Network: AMC
Air Dates: July 19, 2007 – present
Stars: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Batt, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Pare, Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson

How many hours have we spent with Don Draper by now?

As TV becomes more cinematic (and thus richer) with regards to camera movement and editing, as it begins to play with form in the exciting ways, the medium will continue to stand distinct from film because of duration. You don't even get two hours with Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. On the eve of the Mad Men's sixth season, we've spent roughly 50 hours with Don Draper (Jon Hamm). And given the pace of AMC's long, hard gaze into the ad industry of the '60s, those hours feel especially packed.

Testifying to the power of duration, Mad Men's unfurling arcs have asked viewers to evolve their feelings in ways that are only possible with time—lots of time. If you'd told me circa season one that I would feel something other than revulsion at the dawn of season six for Pete Campbell, the WASPy ad exec with the punchable face, I wouldn't have believed you. But as in life, relationships change and grow. My relationship with Pete (and to hell with you if you think that's a strange thing to say) is entirely different now. This is a beautiful and powerful thing, art that asks you to change. It should not be underestimated.

When it's over, Matthew Weiner's Mad Men may very well be remembered as the greatest show to emerge from TV's golden age. Exploring the complicated tangle of the personal and the political at an ad agency during one of America's most turbulent decades has provided viewers with enough indelible images and fascinating characters to populate entire novels. And the show only gets better as it incorporates more of the formal innovations of cinema into its machinery.

It's not right that I have to invoke other art forms to express the genius of Mad Men. It's lazy, for one thing. But it's also a reflection of the adolescence television is experiencing. The medium is still finding out what it can do. We're lucky, all of us, to be alive to watch. —RS