A gauzy filter of light through the haze of cigarette smoke. The impeccable curve of a hip as it sways in a walk up the stairs. One can nearly smell the sweet, smoky hint of scotch on the breath of Don Draper as his soft, husky voice whispers to another adulterous conquest. Sin never looked so good, now that AMC's Mad Men has returned for another season.

It's hard not to appreciate a television series that pays such attention to vintage detail, yet still manages to create storylines that remain relevant to today's Short Attention Span Theater audience. Spanning 1960s Americana, Mad Men is the creation of executive producer Matthew Weiner, who had previously held producer credits with the likes of another compelling drama, the Sopranos. His new players reside in the sleek, dry martini world of the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, a stark contrast to the seedier atmosphere of the Bada-Bing. However, this world is no less atmospheric, nor infected, with the miasma of the human condition.

Characters and their settings appear with the immaculate calm of a still pool of amber in a freshly-poured Manhattan, but it belies the kick waiting at the bottom of the glass. This Bird could wax poetic over how watching Christina Hendricks' voluptuous secretarial queen bee, Joan Holloway, makes one long for the abandon of stick-thin models and carb-free meals. Her wardrobe of body-hugging dresses, nipped-in waists, combined with her fiery red hair makes an argument against blondes having more fun. As Joan smoulders, she simultaneously bears the cross of sexual revolution in the workplace, her sensual self-assuredness leading to victimization. And how can one not fawn over the way dusky-colored suits perfectly hang off actor Jon Hamm's tall, strong frame, as he performs a contemporary equivalent of Gregory Peck's Tom Rath in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)? His dapper Don Draper is a study in fear and loathing, as he reconciles his murky past while ambling through an equally uncertain future, as the man who makes a living of selling lies. Don's wife Betty (January Jones) is a portrait of icy blond perfection, a specimen worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, with the wardrobe to match. Impossibly-coiffed hair, a swipe of bright red lipstick, and a pristine set of pearls like a gilded noose, Betty embodies the ad-worthy portrait of a suburban upper-class housewife, with all the repression, frustration, and inner-turmoil to inspire this elaborate facade.

Mad Men is a series that inspires both a love of fashion, as well as eliciting the scorn of hypocrisy. As viewers, we are meant to be drawn into the pastoral pretense of simpler times, but then crushed by harsh realities as they lumber into these characters' lives. Ever since its first season, Mad Men has been disconcerting in its establishment of a world seemingly unfamiliar to our current non-smoking, equal opportunity land of the free/home of the brave. However, the discomfort persists because one realizes the bigotry and double standards that were so blatantly worn on the sleeves of people over forty years ago is the same complacent lie that we'd all like to believe has since gone out of favor in our contemporary times. This Jaunty Bird's adoration of tweed and tailored pencil skirts cannot focus solely on the sparkle of smart art direction and costuming, instead being drawn into the relevance of television turning the mirror upon our own veneer of modern utopia, and the pearls and suited armor we all wear to hide our own fears and weaknesses.

*Photos from AMC's Mad Men website

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  1. I'm hard pressed to find another show that marries style so well to narrative from the glossy, slick backed hair of Don Draper to Peggy's sexy evening dress trying to fit in the boys during a morale visit to the club, the designers on the show hit the mark every episode.

    And besides that, Jon Hamm is just yummy!

  2. I still haven't watched it but love pouring over the stills I see on the web. The wardrobe is outta this world!


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