If so much of Mad Men is curiously opaque, all inexplicable exteriors and posturing, it occurs to you that this is, after all, how the adult world often looks to children; whatever its blankness, that world, as recreated in the show, feels somehow real to those of us who were kids back then. As for the appeal: Who, after all, can resist the fantasy of seeing what your parents were like before you were born, or when you were still little—too little to understand what the deal was with them, something we can only do now, in hindsight?
Daniel Mendelsohn has an intriguing theory about why “Mad Men” is such a hit. First he trashes the show, lucidly putting all its failings on display. And yet he doesn’t trash its fans, for he places the show’s appeal in a touching light, as an act of forgiveness, one generation for the other.