Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
Did Don really make that Coke ad? I still think Peggy made it. —DF
I am all about reading into Mad Men, looking for subtle allusions and shreds of foreshadowing, but one of the show’s distinguishing features is that there are no fake-outs. Things genuinely are as they seem. It’s not a trick; the presented answer is the actual answer. Remember at the end of season three, how many people thought Don and Betty weren’t really getting divorced? (If you don’t remember: A lot of people said that!) They were. No, Megan wasn’t secretly dead for most of season six. Nor was she murdered by the Manson Family. Of course Don is not D.B. Cooper, nor do I believe that anyone really thought that. The episode sure makes it seem like that Coke ad was Don’s idea. I’m going with that reading. (And duh, obviously, an actual real human named Bill Backer came up with the ad.)
This is not me putting down crackpot theories. I love crackpot theories. I, in particular, like the theory that C.J. and Toby were secretly dating for much of The West Wing. (It’s very subtle, but it is there.) They’re fun to talk about, and those theories are the only things that kept Lost going for me there at the end, but some shows lend themselves to it more than others. Mad Men just isn’t a theory show for me.
Many people, including critics, say that Mad Men was the last of a dying breed from the Golden Age (or Silver Age, depending on whom you talk to). Also the last of what could be considered a “consensus” show. Do you agree? I know we are so splintered and niche now. Will we have more prestige shows that have wider/mass appeal? —James
I wouldn’t call Mad Men a consensus show at all: Its ratings were actually no great shakes, bringing in about 3 million viewers and change for the finale. And you can’t just blame cable for that: The Walking Dead airs on AMC, too, and that pulled in over 17 million viewers for last fall’s premiere. Those of us who loved it really loved it, but Mad Men was never a ratings behemoth. The Jennifer Love Hewitt show The Client List, where she played a sex worker at a hand-job “massage” parlor — that show regularly had more viewers than Mad Men. Just about everything on USA is more popular. More people watch Rizzoli & Isles.
I’m not trying to rag on you, James, but I’m also not sure how helpful the “prestige” label really is. House of Cards is a “prestige” show in a lot of ways, except its stories are terrible and rarely stand up to any kind of serious examination. How “prestige” can that be? Jane the Virgin is a loopy telenovela, but it has some of the strongest emotional arcs on TV. Why isn’t that prestigious? Do you consider Game of Thrones “prestigious”? I don’t; it’s expensive, clearly, but I don’t know that its ideas or performances are all that special. I’m in the minority there, though — GOT is probably as close as we’re going to get right now to a popular and “prestigious” show. Make of that what you will.
I’m deeply mourning the loss of Mad Men. Are there any other period series you recommend with as much detail and beautiful fashion? —Danielle
Masters of Sex starts in the ‘50s, so it’s a little earlier than MM, but if you want the girdles and white gloves and pillbox hats, this might be your jam. Mad Men’s a better show, but MOS has a lot going for it, and at its best, it’s as tender and haunting as anything on TV right now. Warning: It starts slow, so give it several episodes before you decide how much you like it. If you want more ‘50s fashion, try the British shows Call the Midwife, The Bletchley Circle, and The Hour.
I’m not sure I’d call the fashion “beautiful,” but The Americans’ ‘80s fashion is something to behold — especially because the characters are either government employees or people trying to blend in, so most of the outfits are pretty bland. That said, Keri Russell’s sweater wardrobe on that show is more or less my dream wardrobe. Her pajama wardrobe is pretty dope, too, in that “Oh, this old thing?” way that I assume we all aspire to: This Lands’ End nightshirt that is just short enough and hangs off my shoulder just so? Well, I just put it on because it’s comfy, but if you think it eroticizes the familiar, I guess it does!
Peggy and Stan turned out to be one of the most rewarding TV relationships to watch unfold, with healthy goals like mutual respect and understanding and the freedom to truly be who they are. What are some other great TV couples I can get into to help distract me from the pain of no more Peggy and Stan? —Lauren
They have healthy goals now, but Stan started out as a real crap-hole human, constantly harassing and degrading Peggy. She beat him at his own game by stripping down in a hotel suite, where they were holed up trying to come up with a cough-drop campaign. She made fun of his penis. He called her “the smuggest bitch in the world.” That is not an obvious start to a healthy relationship.
But okay, “Steggy” definitely reached a point where I was rooting for them. If you want more “he’s an asshole … but you love him” pairings, the couple you seek is Logan and Veronica on Veronica Mars. It starts in a similar way — he’s the asshole, she’s our hero — and their banter-filled, bickery love eventually blooms. (I’m including the VM movie in this, too.) Chuck and Blair on Gossip Girl hit that mark, too. If you want that “healthy relationship where people get to be who they are,” Friday Night Lights is your best bet.
How long am I going to be sad about the end of Mad Men? —Michael
I think I’m going to be sad about it forever, so … forever, maybe? I am bereft. Many of my friends have asked if I will be okay. My parents want to know what show I will obsess about now. I genuinely do not know.
And yet as crushed as I am — which is, like, Judge Doom–in–Roger Rabbit–level crushed — I still think we have it pretty good. We know this because all the alternatives are way worse. What if it stayed on and started to suck? We’ve all been down that road; it is no fun. What if it had been canceled far before its time? What if the finale had been a giant F.U. to fans? What if it had started out crappy, and we had spent seven years convincing people that it had gotten way better? What if there was some obvious talking point even non-fans were latching onto to ridicule? Ugh to all that.
Every show ends. The good news is that Mad Men ended at the right time. It started good and stayed good, which is a very rare feat, and because so little of it depends on surprise, it stands up incredibly well to rewatches. We’re living the dream, I guess!