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“Mad Men” panned in the “New York Review of Books” by the only critic who hates it

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Mad Men Joan Peggy

Just when it seems like every single TV viewer over the legal drinking age loves Mad Men, author Daniel Mendelsohn is here to save us from boring conformity. In his essay for the upcoming issue of The New York Review of Books, he systematically goes through the aspects of Mad Men everybody loves (that '60s style! Jon Hamm's acting! Consequence-free all day smoking and drinking!) and, shockingly, explains why none of these things are actually that good or that interesting.  

His main attack is on the show's poor handling of sexism and racism. Mendelsohn argues that racism is merely a device the writers use when the plot needs some sprucing up, but not dealt with seriously — rather, it's then dropped when other, more interesting plot points come up. He makes a great point about how the most effective depiction of pre-feminist America in the series is not the constant ogling of women and the condescension Peggy endures in her early days as a copywriter, but Joan's short-lived career as more than just head secretary: 

"[Joan] is asked to help vet television scripts for potential conflicts of interest with clients’ ads, and finds she’s both good at it and intellectually stimulated by it — only to be told, in passing, that the firm has hired a man to do the job. The look on her face when she gets the news — first crushed, then resigned, because after all this is how it goes — is one of the moments of real poignancy in the show." 

Mendelsohn also praises the catch-22 Don finds himself in at the end of season four, but, beyond these two examples, he makes it clear that the only people he can understand enjoying this melodrama trip down memory lane are those who've done it all before.  

It might be a personal and imperfect critique. But, it is interesting to hear someone smart (and Mendelsohn is certainly that) ponder the show's more negative aspects.