MCN Columnists
Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Mad Men

Opening in March of 1960, the outstanding AMC cable series, Mad Men, is a glorious period drama about the generation that parented the Baby Boomers. It is also an incisive analysis of the advertising business during one of its greatest growth spurts, and above all else, it is a superb analysis of the human condition achieved by contrasting the manners, morals and psychology of the late Fifties and early Sixties in America with the presumed viewer’s awareness of those same values and states in the present day. For the musical score, outfits and hairdos, and the depictions of people smoking everywhere you turn, the show is a gas, and despite acting like cavemen and cavewomen at times, the characters still manage to reveal enough vulnerabilities to hold onto a viewer’s sympathies even as they come into conflict with one another. The show’s creators are obviously energized by their archeological and anthropological discoveries, and there is inherent humor in the strangeness of the world they are excavating, but the truths are always right near the surface and are too compelling to be dismissed as antiquation. Instead, there is the lingering fear that the values of today, whether it is the driveways filled with SUVs or everyone stuffing themselves with french fries and potato chips, will look just as alien and comical a couple of generations from now.

Lionsgate has released Mad Men Season One in a four-platter set containing thirteen episodes, originally broadcast in 2007. Jon Hamm won a Golden Globe for his performance as the show’s hero, an executive at a fictional New York ‘Madison Avenue’ ad agency, with a mistress in town and a wife and kids in the suburbs, who works on historically genuine advertising accounts and campaigns. The show then expands to follow the stories of some of the men who work for him, some of the men he works for, their wives, and a few of the secretaries. In an inspired piece of casting, Robert Morse, the up-and-coming go-getter inHow To Succeed in Business without Really Trying, portrays the agency’s senior partner. When the show begins, the impression one has of all of the characters is that they are impossibly archaic, but each one is actually striving to understand what life is all about, and since the viewer has a perspective that the characters do not, a sense of collusion develops, enabling an appreciation of each character’s small victories over ignorance. Not only is the program dense in nostalgia (although there is not as much awareness of television among the characters as there ought to be), but the final episode is a self-appreciative tribute to the very concept of nostalgia, and the pitch that Hamm’s character delivers to a potential client near the episode’s climax is so emotionally penetrating it is best to have more than one tissue box handy as it plays out. It will definitely leave you lining up to be the first one on your block to have Season Two.

The season runs a total of 617 minutes and each platter has a ‘Play All’ option. The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. Since the costumes and set designs are so intrinsic to the show’s appeal, the cinematography is exceptionally well composed for a TV series, and the color transfer on the DVD is solid and precise. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound provides a generalized but effective dimensionality. There are optional English subtitles.

The DVD would be terrific even if it held just the show and nothing more, but the supplementary materials are outstanding as well. Three of the episodes have a single commentary track, while the other ten each have two commentaries. Comprised of various members of the cast and the crew, the talks are almost consistently enlightening, whether the speakers are simply pointing out subtle story nuances or relating incidents that occurred on the sets, or whether they go into detail about the designs (and the pains of wearing) the costumes, the music choices, the ad business, the show’s historical context, the narrative development, the cinematography and lighting, and almost every other significant component of the production.

Additionally, most of the platters contain excellent production featurettes that serve as a superb foundation of reference for the commentaries. On the first platter, there is a 7-minute look at the show’s musical scoring and a marvelous collection of thirteen audio clips from the show’s soundtrack album. The second platter has an excellent 19-minute piece about the advertising business and a detailed 30-minute segment on the costume, hair and set designs. The third platter features a 61-minute production featurette that explores the casting, the sets and the highlights of various episodes, all with exceptional insight.

October 7, 2008

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon