With its season finale airing tonight, TV Guide lays out the top reasons Mad Men (10 pm/ET, AMC) is the show to watch.
1) The enigma that is Don Draper. He has matinee-idol looks, power and creative genius. Plus, he's a philanderer, a liar and god knows what else. What are we supposed to feel for this guy — contempt? Envy? Compassion? Yes, yes and yes, and never more so than by the end of the Oct. 18 season finale. Matthew Weiner, creator of AMC's sleeper hit, promises, "We will like him more. Don [Jon Hamm] is asking himself if he wants to separate from everything that is his humanity. He knows on some level he's a fraud, and you'll see him trying to have feelings."
2) Location, location, location! The marble lobby of Menken's department store, the dingy Deelite Coffee Shop, the wood-paneled gin mills — where did production designer Dan Bishop find this lost Manhattan? "Downtown Los Angeles," he says, "much of which was built around 1920 and is relatively intact." Don and Betty's supermarket suburbia? Try Pasadena.
3) Typecasting. The show revels in just-right period details, even when the details are not, well, just right. Those IBM Selectric typewriters with the "golf ball" mechanisms conjure memories of secretarial pools long past, but don't tell the boss about one little mistake: The Selectric ball didn't debut until 1961, a full year after the action of the show. Set decorator Amy Wells says actual 1960 models were too noisy, so she applied some Wite-Out to history: "They're an ad agency and they were doing a campaign for IBM. Who's to say they couldn't have prototypes for their office in 1960?"
4) Dressed to thrill. To hit pitch-perfect fashion notes, costume designer Janie Bryant consulted everything from '60s-era Look and Esquire magazines to Spiegel department store catalogs. Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest was a particular inspiration for the men's stylish but conservative look — heavy on the charcoal gray as a contrast to the ladies' Crayola-like palette. "The [women's] colors were really saturated, a little askew," Bryant says, "like crazy greens and different blues."
5) Diary of a half-mad housewife. It's been riveting to watch Betty (January Jones) so driven to distraction that she hooked up with her washing machine (!) and took a shotgun to the neighbor's pigeons. Her story, Weiner says, is "the journey of our mothers." We're guessing that means liberation can't be too far off. Maybe next season.
6) Life's a party! Or was it? With a bar in every office, three-martini lunches and after-hours tippling, the early-'60s look like one long happy hour. So when does the hangover set in? Weiner says that although Season 1 was designed as intervention-free, the ramifications of so much guzzling eventually will be seen. "There are consequences for all of this behavior," he says. Keep the Alka-Seltzer handy.
7) The Relaxasizer. For sheer period arcane — and hilarity — nothing beats the vibrating "passive exercise" contraption that became Peggy's copywriting project and late-night companion . And yes, it actually existed. Weiner was enthralled when he saw the device at a swap meet five years ago. "The pictures in the booklet were so sexy," he recalls. "And it vibrated. I said, 'I know what this does, but wouldn't it be great to see how they sold it?'"
8) Speaking of Peggy… She's the heart and soul of the series. "The story of the season has been that this woman could not deal with the sexual pressures put on her," Weiner explains. To cope, the secretary with copywriting dreams buries her sexuality under food and work. "She has hidden herself and become one of the guys," Weiner says. Actress Elisabeth Moss achieved her expanding profile the easy way: with prosthetics and padding.
9) Props to the props. If Don's kicky cigarette dispenser, Midge's record player and Betty's gigantic plaid Thermos have you browsing eBay, you've just made the prop handler's day. "Ninety-eight percent of this stuff just doesn't exist anymore," says Scott Buckwald, who scours supermarkets, hardware stores and the Internet for the show's wildly eclectic accessories. And one of our favorite doodads, the Chip 'N' Dip? That was an actual wedding present received by Weiner's mother decades ago. You can practically taste the sour cream and dried onions.
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