Monday, April 27, 2009
Mad Men and Drinking, Season Two, Part I
I've finally gotten around to taking in season two of "Mad Men," the AMC series which has fascinated me not only because it's set in a time period that captures my imagination—Postwar New York City from 1945 to the mid-1960s—but because it so meticulously tracks the drinking habits of the time. That era was the last hurrah for serious cocktail drinking in American until the art of the mixed drink, and the culture that surrounds it, was retrieved from the grave during the last decade. There are no silly drinks in "Mad Men." Martinis and Old Fashioneds and Gimlet still reign supreme. Rye is still available. Vodka has not yet taken over. And a certain dignified ritual still surrounds the world of the cocktail shaker and the ice bucket.
That said, drinking is a much darker force in the second season of this show. All told, it ends up leading to a car accident, the destruction of one man's career, another man's falling off the wagon and initiating a none-too-pretty power play, the alienation of a lonely housewife, and plenty of bad decisions.
The second season jumps in time from fall 1960 to Valentine's Day 1962. Roger Sterling, one of the principals at the Manhattan ad agency Sterling Cooper, hasn't learned much from the two coronaries he had in season one. He still drinks fairly much, bums cigarettes off friends, and carries on with ladies who are not his wife. Martinis are still his poison, though he goes for a Gibson just as often. In Episode 9, "Six Month Leave," he states philosophically, “See, I think if I still with the clear liquors, vodka, gin, I know where I stand.” His friend Don Draper—the secretive creative director at Cooper Sterling and the focus of the program—answers, with typical cryptic opacity, "I'm the opposite."
Don still drinks Old Fashioneds, with muddled fruit—the way the drink was typically served in his day. Canadian Club "rye" is his go-to liquor. He keeps a bottle on the side board in his office. In Episode 9, when Roger, Don, and associate Freddie Rumsen visit an underground gambling den, Roger places the order—for Don, himself and Freddie, respectively—"Canadian rye neat; Will Schmidt Gibson; Grand Dad rocks."
Very few liquors beyond rye, gin and vodka make appearances on "Mad Men," but there were some interesting cameos this second season. In Episode 6, "Maidenform," accounts executive Pete Campbell served J&B Scotch whiskey to his brother Bud. Bud makes a face and asks, "What is this?" "J&B," says Pete. "They sent me a case." "This is why I don't own a TV," replies Bud. J&B made inroads in America all through the 1950s.
In Episode 13, "Meditations in an Emergency," accounts head Herman "Duck" Phillips drinks Glenlivet. As far as I can tell, this is the first appearance of single malt Scotch in "Mad Men." Duck used to work in London, and it's likely he picked up his Scotch habit there. In Episode 11, "The Jet Set," Duck is sent a case of Tanqueray by his London pals, the first time that famous brand appears in the series.
Also in Episode 11, Don is in California, where a character of exotic origins has a Campari and Soda—possibly to indicate the globe-trotting nature of the character. In Episode 12, "The Mountain King," the stock-holding sister of eccentric Sterling Cooper partner Bert Cooper indulges in Sweet Vermouth straight.
Finally, Heineken makes a showy appearance when the agency tries to collect some of the beer company's business. We learn that the Dutch beer is still not widely known or drunk in the early '60s. Draper thinks this could easily be changed. "To housewives, Holland is Paris," he argues. "They can proudly carry this sophisticated beer into the kitchen instead of hiding it in the garage." He instructs his staff to put Heineken at the end of the aisle at selected A&Ps, "away from the other beers, with some cheese and crakers and toothpicks with cellophane tips."
Responds Pete, "Housewives love green."
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