I consider Mad Men to be, along with The Wire, the single greatest dramatic work to be aired on television. Those two shows are a degree of magnitude better than the next tier of great shows.
Early in its run, Mad Men took some great for allegedly glamorizing heavy drinking and womanizing. That was a pile of horseshit. The consequences of such behavior was clearly depicted in the show, whether in the form of stained marriages, heart attacks, or unplanned pregnancy.
What Mad Men does very well and doesn’t draw attention to is how it portrays heavy drinking as self-medication for severely traumatized men. Throughout the show, the most damaged men are also the heaviest drinkers.
Take first the protagonist Don Draper, whose violent childhood and traumatic war experience has driven him to very heavy drinking.Freddy Rumsen, the copywriter who lost his job after an embarrassing pre-meeting episode of urinary incontinence killed a dozen Germans in World War 2. And quasi-nemesis Duck Phillilps killed a similar number on Iwo Jima. Even bon vivant Roger Sterling is nursing his own war wounds and emtionally-deprived childhood.
To say that these men’s drinking is glamorized is silly. It leads to divorce, unemployment, physical ailments, and even incarceration. These are brilliant, troubled men, dealing with their troubles in the only way they can in the etra they live: liquor and sex.
It’s the mark of a great show that characterization like this can remain pervasive throughout the show without being an issue of the week talking point. Mad Men is about men who drink, why they need to drink, and how that affects their lives.