If the measure of a series were the strength of its character bench, Mad Men would be an easy contender for Best TV Show of All Time. It already is, regardless: since premiering in 2007, Matthew Weiner’s period drama has consistently been one of the best written, acted, directed and produced shows on television, and Sunday’s finale will mark the end of a series that put AMC, Weiner, and many terrific actors on the map. As far as casting depth and breadth go, Mad Men belongs in the same conversation as The Wire and The Sopranos, which is about the best company a show could ever hope to keep.
It’s not going to be easy to see Mad Men end, mainly because that means saying goodbye to a host of unforgettable characters that made Sunday nights spent in the offices of Sterling Cooper feel like anything but overtime. The evolution of the main ensemble made sticking with the show a rewarding experience, but even minor players had the chance to make lasting impressions from the sidelines. Though its themes focused heavily on fatalism and inescapable ends, Mad Men’s own seems arbitrary at this point: why stop now, when we still love checking in on these people’s lives for 13 hours a year?
But, all good things etc. While the finale itself will no doubt leave viewers with plenty to puzzle over, a broader question we can try to answer is this: of Mad Men’s many, many characters, who were the best? With one of the lengthiest cast lists out there, it’d be a monumental task to rank every single named character on the show, so we’ll be limiting ourselves to a meagre Top 100.
What does “Top” mean exactly? Using an advanced computer algorithm fed through the IBM 360 (thus disqualifying the Monolith itself from competition), characters were ranked from “worst” to “best.” A number of criteria were considered, including a character’s impact on the show’s story and quality, and our general appraisal of that character as a human being. Furthermore, all participants must have appeared in multiple episodes: that means no one-offs like Joy, Guy, or Manolo.
Without further ado, let the countdown commence!