Why do I like Mad Men? It’s a question that’s puzzled me since the show debuted. It’s hard to sympathize with any of the characters. They’re nearly all awful people. By the sixth season (I haven’t seen the first half of the seventh yet) everyone looks like a bloated, washed-out version of their season one selves. Enough liquor is consumed on the show that these people’s livers should be spontaneously combusting, and don’t you dare play a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone lights a cigarette or you’ll have alcohol poisoning by the first commercial break.
Jon Hamm. Jon Hamm and this self-destructive enigmatic character Don Draper that he’s created are the foundation that makes the show work. It’s odd that Hamm, who sadly because of the era of quality Mad Men existed in will probably never win an Emmy for the role, is now so iconic as this stoic, mysterious character. From what I’ve been able to tell, Jon Hamm would rather be taking a pie in the face than wearing $5,000 suits on Park Ave. His recurring role on 30 Rock as Liz Lemon’s handsome (and handless) yet stupendously idiotic boyfriend is so over-the-top it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor. Hamm crashes Saturday Night Live for unbilled guest spots as much as Justin Timberlake or Steve Martin. And the thing is, he’s a fantastic comedic actor, but I don’t know that he’ll ever be able to shake Draper because of scenes like my favorite from season 1: The Kodak Carousel pitch.
My parents had a Kodak Carousel so I’m familiar with the product, but you don’t really need to be. In this speech to a potential client and in so many others over the course of the show, Hamm has an ability to encapsulate everything advertising is. He seduces you. He tugs on your heartstrings. He makes you jealous. He makes you need whatever needs selling. This particular pitch (along with the infamous Hershey’s one in season six) I think is the best example of the kind of magic Hamm has woven. Mad Men puts you IN the time period in a way no show has ever achieved and cast actors and actresses (where is Christina Hendricks’ Emmy?) that followed Hamm’s lead and put together the show that won Best Drama four years in a row, tying The West Wing’s record.