Usually, when a television show is adapted and remade in another country, it’s because that show was a runaway ratings success. That’s not necessarily the case with AMC’s Mad Men, which spent seven seasons as a critical darling and much-discussed cult favorite without ever becoming a powerhouse in terms of overall viewership. But the show obviously struck a chord with its philosophical examination of America’s smoky, alcohol-drenched, semi-recent past, inspiring a number of imitators and wannabes (ranging from Pan Am to Masters Of Sex) with varying degrees of success. Of all Mad Men’s illegitimate children, possibly none is as surprising as Russia’s Оттепель (The Thaw), the saga of a state-run Soviet film studio in the late 1950s and early 1960s, an exciting era when premier Nikita Khrushchev eased some censorship laws and allowed artists more freedom. The series does not borrow its plots or characters from Mad Men, necessarily, but the show’s production design and overall tone make its lineage clear. And, yes, The Thaw has its own Soviet equivalent of Don Draper. Vulture is enlightening its American readers with a primer on the series, complete with a video essay by TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz and editor Jono Bernstein.
Created by Valery Todorovsky, himself the son of Soviet-era filmmaker, The Thaw has a great deal in common with Mad Men from a visual standpoint: “a lot of slow-motion, lots of cutaways to people walking through rain and pigeons taking flight and the like.” But it’s an earthier, more distinctly Russian show than Mad Men, the critic argues. Whereas the world of Mad Men revolved around social drinking, The Thaw is more apt to feature “antisocial” drinking. What both series truly have in common is that they’re about “the tug of war between art and commerce.” That is a topic to which both Russians and Americans can relate. For those who think they want to explore this Eastern Bloc equivalent of Mad Men, several episodes of The Thaw are available online with English subtitles.