The Top 25 Shows of 2015, No. 14: AMC’s “Mad Men”

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There was much to dislike about the seventh and final season of “Mad Men,” from AMC’s decision to break it into halves (each consisting of a mere seven episodes, which killed the momentum that built so spectacularly in the first half) to all that precious time seemingly wasted on Don Draper’s obsession with a depressed waitress. I’m still unclear as to why series creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner devoted so much story to that not particularly interesting character at the last.

And then there was Weiner’s unbearably cruel treatment of poor Betty Draper (luminous January Jones, pictured below) and the Draper children. It was enormously responsible and impressive of him to strike one of the core characters on this profound period drama with terminal cancer, given all the chain-smoking in which so many of them indulged (another frank and damning period detail in this fully immersive series). But why Betty? The obvious answer is that cancer is malevolent and insidious thing that kills indiscriminately without regard for its victims. And yet, it seemed to me that Betty and her kids had already suffered enough and that she was too easy a target because she had been infuriatingly marginalized during the second half of the series.

So with all those complaints, why is “Mad Men” on this list? Because this show -- a singular sensation throughout most of its run -- will always be remembered as one of TV's all-time best. From the beginning "Mad Men" demanded that viewers smarten up, pay attention and think about what they were watching even as they were being entertained. Weiner had so much to say about yesterday, today and tomorrow that his relative economy of storytelling was beautiful and breathtaking. Next spring will not be the same without its annual arrival. I miss it terribly, even more than AMC”s “Breaking Bad.”

“Bad” ended at just the right time and in just the right way. Dragging it out any further would have egregiously compromised the impact of its story – one that, left as it is, will continue to thrill new viewers for decades to come precisely because it was told in a compact and efficient manner. “Mad,” on the other hand, could have run another 20 years (almost like a British primetime serial), taking its characters, their children and newcomers to its narrative through the Seventies and Eighties with the same insights into each decade’s cultural, political and psychological shifts that Weiner and his team brought to the show’s deconstruction of the Sixties.

Also, for all its faults, the final season of “Mad Men” ended on a note as impactful in its own way as that unforgettable sequence at the very end of “The Sopranos.” Did Don Draper really come up with the idea for that iconic Coca Cola commercial from 1971? Awesome! The only thing that would have made it sing even louder would have been the digital insertion of Jessica Pare’s aspiring actress Megan Calvet Draper among the hippies in the background. And how great was it that Jon Hamm (pictured at top) finally won a long-overdue Emmy Award for his portrayal of Don -- making him the only member of the show's exquisite cast to be so honored throughout its run?

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