Mad Men Series 5: Why I'll Always Be Yearning For Sterling

The show might be overly-focused on Don Draper, but if I was wandering around SCDP looking for a fumble, I'd be knocking on Roger's door...
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The show might be overly-focused on Don Draper, but if I was wandering around SCDP looking for a fumble, I'd be knocking on Roger's door...


I’m terrible at grown up television. I have the attention span of Mr Toad coming off Adderall. If I’ve ever borrowed a box set of The Wire off you and not returned it, it’s because I’m too embarrassed to admit I haven’t seen it and I don’t think I can style it out by saying “Mmmm, tough job for McNulty there.” I’ve tried to watch The Killing and Borgen but always end up in a YouTube Swedish Chef unbreakable video cycle. (I know. It’s not even the right country.) I know Game of Thrones is a stylish drama enjoyed by millions but I’m irrationally scared that it’s a geeky festival of Orcs and gnomes and teenage boys shouting “WARHAMMER!” But Mad Men is different. The only better executed thing I have ever seen on telly is the Cape Fear episode of The Simpsons. It’s so polished and stylish that it makes your hair ache. Every script could be a chapter in some Great American Novel. But I am not obsessed with it for sophisticated reasons. I love it because it’s ALL ABOUT FUCKING. Here you must imagine a dreamy montage with Betty “Joan Crawford” Draper having an intimate moment atop a spin dryer, Peggy Olson pitching copy for a special ladies’ vibrating device, Joan Holloway bending over and making an entire office hold their breath and accidentally choke on their cigarettes, and of course Don striding about purposefully in a haze of neat Rye and fanny/

If you hadn’t seen Mad Men and had to guess the name of the show, you might imagine it was called “Don Draper Puts His Penis In Pretty Ladies!” I think Jon Hamm might have had more pretend sex than Robin Askwith. Don’s a creative genius with a complicated past - of course the man is going to be neck deep in clunge. But if I were roaming the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce building and hoping to get laid, I’d be knocking on the door of a different office. The Mad Man I want to roger is Roger Sterling. And not just because his name comes first on the business cards. Here’s why.

[xhead] He’s a wasters’ pin up.

When Don’s in the throes of an emo war flashback, Roger is proving, over and over again, that nothing is more fun than being a wealthy white man in the mid nineteen sixties. His whole life is a drinking game. About to go to a meeting? Drink! In a meeting? Drink! Just ordered a Martini? Better get a second one! The Lucky Strike people may have decided not to use Freud’s death wish theory as part of their advertising campaign, but Roger lives and breathes it like a packet of cigarettes. The man has had two heart attacks and will never let the sun set on an unemptied bottle of Bourbon. He’s Andrew WK with shit hot tailoring.

His whole life is a drinking game. About to go to a meeting? Drink! In a meeting? Drink!

[xhead] He’s got all the lines

As a TV show, Mad Men can be pretty hard going. People die, people get raped, people have their feet chopped off with lawn mowers. But there are still LOLs to be had - and it’s Roger who usually gets to fly the ROFLcopter. His throwaway observations on psychiatry (“this year’s pink stove”), a wooden legged journalist (“they’re so cheap they can’t afford a whole reporter”) and hooking up with people you shouldn’t (“I guess at some point we’ve all parked in the wrong garage”) are delivered with a deftness that a stand up stadium filler would envy. Despite being super skilled at converting wordplay into dollar, Don’s gravity could kill a gag - whereas Roger’s insouciance could get him a Noel Coward gig on Broadway should the agency fold. (And with Roger at the helm, that could happen.)

[xhead] He gets Joanie

Fully paid up feminists are incapable of describing Christina Hendricks’ T&A without using words that would make a gutter mouthed scaffolder blush and shoot steam from their ears. She’s like a sculpture God made using a celestial blancmange mould. And who gets to do her? Roger. As far as I’m concerned, this means that Roger has won all the shagging in the world forever. Also, the Roger/Joanie coupling is arguably the sweetest one we see in the show - they appear to be the only two people who can simultaneously do the nasty and like each other. Don’s wife/ex Betty may be heartstoppingly beautiful, but she isn’t chilled to the bone just because she drifts about in diaphanous nighties. It’s Joan who knows how to keep a bed warm - or in Roger’s case, a sofa. And Roger appreciates it, both poetically (“I like redheads. Their mouths are like a drop of strawberry jam in a glass of milk”) and bluntly (“You are the finest piece of ass I’ve ever had and I don’t care who knows it”).

[xhead] He hired Don

If you STILL think Don’s the Don, know this - Roger invented Don Draper. If it wasn’t for Sterling, Draper would still be flogging fur coats in the arse end of Imaginaryland. That makes Roger as powerful as Phil Spector and Darth Vader (and I fully expect to see him speaking in a bass monotone and wielding a gun in a car park in Season Five). Roger knows he doesn’t get the credit he deserves - when Don’s bagging up the prizes, we hear him lamenting “They don’t seem to give awards for what I do...find[ing] guys like him”. But if Roger’s plagued by jealousy, we’re spared the tortured inner monologue. We know he’ll shrug, spark up a cigarette, order a Napoleon and hunt out the next fine piece of ass.

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