Why Mad Men needs no hard sell
Mad Men introduced us to a world of 1960s ad men who smoked like industrial revolution-era chimneys and drank up spirits like whisky-powered Henry hoovers. And, very quickly, many of us were hooked. Not by the smoking and the drinking. But by the most stylish and extraordinary drama of the 21st century.episode-by-episode blog for Guardian readers. It took a few episodes to really kick off, but by the end of that series - as Don Draper briefly ran away to California - we had hundreds of commenters trying to work out what everything meant.
The discussions that followed were fascinating. And as the group grew so did the level of debate - whether it was from people arguing over the accuracy of the pantyhose worn by the women or the intricate details of Don's double life.
And that's the key thing about Mad Men. While similarly acclaimed shows like The Wire are often beguiling - but for the most part, unambiguous - 90% of the value of this show is working out what everything means.
From a camera shot lingering slightly too long on a locked drawer to Betty Draper's impassive face at an awards' dinners, viewers who've immersed themselves in the show are treated to being able to tell what something means just by a quick glimpse at a character's eyes.
The BBC has taken the excellent decision to start showing Mad Men a couple of weeks after its US transmission (it previously ran from January). This means Mad Men's UK Maddicts have only had to wait a couple of months for the action to pick up from the end of series three, where Don Draper engineered a split in the original company just as his wife was engineering one away from him.
We meet Don just before Thanksgiving 1964 - it's the year of the Beatles' US invasion and the new office's furniture reflects a change away from the staid 1950s chic of the first three seasons. But despite the cheerful tumult of the office split we soon discover that there's as much darkness in the heart of Don as ever.
So why do we love a show with an often unlikeable central character?
The most simple reason is that it's great drama with no characters there simply to fill screentime. As much as we might dislike young account man Pete Campbell, we can understand why he does what he does.
Every thing and every shot is there for a reason.The Sopranos never managed.
The style of the show is so iconic that in this month's Vogue a model has been styled to look like January Jones' Betty Draper, while Jones and Christina Hendricks (Joan) sit on the covers of current UK editions of Tatler and GQ respectively. It cleverly runs through the many revolutions of the 1960s (civil rights, women's lib and the sexual revolution) without ever being obvious.
It also reeks of cultural class. The characters' film, music and reading habits send viewers running to investigate them, thus sending obscure books like Frank O'Hara's Meditations In An Emergency up the Amazon bestsellers chart.
For me and so many other people who can't stop watching - and if you start, you won't stop - it's possibly the most complete TV show of all time. So pull up an Old Fashioned, put on your smartest Brooks Brothers suit and enjoy series four.