme music!) and animation, says it all, shows it all, the series's style, it's theme, it's subtle brilliance. As a friend put it, that opening manages to encapsulate just about everything the show is about, and more than anything Mad Men is about appearances, about what we show vs. who we are. Specifically put, this is a show about the style and lifestyle of the advertising men, and the women they screw (metaphorically and otherwise), on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s. The show both venerates and judges hell out of that hard smoking, heavy drinking world and in, turn, we find ourselves looking back with a dizzying flip-flop of reverent nostalgia one minute, for a time when you were allowed to have a vice or two, to the next when we're shocked and horrified at what we see. The frozen food dinners! But seriously, or, at least most pointedly, how abysmally women were treated, both the ones working in the office, and those sequestered off to work in the home.

Mad Men is so good, so smart, that I do believe it will change TV and movies. One small, but not insignificant example of this is how, I predict, it will change the types of women we see on screen thanks to a rather voluptuous, hip swaying character who is probably almost literally twice the woman Kate Moss is. I think we may just see a lot more women with actual bodies (hips, tits, and even, god forbid, a little belly fat) back on screens big and small in the next few years.

It goes without saying that the best show on TV is a true ensemble - the whole cast is excellent - and the writing is whip-smart, especially for scenes within the advertising office where so much of Mad Men takes place (see pilot episode - the scenes about Lucky Strike cigarettes, for example).Like every great story, it all comes down to how much we care and invest in its characters. The characters are interesting because they are complex, because they are flawed, conniving, jealous, angry, repressed, smart, striving; one can be downright sinister (and that's always interesting*).

Because when you've outgrown the Michael Bay hyper editing version of how to SIS-BOOM-BAH! tell a story, and really need to put that electronic device down - to just slow down - it's nice to sit back, sip a scotch on the rocks and see something that's not in any rush to get anywhere.

I'm hooked.

*[Read East of Eden for proof of the vitality a sinister character gives every scene he or she is in.]