Jon Hamm: More Than Just Don Draper

Can we talk about how good an actor Jon Hamm is? I’m a huge Mad Men fan, so I might be a little biased.

Due to my recent unemployment career transition, I’ve had some time on my hands. I have mostly spent this time staring at walls, trying to muster the energy to get out of bed, and when I can’t, I turn to movies and TV to help me escape that 9×5 prison. This has led me to discover Jon Hamm’s acting chops.

He was an incredible Don Draper: silent, brooding, brilliantly troubled, but there were moments that showed that Jon Hamm had actual range. If you remember Season 6’s “The Crash” (better known as “that episode where SCDP gets amphetamine shots and goes on a manic creative bender”), you can see that Jon Hamm is an incredible comedic presence too.

Fast-forward to 2 weeks ago: I mustered the energy to drag myself downstairs to the family room, where I blew through On-Demand movies for 9 hours before giving up and staring at a blank screen for another 3. It was during this time where I discovered the movie Tag.

Tag is based off of the true story of a group of friends that gets together to play tag one month a year. It’s a star-studded ensemble cast of talented comedic actors and actresses, and Jon Hamm. I was a little high, which may have influenced my decision, but in the end, Tag is a heartwarming film about adult friendship, childhood promises, and seeing Jake Johnson get super baked with Jason Sudeikis.

In the film, Jon Hamm is an insurance executive, so your first image of him is pure Draper:  tailored suit, giant corner office, being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal for being awesome at what he does. This is quickly subverted by Jason Sudeikis jumping out of a trashcan to try and tag him, causing him to dip out of the interview to run screaming through the halls of his agency. Don Draper would be ashamed of his outward expression of any emotion not quelled by cheap whiskey. The movie goes on to establish him as an awkward child who hasn’t gotten over his childhood crush, which is a nice change from Mr. “I like to cheat on my gorgeous wife” Draper, and Mr. “Let’s have a shootout with the police” Buddy from Baby Driver. I’d get more into how much Jon Hamm kills it in Baby Driver, but I want to keep this relatively short.  Now, Tag isn’t the best movie in the world, it’s super cheesy and stupid at times, but like pretty much every Jason Sudeikis movie, it’s just dumb fun. My advice- eat an edible, crack open a couple beers, and let this movie wash over you. It also stars Rashida Jones and Isla Fischer, so if you don’t like the comedic stylings of Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner, and Jason Sudeikis, you can always watch them absolutely crush this film.

Everyone’s Got a Little Pete Campbell in Them

I think Pete Campbell is in us all. He’s the guy who works extremely hard to prove himself. He’s the guy who tries too hard to be impressive. He’s the guy who has everything, but feels nothing. I watch Mad Men a ton, and every time I re-watch it, I pick up something new.

Pete has an inferiority complex, brought on by his family, his job, and the expectations of his time. When he first comes to Sterling Cooper, he’s a newly-married 26 year old with high expectations, and he thinks he’s got the world by the balls. He’s done everything that is expected of him, and expects to be given the world in return. In reality, he was only hired to provide the agency access to the blue-blooded clients they couldn’t get without his family name. Pete hears so many things about Don Draper, and when he finally meets him, he’s enamoured, like everyone is, by his talent and charm. Don Draper is everything Pete Campbell thinks he wants, without knowing the cost. Don is handsome, talented, good with women, rich, and “happily” married, all of the things Pete so desperately wants. The longer he knows Don, the more the facade fades away. By the 7th season, Pete is dealing with Don in the middle of a downward spiral of alcoholism, and while he still supports him, he is vocally upset with him. To me, this is the moment where Pete realizes he has made the wrong choices in life and wants to change.

“Ambitious men are never happy with what they have!” Pete’s wife Trudy is dead-on with this quote: Pete is the embodiment of ambition, and suffers greatly for it. By the end of the show, he has everything he thought he wanted: power, money, a beautiful girlfriend, the respect of his peers, but he still wasn’t happy. He realizes that he doesn’t want to be by himself forever, he wants his family back. Pete’s arc ends with him taking a position at Learjet in Wichita, far away from the temptations of New York. Before he leaves, Pete goes home to Trudy for one last sales pitch, the only one that truly matters: for them to be a family again.

I see a little bit of myself in Pete, and I’m sure you do too. I’ve always demanded more from myself, comparing myself to others without considering that they might not be happy where they are. I think this is natural, we put so much pressure on ourselves to be great, that when we’re not, it kills us inside. I also come from a decently-comfortable family, nothing like the Campbells, but enough that I feel the pressure to succeed and make something of myself without using their help.

