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Are we mad?

August 1st, 2008 by Eugene Wei SVP, Audience

Off the top of my head, and many TV shows live there, I can’t think of any TV dramas about businesses that I’ve found compelling. All the TV dramas of note seem to be set in hospitals, law firms, police departments, or the White House.

But then there’s Mad Men. It’s not only a period piece, set as it is in early 1960’s America, but it focuses on an advertising agency in New York City. There’s no stunt casting, no crossover movie stars or famous TV stars recognizable from monthly appearances on magazine covers. In terms of degree of difficulty, Mad Men is ambitious and uncompromising.

After one season, it’s also this: my favorite show on television.

It turns out that this business, the advertising business, is a rich metaphor for examining the tension between the image we want to project to others and our inner selves. Show runner Matthew Weiner mines it for every possibility. Weiner, whose pilot for Mad Men earned him a job as a writer and executive producer on The Sopranos, has the men and women of fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper crafting brand campaigns for their clients, but their greatest challenges lie in creating personas that they can still live with when they’re alone with just a stiff drink to keep them company. As the characters light up one cigarette after another with almost eerie self-assurance, you realize each and every one of them is under an intense pressure to stave off the unsettling suspicion that the images they’ve constructed for themselves are as artificial as the ones they conjure for their clients.

It’s difficult to discuss Mad Men without mentioning the stylish period costumes—the fedoras, three-piece suits, zeppelin bras—and period props, from authentic vintage typewriters to the monolithic copy machine that appears in the season two premiere. Though Sterling Cooper is fictional, many of the ad agencies and campaigns mentioned in the show are real, like easter eggs for advertising and design junkies. And the dialogue is a fireworks show of wit. When you hear these ad men trade bon mots over cognac, you’ll understand how they command top dollar for their copy.

But it’s what lies beyond these visible markers that elevates the show to greatness. There is a subtlety and refinement to the shape of scenes in this series that is breathtaking. Many a scene ends with an extra several beats, to let the subtext hang in the air like smoke curling up from a lit cigarette. This show is powered by true ensemble acting, and a conversation about the show’s plot can dwell on any number of the characters, from Don Draper, played by Golden-Globe winner Jon Hamm, to secretary turned junior copywriter Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss (Zoey Bartlet from The West Wing is all grown up!), to Account Executive Pete Campbell, played by Vincent Kartheiser as a sometime villain and yet ironically the one character closest to letting his true self out in public. Come for the outfits, but stay for their stories.

The premiere of season 2 of Mad Men, set in 1962, two years after the finale of season one, hints that more than ever that what we’re watching is akin to a horror movie in which we watch each of the characters killed off by some unseen bogeyman. In the case of Mad Men, the people of Sterling Cooper, with their sexist, racist attitudes, are about to be ambushed by the 1960’s counterculture. We know it, and we realize it will overtake them faster than they suspect.

Here’s the part where you get to tell us if we’re mad. We were only able to secure streaming clearances for one full episode, this premiere of season 2, to be posted to our site a short delay after air date, in addition to some clips from Mad Men throughout this season. In most cases like this, we’d pass on adding the show to the site. At a minimum, we’d wait until we could add more than one episode. Like you, we prefer full runs of shows to individual seasons, full seasons to rolling five episodes, and full episodes to clips, the closer to TV air date the better.

But we love this show so so much, and more importantly, we think that the best way to accelerate the online content clearance process is to continue to demonstrate the strength of this channel. The more viewers watch videos on Hulu, the more of you write us demanding more episodes be streamed on our service, the more convincing is our argument for more.

Whether you agree with our decision or not, you can reach us, as always, at .

One of Hulu’s Mad Men, (),

Last comment: Jul 4th 2013 9 Comments
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  • […] Hulu’s No. 1 Mad Men fan, Eugene Wei, wrote when last season’s premiere was offered in a similar fashion, “In most cases like this, […]

  • ACH says:

    I have a question: does Hulu plan on putting up cable tv shows in the near future? I would totally pay for such service

  • Chad says:

    I’m hesitant to watch, since the Hulu team has only put up Season 2, and I have not seen any of Season 1…

  • InfoMofo says:

    Well I guess I’m one of the “whiners”. I hadn’t read the fine print, but I had been expecting to be able to watch episode 2 of Season 2 of Mad Men on hulu. I was extremely disappointed to find out that I couldn’t, and I had to dig through a mountain of red tape to find out why.

    It is just not intuitive what content I will be able to find and what I will not. Until this becomes more transparent to end users such as myself, this service will not be a reliable staple in the internet tools that I use.

  • Katie says:

    So, I saw that Mad Men season two was now on Hulu and I decided to check out season one first. I’ve watched 14 straight episodes, stopping only for food and sleep. I’m addicted.

  • sapere_aude says:

    I haven’t watched Mad Men yet; but it looks intriguing, and I’ll probably check it out soon. But I wanted to comment on this blog to thank you for taking the effort to explain why you are posting only a single episode (plus clips) of Mad Men. Reading through the user reviews on various TV shows and movies, I’ve noticed that you get lots of complaints (most of them completely unjustified) about various aspects of the Hulu service. A few of the complaints that keep coming up are that, on some shows, you have lots of clips but not many actual episodes, there is a delay in posting new episodes, and episodes get taken down too quickly. I’ve always just assumed that this was because the copyright owners were restricting what you could show, when you could show it, and how long you could keep it up. But I’ve never actually seen anything on the Hulu site that explicitly states that, until now. I think you’d get fewer of these sorts of complaints if you’d just explain why things are the way they are on Hulu. Just a little notice stating that the copyright owners have placed certain restrictions on what you can show, when, and for how long, would go a long way to silencing some of the unjust criticism you have been getting. I love the Hulu service and think that the whiners who are constantly complaining about the content and features are totally out of their minds. However, even I get a bit annoyed by the fact that movies or TV episodes will occasionally get taken down before I get a chance to watch them. If you could put a list on the Hulu homepage of which movies and TV episodes are about to expire, it would really be helpful. Basically, the more information and explanation you can give your viewers about what you are doing and why you are doing it, the fewer complaints you’ll get. (Yeah, sure, there are some spoiled whiners out there who will complain no matter what you do; but I think most of your viewers will be reasonable as long as they feel that you’re being upfront with them. We just don’t like to be kept in the dark or taken by surprise.) And while I’m on the subject of user reviews and complaints, I have one very minor complaint about the way you have the “user reviews” section set up. I love reading through the user reviews; but the navigation in the “user reviews” section is not very user-friendly at all. Is there any way you can set it up to make it easier to scroll through and read the reviews? Also, I find it a little annoying that, when I go to an episode, it starts playing automatically, before I’ve had a chance to look at the reviews at the bottom of the page. Yeah, I can stop the video myself; but wouldn’t it make more sense to let the viewer start the video manually, allowing him or her to take the time to read the reviews first? Just a suggestion. Nonetheless, Hulu is a wonderful service, no matter what the whiners say. Keep up the good work!