‘Mad Men’ worthy of recent praise

John Sturgeon

Going into the Emmys last month, I thought “Dexter” or “Lost” would take the Best Drama Emmy, even though all the critics said otherwise.

When AMC’s critically acclaimed but seldom-watched “Mad Men” won the Emmy, I finally caved and watched it from the beginning to see what all the fuss was about.

Set in the early 1960s, “Mad Men” is a deeply engrossing drama about the lives of men and women working at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency on Madison Avenue in New York City.

There are no cell phones or computers. Alcohol is prevalent throughout the office, and everybody smokes.

Relationships between men and women are different, and sexism is abundant in the office as women struggle to assert themselves in the workplace.

Leading the cast is Golden Globe-winner Jon Hamm in the role of Don Draper, the mysterious creative director at Sterling Cooper. Don has the corner office that all the up-and-comers aspire to get.

Best described as a cold, disturbed and emotionless person, Don is a hard protagonist to root for. He cheats on his wife while struggling to show affection to her and their two children.

The first season deals with Don’s identity issues and struggle to balance his marriage with his extramarital affairs.

One of the most fascinating characters on the show is Betty Draper, played by January Jones.

Betty was treated like a princess by her father when she was younger and became a model as an adult.

She met Don, the two married and she became a housewife following the birth of their daughter, Sally.

One of the show’s central themes is people’s desire to be needed and feel important. Due to Don’s intimacy issues, he never tells Betty he loves her, does not reveal any of his past to her and keeps work issues to himself.

These communication problems lead to constant bickering between the couple as Betty becomes suspicious.

The relationship proves consistently volatile and gives the audience plenty of reason to continue tuning in each week.

Elizabeth Moss plays the confident and unassuming Peggy Olson, who starts as Don’s secretary in the first episode of the series.

The office manager, Joan, tells Peggy to flaunt her assets and to accommodate the needs of the men in the office.

Peggy, however, has ambitious goals to get into the advertising business as a copywriter. Watching her rise through the ranks in a male-dominated business is one of the most entertaining aspects of the series. She refuses to sleep her way to the top or to allow herself to be taken advantage of by some of the sexist men in the company.

The one mistake Peggy has made was sleeping with the cocky and engaged account executive Pete Campbell on her first day on the job. Nine months later, this choice has serious consequences, and the way Peggy deals with the whole scenario is both shocking and unexpected.

Besides Don, a favorite character to watch is the immature, spoiled account executive Pete Campbell. Pete is a man who covets Don’s job and believes he is entitled to bigger and better things.

Played brilliantly by Vincent Kartheiser, Pete is definitely the character fans love to hate on the show.

The way he interacts with people is bizarre and creepy at times but undoubtedly interesting to watch. He also has a son who he knows nothing about courtesy of his one-night stand with Peggy.

With an infertile wife and a father killed in a plane accident, Pete offers definite reasons for sympathy, and the Peggy and Pete moments keep showing the audience that maybe she is the right girl for him.

Other characters of note include John Slattery’s Roger Sterling, a powerful partner at the company who beds secretaries like it is a job requirement.

This causes him to become unsatisfied with his wife and daughter and wonder what else is out there for him. Watching him deal with two heart attacks, his many affairs and his friendship with Don is exciting and shows the incredible versatility of the actor.

Christina Hendricks oozes sexy as the office manager. She marks her territory and lets every new girl know not to mess with her.

The characters touched on here comprise less than half of the cast.

Each character on the show has a purpose, and watching the relationships develop with superb acting and writing are what makes the show so exceptional.

Overall, “Mad Men” is that rare show that makes you think about what you saw long after an episode airs because you never quite know where things are leading.

“Mad Men” Season 1 is available on DVD now, while Season 2 continues its run on AMC every Sunday at 10 p.m.