Our media critic Jim Poniewozik has toured many sets over the years, but nothing quite compares to the time travel involved in visiting the set of Mad Men. “It’s like walking into a life-size modernist dollhouse, or a period room at the Metropolitan Museum,” he says; the attention to detail is so obsessive that characters have custom stationery in their desk drawers–even if those drawers never open. If the weather figures into an episode, Jim learned, researchers will check the news archives to find out what the weather was on that date in New York City.
That full immersion into 1960s office culture is partly about appearance but also about a deeper authenticity: “Re-creating the ’60s as lived, rather than an idealized version,” Jim argues, “helps Mad Men get its universal themes right about conflicts and struggles that resonate in 2014.” Jim has written regularly about the show since its launch in 2007. “It was refreshing to take a step back here and write about the whole sweep of the series–not whether one episode or even one season was good or bad but about how it developed a take on history and America over its entire life and how it really became the signature show of a time when great TV became the cultural equal of great movies and literature.”
In his blog on TIME.com and in his biweekly column, Jim brings extraordinary insight to the ultimate mass medium. He is deeply attuned both to its convening power and to the way social-media habits are changing how we watch and how we react. He writes fluently about everything from breaking news to public health to reality TV. His style makes him a pleasure to read; his arguments make him essential. For a deeper look into the Mad Men world, visit time.com/madmen.
Nancy Gibbs, MANAGING EDITOR
BEHIND THE COVER
While on the Los Angeles set of Mad Men for the April 7 cover shoot, photographer Alex Majoli found that the theatricality of a TV set–above, Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Matthew Weiner and Christina Hendricks check out a phone pic–was something he recognized from working in other settings. “In conflict zones, hospitals, cities, I found a sort of theater in it,” he explains. “The moment you are there with a camera, everyone has a role, me included. So photographing actors on a Hollywood set was like a present for me, searching for those theatrical scenes.”
NOW ON TIME.COM
Holy smokes! Batman is turning 75 years old this week. To celebrate Bruce Wayne’s birthday, we’re seeking your opinion on the many people who have dared to portray him. Visit time.com/batman to cast a vote for your favorite actor to have played the Caped Crusader.
NOW ON LIGHTBOX
Italian still-life photographer Guido Mocafico, who has turned his camera on weapons, reptiles and roses, more recently photographed a series of scientific models of sea creatures. The intricately crafted figurines were sculpted by father-and-son glassmakers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka from the 1860s to the 1930s. “When I put it under my light,” says Mocafico, “it just opens up and reveals to you an unbelievable universe.” For more, visit time.com/photography.
This appears in the April 07, 2014 issue of TIME.