TASTE OF A NEW GENERATION
Where ‘Mad Men’ Left Off: Why Television Is Headed to Sexy, Scary ‘70s New York
Still mourning the loss of ‘Mad Men?’ Well, two of next year’s most anticipated series pick up right where Don Draper left off—one about the birth of hip-hop, the other on porn.
Ommm. Ommm. Ommm.
After seven seasons—spanning eight years—and 92 episodes, Matthew Weiner’s immaculately composed drama Mad Men bid us all adieu. And the melancholic AMC series did so in surprisingly upbeat fashion for its enigmatic ad man, Don Draper (Jon Hamm).
After retreating from a board meeting and his family, shedding himself of all his wordly possessions, and delivering a tear-filled confession to Peggy Olson, we see Don atop a hill overlooking the ocean at Big Sur’s famed Esalen Institute. He’s seated in the lotus position, alongside his partners in Zen, meditating and chanting. A ting goes off, and a half-smile creeps onto his face. The show then cuts to the gamechanging 1971 “Hilltop” TV ad for Coca-Cola (“Buy the World a Coke”) created by Don’s firm, McCann Erickson. Sung by a diverse array of multicultural teens on a hill, the commercial, the most expensive ever made at the time with a $250,000 price tag, became an advertising industry phenomenon, it’s message of racial harmony expanding far and wide, closing the book on the intolerant ‘60s and ushering in a new era.
Well Mad Men may be over, but never fear: two new shows are picking up precisely where we left Don Draper, cracking a delighted smile atop that hill.
That is, the sexy, swingin’ 1970s.
David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme, announced earlier this month that he is working on a new project, The Deuce—a no-holds-barred HBO series about the ‘70s porn industry. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “it will chronicle the legalization and subsequent rise of the porn industry in New York’s Times Square from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s. Also explored: the rough-and-tumble world that existed in midtown Manhattan until the rise of HIV, the violence of the cocaine epidemic and a rejuvenated real estate market ended the bawdy turbulence.”
“You don't want to make porn to critique porn because that would be a venal journey—nor do you want to look down on people because that also is fairly dishonest,” Simon told THR, adding, “You really have to land it in such a way where it’s a story about people and it’s a story about markets—about the moment where something became legal and profitable and what happens to people in that environment when markets prevail.”
This comes on the heels of Netflix’s announcement back in February that it would be producing a television show centered on birth of hip-hop in the ‘70s South Bronx, The Get Down, which is slated for next year. Director Baz Luhrmann, known for stylized and fantastical movies like Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby, is its co-creator, and is signed on to direct at least the first two episodes and the series finale.
“We know hip-hop has taken over the world in 2015, but nobody knows how it really started,” Shameik Moore, star of The Get Down, told The Daily Beast. “People know it started in New York with b-boying, graffiti, and DJing and all that, but the real story behind it is amazing.” Unlike the sparkling and glamorous world Weiner brought to life, however, Netflix says that The Get Down will be “a mythic saga of how New York at the brink of bankruptcy gave birth to hip-hop,” and show New York when it was “broken down and beaten up, violent, cash strapped – dying.”
Indeed, the New York City of the ‘70s was a very different animal than Don Draper’s Manhattan. Graffiti covered subway cars, crack addicts roamed the streets, and crime rose dramatically (and would continue to do so into the ‘90s). In 1965, the year of the city’s first blackout, there were 634 murders; in 1977, when another blackout struck, there were 1,557 (by comparison, 328 were reported in 2014). During the 1977 blackout, which lasted just a little longer than 24 hours, there were 1,000 fires, 1,600 stores damaged, and 3,700 people arrested.
In 1975, the city was hit with a whammy of a financial crisis when banks stopped lending it money to pay its bills. Mayor Abraham Beame went to President Gerald Ford to ask for a bailout, which Ford refused to give, prompting The Daily News’ infamous headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” (Ford did provide the money to the city months later, albeit with very strict regulations).
Mad Men sugarcoated some of the ugliness of ‘60s New York. Yes, sexist and racist remarks were thrown about as casually as comments about the weather, but the series was focused on the trials and tribulations of Madison Avenue one-percenters, not its dark underbelly. Thus, it played up the beauty and carelessness of the era, making everyone and everything look classic, chic, and enviable, if not exactly happy. Betty might have paid in the end for her chain smoking, Don did spiral downward, and Sally grew up resenting her father, but these were the epitome of First World Problems. And for all its moodiness, the glamorous coating of Mad Men made us yearn for that time in history. Despite ourselves, we wanted to be there, lost in a haze of martinis and cigarette smoke.
Some elements of ‘70s New York have been similarly romanticized: John Lennon humming in the Dakota, Andy Warhol and his crew at Studio 54, windblown Jackie, etc. But it’s hard to imagine The Get Down or The Deuce creating the same sense of glitzy nostalgia that Mad Men did given their grittier subject matters.
Then again, grittiness might be exactly what we’re missing right now in the Big Apple. At a time when one of the city’s ailments is that there are too many foreign billionaires buying $250 million apartments and the rent is too damn high, maybe all we want is to snuggle up on our sofas and binge watch pimps (instead of Cookie Monster impersonators) terrorizing people in Times Square.
New York in the ‘70s wasn’t easy to live in, but it fostered a sense of grit and toughness in its inhabitants that has since been lost in a sea of artisanal products and needle-free parks. As James Wolcott, author of Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in the Seventies, wrote in Vanity Fair, “one key difference between the 70s and today is that in the 70s the tourists looked scared.”
The good old days? Debatable. Good television? We sure hope so.