Good stories are better when they’re shared with friends. This is easy to forget when there are so many viewing options on your computer, your tablet, even your phone, which encourage you to sit by yourself, plug in your headphones and tune out the world. We forget that stories were invented to be shared, that they are supposed to bring us closer to other people. So why is it that none of my friends will watch Mad Men with me?
When I was first getting into Mad Men, I had some vague impression that I knew a lot of people who already loved it and would be thrilled to talk about it with me. As it turned out, none of my good friends watched it or had any interest in watching it. It was too late for me though, because by the time I realized this I was completely addicted to the show.
The irony of this whole situation is that one of the primary themes of Mad Men is human connection, the way that we all strive to know people and connect with them on a deep and meaningful level. Don Draper is a hollow, empty man because he can never figure out why he doesn’t feel happy and fulfilled. He keeps searching for meaning in success, sex, booze, travel, the adrenaline of risk, new thing after new thing trying to find the meaning he craves, the connection he so deeply needs. I recently read a critique of Mad Men claiming that people who liked it must be either condoning all of Don’s terrible actions or sitting in judgment on him constantly. But there is a third (much more appealing) option, which is to deplore the things that Don does while recognizing the yearning in his heart that leads him to do those things. We as viewers are watching in the hope that he will figure out what it is that he needs, so that maybe we can find whatever it is that we need. This framework provides a context for Don’s actions that makes him a recognizable, sympathetic human even when he’s making really awful decisions (which he does, often).
This reading of the show extends to all the other main characters too. Peggy, Pete, Betty, Joan, and Roger are all searching, none quite so desperately as Don, for that ineffable thing that they somehow missed, that everyone else seems to have. Mad Men takes the abstract universal human search for meaning and connection and makes it intensely personal.
So everyone, and especially my friends, give this show a chance if you haven’t yet! It’s brilliantly written, very well acted, has impeccable production design, and a moving, compelling, inspiring portrait of a man in need of human connection. Watch it so we can talk about it and I can finally find that thing that I have been looking for since the first episode of season one: someone to discuss it with.
Chime in in the comments with your thoughts on Mad Men or TV shows that you love watching with friends.
‘Tis the season for spooky shows and Halloween specials, so check back on Friday for Nathan’s ruminations on horror in kid’s shows, starting with Courage the Cowardly Dog.