The odds of AMC’s “Mad Men” becoming a hit were about the same as Adam Carolla winning “Dancing With the Stars.”
The cable series about the advertising world in the early ‘60s appears on a channel formerly known only for showing old movies. It is set in a period when sexual harassment was an art form, not an infraction. Most of the cast members are so unknown that a TMZ crew would not hassle them at the airport. The clothing is dated, and the air is filled with cigarette smoke.
Despite all that, the series has earned high praise from television critics. The Television Critics Association gave it three of its top awards, including naming it the best show on television. It also earned 16 Emmy nominations. Only the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” with 23, and the NBC comedy “30 Rock,” with 17, got more Emmy nods.
Riding on this wave of critical support, the second season of “Mad Men” began Sunday. Needless to say, the cast is slightly overwhelmed by the reaction to the first year.
“It’s phenomenal,” says Jon Hamm, who plays the series’ central figure, Don Draper. “I think I speak for everybody when I say it remains kind of fun to go to work. It has been that since the pilot.
“So in many ways, speaking personally, I’ve been so proud of this thing from the beginning that to have it sort of validated and vindicated in the greater sort of world of television criticism and the culture is amazing.”
For those of you not familiar with the show, Draper is a Madison Avenue whiz kid. While he is the darling of the ad agency, there is a darker side. He has secrets. These are complicated by a wife (January Jones) who seems to be teetering on the edge of emotional collapse.
The advertising agency is a hotbed of affairs. And if you listen to the suited ad executives, every secretary in the place is named either Hon or Babe.
Elisabeth Moss, who plays the feisty Peggy Olson, calls the relationships in that time period a huge part of the show.
And it isn’t just the sexual atmosphere of the office. If you have only three martinis at lunch, you are a wimp. It seems like a race to see whether lung cancer or liver damage will be the leading killer.
All of these conflicts are set up by series creator Matthew Weiner’s decision to set the show in the early ‘60s. But Weiner says the gap really isn’t that large.
“I think it’s very much like right now,” he says. “I felt very much that 1960 was very much like last year. And we’ll see how the election goes. And you start looking at the culture and what we are interested in and what mood it is right now, and I think you will see a lot of overlap.”