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Mad Men Cartoon Countdown

Charting the show, eight panels at a time

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What passes for comic relief in AMC's Mad Men would fit nicely in a volume of French absurdism. Creator Matthew Weiner said as much in a recent interview with Fresh Air host Terry Gross: "The show is about, on some level, the contemplations we have about what we want versus what we can get—and happiness is always the gap in between."

Thanks, Sartre ("Happiness is not doing what you want but wanting what you do").

It's a fact: Most of what transpires in the stylish, mid-century Manhattan of Mad Men is as serious as a heart attack, yet the show only occasionally veers into vainglory.

As Mad Men's nearly eight-year run comes to a close on Sunday, May 17, anti-hero Don Draper is homeless, wifeless, jobless, and bloated by enough booze and bad mental juju few believe he'll make it out of the '70s sane, functional or, possibly, alive. Poking fun at the series—including Draper's seemingly bottomless capacity for self-destruction and indulgence—while at the same time recapping the final episodes, The New Yorker has stripped the show to its essentials with "Mad Men Cartoon Countdown."

Each week until the series finale, writer Heather Havrilesky and artist Penelope Metcalf reduce the emotionally fraught, complex plotlines into a handful of panels featuring dialogue stripped to its most brutal (and absurd) essence. As one of America's other great contributions to existential humor, Homer Simpson, once put it, "It's funny because it's true."