– You don’t need to be mad about “Mad Men” to savor “Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men” at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image.
This collection of hundreds of props, dozens of costumes, two full-scale sets and scads of notes and scripts from AMC’s glorious drama series will surely thrill all “Mad Men” fans as they brace themselves for its final seven episodes (starting April 5).
But beyond any frisson from actually entering the sacred space of ad man Don Draper’s 1960s office after seeing it on-screen so many times, or from standing inches from Megan’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” mini-dress (displayed, alas, not by Jessica Pare but on a mannequin), the exhibit is more than a TV-focused spectacle. It’s a resurrected world of Americana as frozen in time a half-century ago.
Item: When was the last time you saw an S&H Green Stamps Saver Book? You may spy a couple of them among the many props dressing the Ossining, New York, kitchen of Don and Betty Draper (which, like Don’s office, was transplanted to this MOMI gallery from the L.A. studio where “Mad Men” was shot). Then turn your gaze past the vintage Lux liquid bottle at the sink and the ceramic knickknacks on the paneled wall over to the breakfast table, where a grocery list calls for such items as a can of peas, whipping cream and margarine.
To behold this intimate scene, which seems to breathe with life even absent its fictional residents, can make you feel downright voyeuristic.
Now don’t forget and light up! Among the curios at hand are a circa-'60s cigarette machine, numerous ashtrays and Don’s totemic lighter, Betty’s cigarette case and pack of Salems. On a wall are ads from Don’s agency, such as “We'll meet you anywhere. Hilton” and “Relax. Lucky Strike.”
For evidence of how painstakingly detailed “Mad Men” always was, note the TV Guide in the clutter on a secretary’s desk: A label indistinguishable from the real thing designates the magazine’s addressee as “Sterling Cooper & Assocs” on Manhattan’s Avenue of the Americas – in type far too small for the camera to have noticed.
“Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men “(a title that confers proper credit on the series’ mastermind) has been a year in the works, according to exhibition curator Barbara Miller, who speaks gratefully of the collaboration with the museum by Weiner and his colleagues, even as “they gave us the freedom to do what we wanted.”
What the museum wanted, she says, is more than a gallery of gathered artifacts. A corresponding goal was to shed light on this series’ creative process, reaching back before its sets and costumes were designed and the cameras rolled.
With that in mind, the exhibition has resurrected the show’s writers’ room where, for seven seasons, “Mad Men” narratives and scripts blossomed.
“Mad Men” viewers will recall a key scene from last year’s midseason finale as outlined on a white board on the writers’ room wall: “Roger finishes and says that nothing has to change, except we’re all getting rich… Joan says, How rich? He tells her the number, then puts it to a vote. Everyone votes yes, including Joan. Outnumbered, Cutler votes yes. Cutler: That’s a lot of money.”
That’s pretty much where the action took a break, until now. “Mad Men” ends for good May 17, with the exhibit continuing through June 14.
For those who experienced the age it encompasses, this exhibit will prove exotically familiar, a feast of bygone recognition. For anyone who ever drank a Coca-Cola in 1969, the mere sight here of its can with the diamond design could jolt an era’s-worth of memories. Stan Rizzo’s gonzo fringed buckskin jacket and Pete Campbell’s California-cool plaid slacks might leave you cringing at the thought of your own past fashion foibles.
“Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men” will help its visitors understand how a great TV series came about. But it’s also a ‘60s-spanning time trip that celebrates how Don Draper and his “Mad Men” comrades inhabited their world while it honors their flesh-and-blood contemporaries who made their home in that decade for real.