Mad Men

Common Sense Media says

Ads and anxiety in 1960s office drama for adults.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Depicts behavior that is unacceptable in contemporary society -- sexism, racism, anti-Semitism -- but is meant to provide a culturally accurate representation of the time and contribute to dramatic exploration.

Positive role models

Each character is complex and flawed in different ways. Don Draper is both a womanizer and a mentor to Peggy. While Peggy is one of the few women who escapes the typing pool to do creative work. In later seasons Peggy and Joan assert their power and take a more active and creative role in the company.


Occasional yelling or domestic disputes. Rare car crashes resulting in injury.


Ideas about women's sexual role is a big part of the drama. Discussion of sexual availability, expectations, birth control, and being "easy" -- as well as the role of wife, girlfriend, lover, and secretary. Frequent sexual harassment. Actual sex scenes are usually limited to kissing and post-coital pillow talk, though some women appear in bras or pasties (and some characters have unusual sexual turn-ons). Characters have affairs and hire prostitutes. Some scenes take place in a strip club.


Words used include "s--t" (unbleeped), "damn," and "hell."


Real 1960s brands are discussed during ad campaigns, such as Lucky cigarettes.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Smoking is ubiquitous -- even the doctors smoke in the exam room. One episode focuses on a cigarette advertising campaign. Drinking is also constant, with characters frequently drinking cocktails at lunch and even in the office, often to the point of drunkeness. Sometimes there are consequences for drinking, but sometimes it seems glamorous. In later seasons, characters experiment with pot and LSD.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this complex drama set in the 1960s depicts cultural practices that wouldn't be acceptable today, such as frequent sexual harassment in the office, as well as near-constant smoking and drinking (with characters sometimes appearing intoxicated). Old-fashioned gender dynamics are at play, but these gender dynamics are probed forcefully, and viewers feel the impact of conflicting expectations for young women who are both shamed for their sexuality and expected to provide easy access to sex to their superiors. Women and men frequently have sex, though only before and after scenes are shown.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

MAD MEN highlights the anxious corporate culture of advertising agencies that illuminates a larger cultural picture. Leading the show is Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a top ad exec who must constantly fight off his ambitious younger competition. He plays a confident and talented businessman who struggles with hidden insecurities and conflicting relationships. Around Draper are the eager whippersnappers nipping at his heels who carry their fraternity mentalities into the workplace.

Is it any good?


Mad Men is a fascinating and complex peek into another era that can reveal a lot about contemporary society. The women in the workplace are subject to near constant sexual harassment, from both men and women, illustrating the nebulous era between the 1950s housewife and the late-'60s feminist. But though the men are the focus in the series, the women prove fascinating and complex in their own right. There's the smart, sexually confident Midge (Rosemary DeWitt), whose self-sustaining work makes her unusual in a swarm of women looking for husbands to whisk them away to the suburbs. And Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who finds herself pressured to be sexually available to her boss and other men in the workplace while dealing with her own sexual curiosity.

And throughout the personal and professional relationships depicted onscreen is the underlying theme of truth, lies, and what can be bought and sold with them both. Due to the near constant sexism (not to mention racism and anti-Semitism), younger viewers without the ability to see beneath the action to the critique should avoid the program. Also, constant smoking, drinking, and discussion of sex permeates the narrative.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the world depicted in the show. How accurately do you think it portrays the '60s? Families can also discuss advertising. How does advertising affect your daily life? Are there any brands you feel loyal to? How do you think the advertisers created your loyalty? Do you have any favorite ads or ad campaigns? Do you notice any differences between the type of advertising depicted in the show and the kind you see today?

TV details

Cast:Elisabeth Moss, Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser
TV rating:TV-14
Available on:DVD

This review of Mad Men was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
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  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written byterra100 April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

great show for adults only

My husband and I have watched this show since the pilot episode. It is NOT for kids under 17 -- the messages are too complicated and mature. There's enough smoking to make you get lung cancer through the television! But that's all within the 1960 context -- actually everything is within that time period, including all the sexual behavior, harrassment, treating of women, etc. It is an excellent view of some demographics of the past, and really makes you think about the present and how people treat each other today. The show is mainly a character treatment, so you have to stick with watching episode after episode to fully enjoy the show.
Adult Written byJackla April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

A Gift to intelligent parents

This is not a show for young kids, but it does seem relevant to teens who are adrift in the complexity of todays sexual landscape. The shock of the old gives perspective to girls who need to know how hard fought the battle was for feminism. And it's refreshing, although complex, for young men to understand what is appropriate, what is masculinity etc. I also feel that the show seems to elevate the discussion of sexuality and fidelity. The characters seem to be probing true human emotions and desires and still none of the actual interactions seems glib or shallow or girls gone wild. These people are tortured by their choices. My teens have downloaded it from itunes and I think it's caused a lot of discussion on those topics.
Teen, 15 years old Written bymax fisher December 18, 2010
what kind of crap website say's that Mad Men [a show with no nudity or violence] is worse than The Walking dead [the most violent show that ever aired on primetime TV]


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