The award winning TV series Mad Men had escaped my notice until a few days ago. Hearing a lot of good things about it I decided to watch a few episodes. After viewing the first three I’m mystified what the fuss is about. Set in 1960 it depicts the lives of a number of people connected with a Madison (hence one meaning of Mad Men) Ave advertising agency’s employees and their bosses. The series aims at verisimilitude trying to capture the feel of 1960 New York. It fails utterly. Everybody talks like an Ibsen epigone. They smoke so much that the HD resolution is obscured by fumes. I lived in New York in 1960. People smoked a lot back then, but not as much as on this program. They also didn’t do it looking like 11 year olds imitating their parents. The acting is as stiff as the dialogue. People never talked that way, certainly not in Manhattan. There wasn’t even a single button down shirt in sight. The show is a comic book version of the early sixties.
What’s any of this to do with medicine or opera? In the first episode a new secretary goes to a doctor to get a prescription for birth control pills. She gets it, but only after receiving a lecture from her male doctor on not abusing it by becoming the borough slut. She also gets a pelvic exam without a nurse in the room. Didn’t happen then, doesn’t happen now. Physicians dispensed contraceptives in New York during the 50s and 60s with as much aplomb as they wrote for Darvon.
The third episode depicts a Saturday afternoon birthday party for the protagonist’s daughter. We know is early March, 1960 because we’ve been told that Elvis just returned from Germany at the end of his military service. That was March 2, 1960. The radio is on at the birthday party and we hear that the Met is broadcasting The Marriage of Figaro (which is the title of this episode) starring Robert Merrill and Joan Sutherland. To begin with,the Met always calls Mozart’s opera by its Italian name – Le Nozze di Figaro. This is OK because the TV audience wouldn’t recognize it by that name. Figaro was broadcast in early 1960, but in January not March. Furthermore neither Merrill nor Sutherland ever sang in this opera during their long Met careers. And to cap the mishmash Sutherland didn’t make her first appearance at the Met until November of 1961. It took about a minute to check all this out. If verisimilitude was the goal the script writer easily could have done the same.
Of course, all of this would be irrelevant if the show were any good, but it’s not. That it’s won a lot of awards speaks tomes about the competition. Clumsy is the adjective the keeps coming to mind. I’ll go back to Uncle Miltie.