At a party last night, I told a friend that Mad Men might be the best show I’d ever seen on tv. After hearing similar accolades from numerous friends, I watched the first two seasons on DVD during the recent off season. I devoured each season in a few days (“I’ll just watch one episode tonight” never quite worked). So tonight’s Season 3 premiere will be my first experience of watching the show in “real time.”

There are so many things I love about Mad Men. The writing and acting are fabulous. The recreation of the early 60s is wonderful. The historical novelist in me loves watching a past era brought to such vibrant, impeccably detailed life. And I find it particularly interesting because the Mad Men era is the era when my parents were dating and first married. I have pictures of them from that time period, my dad in suits and white shirts and ties, my mom in heels and fitted suits or dresses, her hair permed. So different from my memories of them in the 70s.

But what fascinates me the most about Mad Men is the wonderful moral ambiguity of the characters. They all have flaws, many of them (notably including the “hero” or at least protagonist, Don Draper,) very major flaws, and yet there are moments when I find myself feeling sympathy for all of them. Over the (beautifully structured) arc of a season, the story shifts so we see the situation from the view points of various characters. I worry about these characters, far more than I do about far more heroic yet less real characters on other shows. As funny and cynical as Man Men can be, there are moments that are heartbreaking.

Do you watch Mad Men? What do you like most about the show? What do you think of the characters? What do you think of morally ambiguous characters in general? What makes them engage your sympathies or fail to do so?

On another note, I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence, Charles’s 1814 birthday letter to Mélanie. Those of you who are following the Fraser Correspondence, what do you think of the differing tones in Charles’s and Mélanie’s birthday letters to each other (I posted Mel’s to Charles last week) early in their marriage?