It's a show about misogyny. Sex. Money. Anxiety. Change. And millions can't look away.
Perhaps we see in its alienated characters, adrift in an age of insecurity, a mirror of our own troubled times.
"Enjoy the world as it is," an old woman tells a young one during the third season of Mad Men.
They'll change it and never give you a reason."
Unlike the series' characters, marooned in the early 1960s, we, the audience, can see the changes coming.
We've either lived through them ourselves or grown up in a world shaped by them.
Furthermore, Mad Men offers a litany of reasons why those changes had to be made; the series catalogues the many failings of pre-counterculture America for our amusement and head-shaking dismay.
It specialises in a particular flavour of voyeuristic nostalgia: the chance to live
vicariously through a period of acute uncertainty while nestled in the comforting knowledge of how it will all turn out.
If you like MAD MEN for those reasons, may I suggest TRAVIS McGEE by John D. MacDonald:
Why Travis McGee?
I look at my trashy-looking covers of the original Travis McGee novels and think of what treasures lie behind them:
The world of the sixties live in vivid detail for that is when they were written. And the novels contain:
Amazingly excellent writing, with little gems of wisdom, humor, and compassion casually slipped-in among the preposterous and inevitable sex, murder and mayhem.
Classy trash! Not unlike MAD MEN ... and set in the sixties as I have written.
A beach book for intelligent readers!
John D. MacDonald's insights on issues like environmental degradation, overpopulation, irresponsible development, and mindless materialism are as urgently relevant today as they were forty years ago.
You are jarred by how often and casually terms like "Darling" and "Dear" are tossed about. Hearing $4 as the price for a cheap motel room perks your ears. The sexism and naive outlooks of many have you shaking your head.
The internet, cell phones, and AIDS are unheard of.
Travis returned from the Korean War to start a business with his brother and discovers his brother dead, swindled out of his savings. He finds the swindler and a path to walk the rest of his life.
Travis, the lean combat veteran, is a self-described beachbum and salvage expert.
By "salvage" he means he will retrieve something of value that was taken from its rightful owner, something the victim can't get back by himself, and keep half as his fee.
He lives in a houseboat at Fort Lauderdale, drives an old Rolls-Royce which someone had converted into a pickup truck, and works only when he feels like it or when he can't refuse doing a favor.
[Re assuming an identity]
"People take you at the value you put upon yourself. That makes it easy for them.
All you do is blend in. Accept the customs of every new tribe.
And you try not to say too much because then you sound as if you were selling something. Sweetie, everybody in this wide world is so constantly, continuously
concerned with the impact he's making,
he just doesn't have the time to wonder too much about the next guy."
Travis in BRIGHT ORANGE FOR THE SHROUD, p.85.
"One good way [to detect poisonous females]
is to watch how the other women react...
Just the way, honey, a woman should be damned wary
of a man other men have no use for."
Travis in BRIGHT ORANGE FOR THE SHROUD, p.27.
"A woman who does not guard and treasure herself
cannot be of very much value to anyone else...
Only a woman of pride, complexity, and emotional tension
is genuinely worth the act of love,
and there are only two ways to get yourself one of them.
Either you lie, and stain the relationship with your own sense of guile,
or you accept the involvement, the emotional responsibility,
the permanence she must by nature crave.
I love you can be said only two ways."
Travis in THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE, p.24.
THE QUICK RED FOX
is where MacDonald hits his stride
with Travis MacGee.
It might be a good starting point.
The plot of the Quick Red Fox,
like all the McGee novels is high melodrama.
The thing that makes these novels so captivating
is the sense of time and place that MacDonald creates.
I love the typical poetic musing.
I love the characters...
not just McGee, though he is wonderful.
In this one, he creates an amazing vapid actress,
a wonderful cast of villains
and a strong, brave female companion.