Mad Men, the critically-acclaimed drama of life and love in the 1960s, is back on our screens… but only for a few weeks, before it’s gone forever. With that in mind, maybe it’s time to consider alternative options to give you the same thrill in different quantities. While nothing can compare to Christina Hendricks’ Joan Holloway (memo to someone in TV-land: Give Hendricks her own show immediately, please and thank you), the ten options listed below nonetheless come close to reflecting that Mad Men feel, with one added bonus: They’re all from the period that the show is set in. Well, with one exception, but you’ll notice that one pretty easily.
THE APARTMENT (1960)
The corporate ennui on display in Billy Wilder’s comedy about one man’s misguided attempt to get ahead in business — and the methods he employs to do so — isn’t exactly something that Don Draper would empathize with, but the critique of sexual politics on display in the movie are as pointed as anything that’s appeared on the AMC drama, if a little less subtle.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)
The transformation from self-obsessed creative type to someone who cares about others’ feelings took Don seven seasons (and he’s still not quite managed it), but George Peppard’s Paul Varjak manages it in a coupld of hours in this adaptation of the classic novel. Admittedly, he does so in a far less satisfying, less in-depth manner, but Audrey Hepburn in her prime will make you forgive all kinds of sins (including Mickey Rooney’s appallingly offensive landlord).
More Hepburn in this Hitchcock parody that might be more fun than its source material, with Cary Grant playing a man who isn’t all that he seems. It’s not quite Draper-levels of self-deception — in fact, you could argue that Grant’s character here knows himself far better than Don ever managed — but nonetheless, Grant shares the fictional ad executive’s way with women. (For those who’ve never seen this movie, it’s worth it for the cast alone: In addition to Hepburn and Grant, there’s also James Coburn, Walter Matthau and George Kennedy.)
CASANOVA ‘70 (1965)
What kind of a man could possibly rival Don Draper in the lothario department? Try Marcello Mastroianni in this Italian comedy, which even offers a psycho-sexual addiction that would make Draper pause for a second: the NATO officer at the center of the movie can only get turned on when he’s in danger. Hijinks ensue, as you might expect from an Italian sex comedy from the 1960s.
THE GRADUATE (1967)
You can’t say “1960s sexual revolution drama” without saying The Graduate. Well, you can, but that’s only because language is unreliable. This classic previews much about the ways in which Mad Men is about what’s not said in relationships in the 1960s, especially when sex is one of the prime motivators. Just pretend that Dustin Hoffman is playing a young, misguided Harry Crane.
VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967)
Decades before Betty Draper illustrated the plight of the 1960s housewife, this movie — adapted from the best-selling (and wonderfully trashy) novel by Jacqueline Susann — did much the same way, albeit in a far more melodramatic (and, let’s be honest, more bird-friendly) way. Not to be confused with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Russ Meyer’s rock and roll melodrama of three years later, but if that was on Netflix, you bet it’d be on this list.
THE ODD COUPLE (1968)
As Neil Simon’s classic movie demonstrates, the internal breakdowns on display in Mad Men were a thing of drama (and comedy) during the '60s as well, with one man’s marriage breaking down being the thing that spurs this story into action. Sure, the associates at Sterling Cooper never got quite as slapstick as things get here — the lawnmower incident aside — but just imagine this recast with Don and Roger and you know it’d work out just fine.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
The important things that Matthew Weiner likes to address on his series weren’t always spoken about freely at the time the show takes place, leading to the creation of things like this: a story about a young woman whose marriage (and pregnancy) really doesn’t go as planned at all. Come for Mia Farrow’s haircut, stay for unravelling what the movie is really about.
THE PRODUCERS (1968)
The humor that’s constantly under the surface of Mad Men is the fuel for what might still be one of Mel Brooks’ finest moments, with a satire as cynical about business (show- and otherwise) and human nature as you can imagine — yet something that also celebrates the very contrarian, joyful nature at the heart of humanity as well. All this, plus songs to sing along to.
THE WONDER YEARS (1988-1992)
If the cynicism and melancholy at the heart of Mad Men doesn’t speak to your idea of what the 1960s were all about, then consider this an alternative take: the saccharine coming of age of Fred Savage’s Kevin, whose family was everything that the Draper clan could never be: not entirely dysfunctional, for one thing. (But we all agree that a follow-up to this show set in the 1980s would’ve revealed Kevin to be even more of a monster than Don, right…?)