It was the most nominated show of the Emmy Awards, scooping 17 nods including one for best drama series, an award it has won for the last four years. If Mad Men won it again, for the fifth time for its fifth season, it would have made Emmys history as the most-honoured drama of all time.
Alas it wasn't meant to be. Instead the award went to the new political thriller Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis (who also both took home Emmys). But not only did Mad Men miss out on making record history, it missed out on taking home any awards at all. Yes, after scooping the nominations the final result for the outstanding period drama was 0-17.
To add insult to injury, Mad Men has bucked the trend of long-running shows and actually improved as the seasons go by. Its fifth season is arguably its best yet. So for that we are saying Mad Men was robbed. Here are 10 reasons why we believe Mad Men deserved to make Emmy Awards history.
1. Matthew Weiner
Mad Men's creator sat on the idea for the show for seven years, during which time he was employed by David Chase as a writer on The Sopranos. It was time well spent, teaching Weiner the importance of plotting multiple story arcs, developing complex themes, creating compelling characters and, crucially, maintaining absolute control over the creative vision.
When it comes to Mad Men, Weiner is an unapologetic control freak. He writes or co-writes virtually every script, and refuses to compromise when it comes to realising his unflinching vision. His fights with the network and studio behind the show are legendary, as is his attention to detail.
The result speaks for itself. What we see is exactly what Weiner wants us to see, his vision undiluted by unhelpful network notes or feedback from viewer focus groups.
2. It's the writing, stupid
The show's scripts are breathtaking in their ambition and complexity but never wilfully obscure or even particularly difficult. The storylines and characters engage on a superficial level but the elegance and intelligence of the writing gives them a depth and lingering impact. There is a willingness to avoid the obvious, to embrace silence and shun exposition that is unusual in a television drama. Weiner makes the viewer work at times, but it's that level of engagement that makes Mad Men so addictive. No other show inspires – or justifies – the degree of intelligent online deconstruction that follows each episode as it airs.
3. Don Draper
The successful advertising executive and serial adulterer is one of the great flawed protagonists of contemporary drama, a man whose unruffled demeanour belies a profoundly troubled soul; a man whose very identity is based on a lie. Jon Hamm, whose career had been unremarkable until landing the part, is perfect, combining movie-star looks with a sense of desperately guarded vulnerability.
4. Complex female characters
Despite the show's title, and the powerful presence of Don Draper, the focus of Mad Men is increasingly on its female characters, who are among the most complex, wonderfully drawn on television. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Joan (Christina Hendricks) have, in very different ways, risen to powerful roles in an often-hostile work environment. Hardly less compelling is Don's former wife Betty (January Jones) – sullen, increasingly lost in her role as housewife as the times change around her.
5. It's character driven
In a television landscape dominated by genre pieces and populated by vampires, zombies, gangsters and cops, Mad Men is an odd beast. Its workplace setting is important but it's relationships, desires and failings of the characters that drive the plot. It's about the human condition and is universally relatable in the same way a good soap opera is. In a sense it's the best-written, best-performed soap in TV history.
6. The period setting
The early '60s was a time of profound cultural change. Prevailing certainties were challenged by issues of gender and racial equality and youth culture became a growing force. It was a difficult time for the middle-aged men in suits who dominated the advertising business – even Draper, himself a master of reinvention. But for others it is a time of unimagined possibility.
Mad Men's genius is in the way it looks back at this relatively recent past with contemporary eyes. It combines a touch of nostalgia with a gentle rebuke but is never smug or condescending.
7. It's ambitious
Mad Men embraces big themes, draws complex connections and has much to say about the human condition. Each episode is like a self-contained work of art with its own internal consistency, often markedly different in feel and tone to those around it but at the same time speaking to a coherent vision. It over-reaches at times but you don't achieve greatness without falling on your face occasionally.
8. It looks wonderful
The set design is superb, with an almost fetishistic attention to period detail, and the way its show gives the show a truly cinematic quality. Virtually every episode has at least one remarkably staged shot that says more than any dialogue could.
9. Its pop-cultural significance
In ratings terms, Mad Men is a minnow on the US TV landscape but its impact has been extraordinary. It has influenced fashion, interior design and inspired a rash of dramas set in the recent past – most of which, it must be said, have been abject failures.
10. It keeps getting better
By season five, most dramas have past their peak. The Wire's fifth and final season was its weakest, The Sopranos peaked at season four, True Blood has been in gradual decline since season one. Mad Men's fifth season, however, saw the show step up to an entirely new level. Its ratings have increased with every season, too – a rare achievement.
Of course it isn't over, the show still has a couple more seasons to come so let's not write off that record just yet.