Is 'Mad Men' Still Must-see TV Despite the Sexual Harassment Scandal?

As distasteful allegations continue to pour out of the entertainment world, a couple of current TV series, 'Undercover' and 'Doctor Foster,' are dealing effectively with deceit

In this image released by AMC, Elisabeth Moss, from left, Jon Hamm and Rich Sommer appear in a scene from 'Mad Men.'
AP Photo/AMC, Jaimie Trueblood

How long do you think we have to wait until Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story: The People vs. Harvey Weinstein” gets commissioned? Obviously, it won’t be until the disgraced film producer’s behavior has officially been recognized as criminal. If and when that happens, he’ll need time to write his resultant jail-time memoir, “You’ll Never Eat Lunch and Masturbate into a Flowerpot in This Town Again.” And its follow-up attempt at rehabilitation, “I’m So Loathsome I Could Cry.” So I’m guessing 10 years, and that Jonah Hill will eventually get to play the odious onanist.

It’s shocking that just two months ago, the worst thing we used to think Weinstein did with his hands was tinker with filmmakers’ movies. Then again, a few weeks ago, I was still able to think of Pixar mogul John Lasseter and his “Toy Story” character Woody without getting nausious.

Tom Hanks famously said that Weinstein’s last name “will become a noun and a verb,” but I’m not so certain. A euphemism, for sure, but any industry that can so happily welcome Mel Gibson back into the fold is capable of anything.

The hall of shame continues to grow, of course, incorporating some very well-known faces (Matt LauerLouis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Jeffrey Tambor, director Brett Ratner, though the latter denies all allegations against him – even the one that he’s a talentless schmuck), and TV showrunners who’ve worked on high-profile shows (including “One Tree Hill” and “The Flash”).

It’s now reached the point where you wake up every morning expecting to hear details of a new horror story. As I was writing this column, I received an email headlined “Emmy-winning TV director” and my heart immediately sank – only to be disturbingly lifted by the fact it “merely” referred to the death of an octogenarian.

If it carries on like this, it might just be easier to list the male talent beyond suspicion and title it “A Few Good Men.” My own “Say it ain’t so, Joe” moment will come if sordid stories ever break about the likes of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Billy Crystal – talents who have always projected an aura of integrity and decency.

During these dark days, I was struck with an even darker thought when “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner was recently accused of sexual harassment by a former writer on his show, Kater Gordon. (She alleges Weiner told her the least she could do was let him see her naked. He denies the charge.)

My depressing thought after the Weiner allegation broke was: “Yes! If this turns out to be true, I’ll finally have a legitimate reason not to watch ‘Mad Men’ – instead of that nagging feeling that, like seeing the Northern Lights or getting a reservation at Noma, it’s something I need to do before I die.”

That then got me thinking about all the other shows I should have seen in my lifetime but haven’t, and suddenly hoping that their creators might all have erred in a way that would give me a pass from watching their shows. Like I said, depressing.

The truth is that, for someone who feels like he’s watched a lot of television in his life, I have some shocking gaps in my TV-viewing résumé. Like “Mad Men,” for example – and my excuse is that this is what happens when you have children.

There’s a time when they take over your life and all TV viewing goes out the window, along with a decent night’s sleep. Or you finally get them to sleep but are simply too exhausted when you collapse in front of the television and end up watching whatever’s on (that’s my excuse for seeing that first season of “Prison Break,” anyway).

Here’s a list of 10 shows I know I should have watched but haven’t (and for which I blame my kids): “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Community,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Gilmore Girls” and “Friday Night Lights.”

I have box-sets of most of these staring back at me as I write this. But I also have dozens of other, newer shows I want to watch on conventional TV, plus Netflix and Amazon Prime, and something’s got to give.

Two worth seeing

So here’s my proposal: I pray there are no stories set to emerge about odious antics from “Sopranos” creator David Chase, “Deadwood” creator David Milch, “The Wire” creator David Simon, etc. But if all of them would attend Mel Gibson’s next birthday party bash in January and post pictures online of them hugging Mad Mel and laughing as he sets fire to a mezuzah, that will provide me with the justification I need to move on and forget these classic shows forever.

Funnily enough, a couple of the shows I’ve been watching recently are about fidelity, deception and deceit (because, you know, sometimes it’s good to escape from the real world). “Undercover” is a six-part BBC thriller about a former undercover cop (Adrian Lester) whose past, as often happens, comes back to bite him on the ass. That’s doubly unfortunate given that his partner (Sophie Okonedo) has just been named Britain’s first black state prosecutor.

“Undercover” is always intriguing and worth seeing for Okonedo alone. But it suffers from muddled storytelling and a fatally flawed subplot set on death row. There’s a great story to be told about undercover cops who go deep undercover, even starting families – but this wasn’t it.

One of my favorite shows of recent years is another BBC thriller, “Doctor Foster.” Its second season just aired in Britain, but it was the first season in 2015 that really got tongues wagging (and no, that wasn’t a reference to Al Franken).

It stars Suranne Jones, who is one of those actors who appears in a lot of British TV shows (she started off on the long-running northern soap “Coronation Street”) and is always a captivating presence. Here she plays Dr. Gemma Foster, a family medicine practitioner who starts to suspect her husband, Simon (Bertie Carvel), is having an affair.

Over five episodes, creator Mike Bartlett ratchets up the tension to a ridiculous degree, building to that quintessential middle-class denouement: the dinner party. It’s debatable whether a second season was really needed, but that’s the price you pay for creating a smash hit.

Jones is a joy to watch as the woman scorned, Carvel wonderfully reptilian and Jodie Comer – brilliant in the equally gripping “Thirteen” – somehow holds her own in the midst of these two increasingly crazed people. Against the odds, “Doctor Foster” turns a completely over-the-top plot into unmissable TV. Highly recommended, except for couples whose relationship is on the rocks.