I’ve watched the first two episodes of Madmen and have watched, years ago, later episodes in no particular order. I have several problems with the show based upon its own merits (or rather the lack thereof).
I get that it takes place in the 1950s/60s. That mere fact provides its own shock value. Wowzers, they smoke and drink all the time, cheating on your wife is a given, misogyny is expected, racism normal, homosexuals must live in the closet, men run the show, technology is new, etc. No mystery there, give me a one page paper or a history lecture. Nearly 2 hours of recycled motifs fast becomes dry. Madmen has yet to explore these cultural values/shifts in meaningful ways.
I don’t care about the characters, except the women who function as obvious underdogs. Unfortunately, being an underdog is a generalization and doesn’t lend itself to anything more than a superficial care. Don Draper is a son of a bitch, all the men are sons of bitches. It’s a routine that isn’t going anywhere. But wait, something is going on with Don? What is his background? And why is he so mysterious? Who gives a shit. When examined he’s not a compelling character. Rather, he is a caricature: the WW2 veteran suffering from shell-shock, the strong silent type, the male leader, the deep thinker and troubled soul, etc. Learning about him will not make the show more interesting.
The show is mildly entertaining. Unfortunately it draws out the story-lines and forces the audience into these “oh my” and “I can’t believe” pauses. Madmen’s lack of substance and lack of action leave us with a boring show. I can watch the most (subjectively) boring crap but it probably informs me of social and political issues in a substantive way. Madmen does not. I can watch pure action driven programs that hold little moral value. Madmen is no action packed program. Hell, the show ain’t even funny.
Once we get over the 1950s style, the macabre culture that is given only surface treatment, and the underdeveloped caricatures then we see what the show really is: above average set-design, a hard-working fashion team, and novel direction/production paired with barely mediocre story-telling.