Monday, August 17, 2009

Mad Men, Season Three Premiere

Posted By on Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 8:37 AM

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First of all, all you Mad Men freaks need to chill. Mad Men is not the best show in TV history, a'ight? It's merely the finest show by scads to be found today in the 999 channels cable upchucks on my TV screen every minute of the day. With merely 27 episodes under its belt, it's far too soon to place Mad Men in the pantheon of all-time greats. Maybe next week.

That said, Mad Men is back, of course, and its serving up more of the same — an early 1960s stew of love, infidelity, style, social and cultural growing pains, smoke, and gin — which is a good thing.

Its look at people whose lives are geared toward creating artifice, inside a fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency, is a perfect setup for examining the truth behind the lies of that most image-conscious and romanticized era. By both undermining and exploiting the look of the time, the show gets to have its cake and eat it too. Mad Men looks as great as anything on TV.

The cast is preternaturally superb, starting with leads Jon Hamm as Don Draper and January Jones as wife Betty. Don, like TV forbear Tony Soprano (Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner cut his teeth on The Sopranos), is more masculine than masculine. Don Draper and Tony Soprano are philanderers who are both victims of their circumstances and victimizers as they work the system; intellectuals who rise above with extra-ordinary abilities at introspection; and glib dissemblers who can compartmentalize who they are on the street versus who they are at home.

Betty, like Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano, is forced to respond to "her man" in an instructive way that both conforms to the conventions of her socially arrested conditions and "unprecedentedly" breaks free of them.

The third lead is Elisabeth Moss as Peggy, who breaks the glass ceiling as the first female creative at the ad agency. Largely, the continuing success of the show will be in not growing restless with her arc in favor of chasing skirt with Don and the boys.

The third season opens strong, with an origin story of sorts for Don, hinted at in episodes past. Then, hilarity, when deposed head of accounts Burt Peterson (Michael Gaston) goes ape on the office, addressing his former coworkers as "Fellow comrades in mediocrity" before busting up a sec's desk.

Office villainy is recharged, following the departure of Season Two Big Bad, Duck Phillips (Mark Moses, who I miss), with the new British overlords of Sterling Cooper. The Limey in Chief is played by Jared Harris (Fringe, Benjamin Button). If the writing continues this sharply, my TV's gonna explode.

By the way, did anyone else have problems with watching AMC on Comcast HD? Mad Men needs to be watched in HD. A blank black screen will not do.

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