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8 Shows like Mad Men: Suave & Suspenseful Period Dramas

Jonny_Sweet_itcher_contributorNow that the series has finally come to an end, you must be thirsting for more shows like ‘Mad Men’ like Don Draper thirsts for his third whisky right around elevenses. Fear not! There’s plenty more period drama fodder to be had in the shape of ‘American Dreams’, ‘Masters of Sex’ and ‘Call the Midwife’. ~ Jonny Sweet

Stark Raving Mad about ‘Mad Men’

Since season one, we’ve all been fixated on Don and Betty’s descent into a sort of decadent depression, deception and dementia with morbid fascination. Now that the plot has unravelled to its devastating climax, you’ll probably need something to fill that Sterling Cooper void – and several large doubles on an empty stomach just won’t cut the mustard.

There’s no immediate cause for concern though. The period drama genre is a-bluster with great shows right now – it’s never been more fashionable to discuss important issues of today through the thin veil of yesteryear. These particular four recommendations are set around the same time as the heady, halcyon days of the 60s, so light up a cigarette, loosen your tie and settle down in front of any of these great TV shows like ‘Mad Men’.


Shows Similar to ‘Mad Men’…

‘Masters of Sex’ (Showtime, 2013-Present)

Based loosely on the biography of the same name by Thomas Maier, ‘Masters of Sex’ focuses on the work done by real-life human sexuality researchers Dr William Masters and his colleague Virginia Johnson – and the effect that their research had on their own personal relationship.

As LA Times critic Robert Lloyd notes, the series is far too much of a departure from factual events to be regarded as historically accurate – but that this may not be such a bad thing. “[A]lthough it hangs on bones of fact, it’s more useful for the viewer to think of it as all made up. Because, mostly, it is, and because to the extent it tells the story of two real people, it also adorns the telling with dramatic practicalities, invented characters and narrative detours. Indeed, it’s down these side streets, casting a brief light on a passing character (patients, prostitutes, provost’s wife), that the show finds many of its best moments.”

Similarity Match: 75%
Both ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Masters of Sex’ are set in a period of growing sexual liberation, but in different social and working spheres.

‘American Dreams’ (NBC, 2002-2005)

Set in Philadelphia throughout the 60s, this period drama focused on the exploits of 15-year-old Meg Pryor as she struggles to come to terms with her blossoming sexuality and the growing freedom available to women.

While ‘Mad Men’ is clearly aimed at an adult audience, this is a more family-orientated drama which uses its temporal setting to bridge the generation gap, but still discusses heated issues a la ‘Mad Men’.

Similarity Match: 70%
Just like ‘Mad Men’, ‘American Dreams’ uses the contemporary events of the 60s to highlight controversial issues such as race relations, teen pregnancy and the emancipation of women – but the latter is far less stylised or sexy.

‘Call the Midwife’ (BBC One, 2012-Present)

In stark contrast to ‘Mad Men’s’ almost airbrushed depiction of life in the 50s, ‘Call the Midwife’ represents a far grittier and rougher around the edges post-war Britain. Revolving around the daily struggles of newly-qualified midwife Jenny Lee in a devastatingly poor part of London, the show is not afraid to get to grips with some difficult issues of the day.

As such, it is probably the least glamorous and most far removed recommendation on this list of series similar to ‘Mad Men’, but is worthy of a look for anyone interested in a different angle on the social issues of the time.

Similarity Match: 65%
‘Call the Midwife’ is a series set around the same time as ‘Mad Men’, exploring similar themes such as the changing roles of women in society – but transplants the action across the Atlantic and into a midwifery ward.

‘Manhattan’ (WGN America, 2014-Present)

New Mexico appears to be home to many different conspiracy theories in the US. As well as the Roswell incident (which has now turned that particular town into a ludicrous tourist attraction), the state is also home to Los Alamos. Just like Roswell, there is ostensibly more going on here than the rest of the world knows about; while the government want to keep it that way, the producers of ‘Manhattan’ are not so keen to maintain secrecy.

Of course, the series plays hard and fast with the truth (as does ‘Mad Men’), but does provide an interesting take on the controversial events of 1943 and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the Manhattan Project.

Similarity Match: 65%
Set around 20 years previous to ‘Mad Men’, ‘Manhattan’ maintains a similarly lax pace, stunning cinematography and impressive reproduction of the period – but focuses on entirely different issues.


If You Like ‘Mad Men’, You Will Like…

All of the series similar to ‘Mad Men’ listed above were filmed within the same 15 year bracket and set within a similar time period. But what about the shows filmed back then? What about ones filmed now, but set previously? What about those which were both screened recently and depict the present day, but which embody similar themes or techniques as ‘Mad Men’? I thought you’d never ask; read on for more recommendations which tick exactly those boxes.

‘Peyton Place’ (ABC, 1964-1969)

In many ways, ‘Peyton Place’ could be seen as the contemporary version of ‘Mad Men’. Of course, as America’s first soap opera, it was far more melodramatic and far less concerned with advertising – but it did explore key social issues in a way that hadn’t been explored previously, including sex, war and depression.

It should be noted, however, that ‘Peyton Place’ was a product of the times and as such had to tone down some of the more polemic topics discussed in the book which inspired it, such as incest.

Widely regarded as the first soap opera ever to appear on US television, ‘Peyton Place’ is a less glamorous, less sexy and less controversial precursor that paved the way for TV series like ‘Mad Men’.

‘Boardwalk Empire’ (HBO, 2010-2014)

The ever-impressive Steve Buscemi puts in an exemplary performance as Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, an influential and increasingly shady politician in Atlantic City during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 30s.

Alcoholism, sexism and the corruption of big business all play pivotal roles in both ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’, but the latter takes place some 40 years prior to the former during the chaotic times of Prohibition.

‘The West Wing’ (NBC, 1999-2006)

As an insight into the inner workings of the White House, ‘The West Wing’ offered commentaries on much of the critical social issues of the late 90s and early 2000s. Among other topics, the themes of homosexuality, infidelity and terrorism are put on the table, portrayed in a fictional storyline but with nods to real life events.

Though they are set in different time periods and focus on distinct characters, ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The West Wing’ both use fictional worlds as a foil for many of the hot topics in this one.

‘House of Cards’ (Netflix, 2013-Present)

Has there ever been a series so completely devoid of likeable characters? Kevin Spacey is the excellent anti-hero we love to hate as he plots the demise of his fellow politicians, climbing the greasy pole to the top and planting his boots in the faces of anyone he can in the process.

A dark and disturbing interpretation of what goes on behind the scenes in the world’s most powerful government.

Employing a slow pace, slick dialogue and an interesting subversive take on American life, ‘Mad Men’ and ‘House of Cards’ have much in common stylistically but little in common in terms of setting or theme.


No Need for Freefall

Just because ‘Mad Men’ is over, there’s no need for you to feel as crestfallen and condemned as the silhouetted ad executive who leaps out of his office window every time an episode of the show begins. There’s plenty more drama outlined above to get your teeth into!

Or perhaps you think the list is incomplete… of course it is! There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to cram in all of the shows I’d like to watch, so that’s where you come in.

If you’ve seen some excellent drama (period or not) reminiscent of ‘Mad Men’, pop it in the comments section below so that we can all enjoy it, too.

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