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WHO WILL RECAP THE RECAPPERS?

The first-ever and last-ever Glass Awards for Excellence in Writing About “Mad Men”

Peggy at her typewriter
AMC
The show didn’t cause much writer’s block.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Mad Men itself was great art, but it also inspired a ton of great writing. We will miss the recaps as much as the episodes (which, incidentally, says something about how television is experienced these days). The finale now having aired, it seemed an appropriate time to honor those who wrote most intelligently and beautifully about Don, his family, and his colleagues. We’ve chosen five finalists plus one winner for the first-ever and last-ever Glass Awards for Writing About Mad Men.

(If you haven’t watched the finale yet, don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this piece. But you may want to avoid clicking on some of the links.)

The finalists

Matt Zoller Seitz

A critic for New York magazine and editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, Seitz shares the late movie critic’s passion for the moving image. His recent piece, about how the pilot foreshadowed the final episodes, was especially imaginative and demonstrates the mental energy he brought to writing about the show.

Zeitz’s Mad Men pieces might be called recaps, but they were really anything but. He would mention important plot points, but the pieces tended to explore the show’s murkiest, most interesting depths. At a time when TV writing can swing wildly between summary and analysis, Seitz struck the perfect balance.

Tim Goodman

He was deconstructing the show from the beginning, and it shows. Goodman may know more about Mad Men than any other writer, his recaps flowing seamlessly from one plot point to the next, invoking long-forgotten details with ease, as though he were writing the show himself. Many considered him the definitive critic of Mad Men.

Goodman’s blogThe Bastard Machine, migrated over to The Hollywood Reporter in 2010, helping the latter publication claim a certain ownership over the show. It was also the home of an excellent oral history of Mad Men (second only to Clickhole’s).

Natasha Vargas-Cooper

Born as a blog, then a regular column, and finally a book, The Footnotes of Mad Men taught us how to regard the show as an historical object. Vargas-Cooper’s columns for The Awl, which only ran through the fourth season, picked apart the cultural references littered throughout Mad Men—not just the big stuff like John F. Kennedy’s death, but also literature, fashion, sexual politics, and of course the era’s most iconic advertisements. It was for a time the show’s essential companion.

Uproxx

Mad Men fans could always use a reminder not to take the show too seriously. Though there was plenty to analyze and the show had many truly depressing plot points, it also had moments of levity. And no one discussed Mad Men‘s comedic aspects better than the writers at Uproxx, nominated together because they spoke more as a publication than individual writers. It was one collective riot. Two highlights: Pete’s most miserable moments and the show’s perfect theme song. Uproxx was also among the first publications to correctly predict the show’s ending, proving that there was plenty of wisdom amid the wit.

Alan Sepinwall

Arguably the leading critic of television’s new golden era, he seized on Mad Men‘s meaning for the industry as much as culture. Sepinwall’s book details AMC’s big bet on the show in the context of a broader shift toward high-quality scripted dramas on cable TV in the US.

He was hardly the only critic to compulsively recap each episode, but his enthusiasm for the practice and knowledge of the subject meant that Sepinwall’s recaps, first for the Star-Ledger and then HitFix, were always worth staying up late to read. He also conducted some of the more interesting interviews with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. And as the show grew more complex, you could count on Sepinwall to explain every confusing detail.

And the winner is…

Molly Lambert

Mad Men was so many contradictory things at once—high art yet ridiculous, feminist critique yet masculine, period piece yet contemporary—that most people writing about the show chose a particular lens and stuck to it. Lambert captured it all.

Better yet, her recaps for This Recording and then Grantland never dealt directly with the boring, if valid, question of what Mad Men was trying to say. Instead, she answered through the force of her electric, sprawling, empathetic, searching prose. Every episode, in Lambert’s accounts, spoke to existential issues felt as strongly by the show’s viewers as its characters.

Lambert’s recaps invariably included declarations that would have seemed overwrought in any other context: “We are attracted to people for what they represent” or “Maybe it’s impossible to escape your core flaws, but it can be freeing just to acknowledge them.” But in the world of Mad Men, they made perfect sense and brought us closer the show than any other writing about it.

We felt the struggles, in particular of Joan and Peggy, sometimes better than Weiner could articulate them on screen. This show was simultaneously feminist, meme-worthy, self-parody, and manifest destiny, and only Lambert captured all of that and more.

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