Mad Men: The Legacy


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Ok. Now that that’s out of my system, let’s get down to the rational stuff.

My favorite show ever is — and probably always will be — Lost. I started watching Lost when I was ten years old, and since its end, there’s been a hole in my heart that can only be filled by wonderful TV shows about people and their relationships. TV shows that make you care so deeply about the characters that you feel what they feel and you cry when they cry. Few shows since Lost have made me care the way Mad Men did.

Now that Mad Men has ended, articles will inevitably start rolling out about its legacy. What impact did this show have? How did it matter? Is this the end of the golden age of TV? Of great television dramas?

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Without question, I think Mad Men will prove to be an important show in the greater scheme of television. It will last and linger and maybe it’ll change the way that people think about TV. Or maybe it won’t do any of that. At the end of any great show, we rush to make big predictions about what has changed in the industry. Amazing shows feel as if they have to have made some cataclysmic shift in the way things are done, but usually they don’t. That’s not to say that they don’t have impact. On the contrary, shows like The Sopranos and Lost, Breaking Bad and Mad Men matter a lot. But they change things in smaller ways; they inspire gradual shifts rather than sudden paradigm realignments.

With The Sopranos, the industry took an interest in the idea of an anti-hero, a character who wasn’t quite a hero and wasn’t quite a villain, but instead, was more of a real person, was a balance of both. Lost blended heavy mythology with intimate character relationships and shifted the way writers and viewers thought about the interpersonal relationships of shows. Breaking Bad took the idea of a character’s arc to the next level. Viewers followed Walter White through his highs and his lows, and poetic writing defined the journey along the way. It’s hard to say what Mad Men’s impact will be, but for right now, I don’t think that’s terribly important. What’s important right now is what we know for sure.

What the end of Mad Men marks for sure is the end of a really phenomenal show, a show with writers who cared about their characters and a creator who took care to get every detail right. It marks the end of our relationship with a cast of characters who revealed parts of ourselves that we might not have even been aware of.

In Peggy, we saw the kind of ambition that many of us have. The ambition to beat the odds, to have it all, and to surprise those who don’t believe in what we’re trying to do. In Joan, we saw the confidence that we wanted. Joan was the kind of woman who demanded respect, and I think most women could stand to be a little more like that. In Pete, we saw our failings. The ability never to settle. The dark things some of us might do for success. In Roger, there was a zest for life, but also an immaturity. In Don, the confusion we all feel sometimes. The struggle to be better, to learn from mistakes. In Betty, a bitterness that we all wish wasn’t there. Every character on Mad Men meant something. They mattered. They had dreams and goals and fears and passions, and characters as fully formed as those on Mad Men aren’t something that we should take for granted.

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Is Mad Men the end of strong television dramas? Of shows that make you care about fictional characters more than you thought possible? I’m sure it’s not. Other shows will come around that make us care this intensely. Maybe not for a while, but they will. And other shows will take us into their worlds and get all of the tiny details just right. Other shows will even inspire us to talk and theorize the way Mad Men did. But whether Mad Men leaves a major lasting legacy in the history of television or not, it mattered.

Just like Don and Peggy and Joan and Roger and Betty and Pete and Stan and every single character on this delicate, detailed, absolutely beautiful piece of television, it was here. And it mattered.


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