Everyone wants to be Don when they start watching Mad Men, but the more they see his life unravel, the more the facade he builds fades away. The opposite is true with Pete: the more you see that he works so hard to be valuable and respected, the more you like him. Pete Campbell is one of the only happy endings in Mad Men, and the only one that isn’t temporary. You might have been a Pete when you were younger, you may be a Pete now, the important thing is to learn from his mistakes and grow from them.

5 Reasons Why I Think Mad Men Was The Best Show Ever Made

5. It Revolutionized Television

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When Mad Men came out in 2007, there was nothing like it out there, and no one expected AMC to be the one to run it. Prior to Mad Men, AMC was best known for running old movies and TV shows, so the idea to run a TV show set in the 60’s doesn’t seem too left-field for them. The success of Mad Men lead to AMC green lighting terrific shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, (Seasons 1-3) which lead to more A-List actors doing TV. Mad Men was a cultural event. Every week, millions of people would tune in to see these characters go through the 60’s. If you were old enough to remember that time, you’d talk about the old days. If you weren’t, you’d get a chance to visualize it for an hour. This show connected people, it was the first real water-cooler show of the 2000’s.

4. There is Limitless Re-watchability

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I’ve watched Mad Men all the way through at least a dozen times, and I still pick up tiny new details each time I watch it. From the facial expressions from characters in the background and foreshadowed plot elements hidden in throwaway remarks, to how Don dresses over the decade, Mad Men rewarded re- watchers. The story itself is complex enough that you might understand certain events better after a re-watch, things you missed before become clearer, and foreshadowing is more obvious when you know what it leads up to.

3. It’s A Dazzling Period Piece

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From the leisure suits, to the classic cars, to the way they talked to each other, Mad Men serves as a time capsule of the 60’s-70’s. It’s supposed to be shocking the way they treat women and minorities, it’s supposed to be shocking when the Draper family leaves their picnic trash on the side of the highway. That’s how you know we’ve grown as a society. We need that, now more than ever. Our society has changed so much since 1960, that we need a reminder of why we needed to change, why that behavior isn’t acceptable anymore. On the other hand, how cool it is to see historical events effect characters we’ve grown to care about? That’s the thing about Mad Men, you go along for this ride with these characters, and see their morals and values shaken as time goes on, and by the time the show is over, the characters you’ve spent so much time with are completely changed for the better Except Harry Crane, fuck him.

2. Perfect Usage of Music

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One of my favorite moments in the entire show is when Don and Peggy dance to “My Way” after figuring out the strategy for Burger Chef. This is a crucial moment for Don and Peggy, and one of the few wholesome moments on the show. The moment comes after seasons of Don mistreating Peggy, not acknowledging her accomplishments or her personal growth, only to have the roles reversed, with Peggy on top. I love how the Don/Peggy dynamic is capped off by Don finally treating Peggy as an equal after all the hard work and sacrifice it took to get there. Music is used sparingly on Mad Men, and that was makes these moments so special, as shown by the usually strait-laced Pete Campbell smoking a joint and checking out girls in the creative lounge as Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart” plays. Another cool thing about the music of Mad Men is that all of the episodes end in period-accurate songs, not just the popular ones everyone knows either, there are some obscure 50’s hits in there too, which helps paint a nostalgic picture of the 1950’s.

1. The Character Growth

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This is it. This is the key factor that made Mad Men must-see TV. As you follow Don Draper over the course of his life, you see subtle, as well as not-so-subtle, aspects of his character grow and decay. The prime example is his alcohol abuse. Don Draper, like many of the employees at SCDP, has the liver of a stereotypical Irish bartender. His drinking starts off slow, but steady, and as the seasons, and the stresses of life go on, you see Don pouring more and more whiskey down his throat, to the point where he breaks down and cries at a Hershey pitch meeting, effectively ruining his career. Don isn’t the only character who blossoms though, the women of Mad Men are more interesting then the men most times. Let’s look at Peggy and Joan, they both have a similar goal: to be taken seriously. Joan struggles with being looked at as a piece of meat, and not as a capable, intelligent woman, and is frustrated when men ignore that. Peggy has the same issues, but is treated differently after she displays talent and drive. Both of these women are treated as second-class citizens in an era that is rapidly changing and growing. There were 7 seasons of Mad Men, so you get to follow these characters through so many important events, and see why they do the things they do, and that was refreshing to see. I really hope they have a reunion someday and give us another look into the lives of the employees of SCDP, as well as all the secondary characters, just to see where they went and what they did with their lives after the finale. That’s how good this show is. Watch it.