Mad Men, Season 4

Season 4 Preview: Will Mad Men Go to Grad School?
Talking television.
July 26 2010 5:11 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Season 4 Preview: Will Mad Men Go to Grad School?

Dear Julia and John,

Anybody mind if I take off my pants?

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Very excited to be joining you for the new season of Mad Men. I've already registered for my chance to win a Mad Men-inspired living room, I've dyed my hair gray in honor of the existential hero Roger Sterling, and I dug out my old American Studies books from the back of the closet. Anyone need an extra copy of Protestant, Catholic, Jew?

Character Don Draper from "Mad Men".
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men

Like you Julia, I do think the buildup has been muted this year. I sense a junior-year-of-college feeling hovering around the Sunday premiere. We're excited that school is back in session, but we don't want to be all jumpy and spastic about it. I suppose, also, that there is a fear that things are about to get serious. One of the ongoing debates is whether the show favors diorama over drama. Now that the writers have been living with these characters for three seasons, will they be tempted to forgo office hijinks and make big statements about the world we live in and life in general?

And, yes, it's worrisome that creator Matthew Weiner told Diane Sawyer (via Skype!) that when he thinks of Don Draper he thinks "Who am I?" and went on to elaborate: "You ask that question when you're a kid. And if you're lucky to have an education, you find out this is the big conundrum of Western literature and civilization." I love how Mad Men flatters the little that you remember of your liberal arts education, but I hope that Don's big conundrums still come in the form of coy schoolteachers, conflicted heiresses, the Reno-bound Betty, and the like.

My sense is that Mad Men won't go to graduate school—Weiner spent too much time in the Hollywood trenches not to be an entertainer—but graduate school has come to Mad Men in the form of Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is As It Seems. The table of contents are often the best parts of these pop-culture philosophy books—" 'And Nobody Understands That, but You Do': The Aristotelian Ideal of Friendship among Mad Men (and Women)"—though, to be fair, there are usually two or three amazing essays as well. My copy has yet to arrive, though I did enjoy the excerpt of "The Existential Void of Roger Sterling" that ran in the Wall Street Journal. The author writes: "For Kierkegaard, aesthetic people such as Roger Sterling cravenly flee boredom, despair, and the burden of self-creation." That sounds about right. Kierkegaardian hedonists also make for great TV. Like you, John, I think Roger has the best lines.

When it comes to the new season, I'm going to take my cue from Eastern philosophy, empty my mind, and bend like a reed in the gin-soaked wind. Julia, I thought you were exactly right about last season's finale: By having Don start up an agency, Weiner and his collaborators get to reboot the whole show, Mad Men: New and Improved. But if there's one expectation I will bring to Season 4, it's this: I want a moment as coldly logical and as joltingly funny as when Guy got his foot run over by the lawnmower—easily my TV highlight of the decade. I believe I stood up in my living room.

Only two more days, so excuse me while I close the door to my office, turn down the shades, and …  listen to the Mad Men channel on Pandora.

—Agger

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Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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