My Attempt to Watch Mad Men

I‘ve heard lots of good things about the show Mad Men, and so, after the kids went to bed last night, Kelly and I settled down to watch the first two episodes.  They were entertaining, maybe a little over the top, but the truth is that after two episodes, I was worn out. Two episodes into the show and there was already so much potential drama1 that, as a story teller, I could see the explosive proliferation of plot twists and struggles that would fill the rest of this season, and presumably, subsequent seasons.

Part of what spurred me to give Mad Men a try was catching a few episodes of Bewitched earlier in the week. As a kid, I remember spending summer mornings watching syndicated reruns of the show (I’m nowhere near old enough to have seen the show in first run) and it was nice to see it again. Darren is, of course, an ad man, and the show takes place in the 1960s instead of the 1950s, but memories of how much I enjoyed Bewitched made me curious about Mad Men.

The problems I have with Mad Men are the same problems I have with all television dramas today. First is that they focus on edge-cases, which is understandable, since they are easy targets for good storytelling. But it also means that the shows tend to be overly dramatic and those wear quickly on my limited patience with television.

The second–for me, more important–problem is that they are serials as opposed to series. I’ve discussed this before. I don’t watch a lot of television. When I do, I want to dip for some brain relief and entertainment, and dip out again. I always liked dramas like Magnum, P.I. because, despite being dramas, they were self-contained episodes, rarely, if ever ending in a cliff-hanger, rarely carrying an arch beyond one episode. You could watch an episode, any episode, be entertained for 50 minutes, and move on without a second thought. Not so with today’s dramas, including, it seems, Mad Men.

Let me be clear that my objections to Mad Men have nothing to do with the quality of the writing or acting. They are objections based on my own ennui with how dramas are produced today. I am not a serial TV watcher. I don’t look for a show that will last season after season. I’ve grown to despise cliff-hangers in dramas, and I hate how they chop up seasons these days. Most of all, I really dislike how you can no longer watch just one episode. Today’s dramas are made with binge-watching in mind. I’m not part of that audience so it makes sense that I don’t connect with those kind of shows.

I suspect that series (as opposed to serial) dramas are mostly a thing of the past, and this is one of those cases where like what I grew up with, and am simply not part of the serial-watching culture. That’s okay, I can deal with that. But it is disappointing when shows that sound good in principle are virtually unwatchable to me because of this.

  1. I use the term “potential” in the classical physics sense here.


  1. I’m sure series dramas will cycle back again. Also, there are many shows that are sort of half-and-half; i.e., there is an ongoing arc during the season, but each episode includes one complete story that simply adds to the arc. That is, usually until late in the season, when they become more serial.

    Stay away from “Lost.” 🙂

  2. Try Blue Bloods. Like you, I don’t have the patience for the serials (though I do watch a few – but only the ones with short seasons of about 10 episodes). Blue Bloods is part police procedural, part family drama. The episodes are standalone and the main characters are all from the same extended family. Even better – they’re regular people, not whackadoos, so you care about them.

    Another show I like is Call the Midwife on PBS (a UK import). Each episode features a main storyline for that episode with a secondary arc over the season, but the seasons are short so easily digestible.

  3. My problem with so many TV shows these days is that many characters are just repulsive people. I watched the first season of Breaking Bad, and as I did with the original Dallas, I found myself not wanting anything good to happen to any of them.

  4. Jamie,

    I have a totally unrelated question about the use of hyphens. I often try to use hyphens in my writing, in order to expand on an idea and it feels somewhat natural because I end up using only one hyphen (at the beginning).

    I noticed you’ve used hyphens at the beginning of the fourth para – “The second–for me, more important–problem” and was wondering two things –
    1. No spaces? Is that by design?
    2. Is it logical to use the hyphen like that or it is better to use commas? (fiction writing rarely allows for brackets)

    1. Nitin, 1) It’s how I’ve always done it, including in manuscripts, and while editors have picked out other problems, they’ve never identified this as one. 2) I can’t say whether it is logical or not–I do it based on intuition. It’s a beat. For me, a comma represents a pause, while the em-dash represents a drop-in thought. Hope that helps.

      1. Jamie,

        Thanks… That definitely helps. After I wrote to you, I started poking around and found a few more examples of the dash being used in writing. It seems the dash surrounding a drop-in idea is pretty normal. I even managed to use it once today, so I guess all is well 🙂

  5. Hi Jamie, Thank you so much for responding to the questions for my paper so quickly. The information was wonderful.

    And I completely agree with you about television series. That’s why I wait until the series is finished and watched the whole thing all the way through. I’m too impatient.


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