How many Mad Men fan's do we have on here? I really just started watching it this season. I think I may enjoy the time period more than the show though. Don't get me wrong, it's a great show but I think I'm drawn to it because it was in the days of real men.
I've saw a few episodes in the past, but like you this is the first season I've tuned in regularly. I think I am a bit disappointed in it and I agree that I like the time period and their attention to detail in recreating it more than I like the show. I think maybe it is because it is built up so much in reviews and ads, it couldn't live up to what I expected.
The entire show is a character sketch of Don Draper... to really appreciate it you need to watch from the beginning. This season (so far) is all about Don wanting to be a better man, husband, father.
If you haven't been following along with his personal struggle to get to this point, you probably wouldn't catch on to that.
I agree; this show needs to be watched from the beginning. I've only recently started watching it because of all the buzz. I made a commitment to watch from Season 1 Episode 1 and I just finished the latest episode (here's a great write up on Time's Jamie Poniewozik blog about it, which illustrates how deep this show's writing is.)
Like most of us, the time period attracts me more than the show's drama, a time where people not only behaved like men, but adults.
Try your local library for the first season (and maybe the second season). AMC showed the second season in a marathon, and I DVRed them. My girlfriend loves the show, and doesn't have cable, so I'm DVRing the third season for her, and I'm most of the way through the second season myself to catch up to her.
So far: you're right, it's mostly about Don Draper, who is a fascinating bundle of contradictions. Without spoilers, his life is based on an escalating series of lies from the innocuous to the heinous, and it's fascinating watching him juggle them all without coming across as utterly contemptible. The attention to the period, not merely in fashions but more importantly in mores, is breathtaking. People drink alcohol and smoke heavily at work, the divide between the private and the public self is much greater, women have significantly different roles, even at work, and the attitude about fidelity is that finely-honed hypocrisy of my parents' generation. The characters are deep, and constantly surprising. It is a bad move to write off any character on the show as superficial, as they all have surprises that make them more enriching to watch. I find the show very compelling.