[07/25/08 - 12:02 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Mad Men" (AMC, Season Two)
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

The network's description: Set in 1960s New York, the sexy, stylized and provocative AMC drama "Mad Men" follows the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising, an ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell. Returning for its second season, the Golden Globe�-winning series for Best TV drama and actor will continue to blur the lines between truth and lies, perception and reality. The world of "Mad Men" is moving in a new direction -- can Sterling Cooper keep up? Meanwhile the private life of Don Draper becomes complicated in a new way. What is the cost of his secret identity? Created, executive produced and written by Weiner, this drama series stars Jon Hamm (We Were Soldiers), Elisabeth Moss (The West Wing), Vincent Kartheiser (Angel), John Slattery (Desperate Housewives), Christina Hendricks (Kevin Hill), and January Jones (We Are Marshall) along with guest star (and stage/screen legend) Robert Morse (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). Michael Gladis (Third Watch), Aaron Staton (The Nanny Diaries), Rich Sommer (The Devil Wears Prada), and Bryan Batt (La Cage Aux Folles) round out the cast.

What did they leave out? The 16 Emmy nominations the series received last week, including Outstanding Drama Series as well as acting nods for Hamm, Slattery and Morse and a writing nod for creator Matthew Weiner. The series often earned nominations for Outstanding Art Direction, Casting, Cinematography, Costume, Directing, Hairstyling, Main Title Design, Makeup and Prosthetic Makeup.

The plot in a nutshell: No sophomore curse in sight here. The theme of this first episode is youth and change in the world, which again shows how this series is just much about the past as it is the present. Its Valentine's Day, 1961, a few months after we left the Sterling Cooper gang in the Season One finale and change is in the air. Secretary-turned-junior copywriter Peggy Olsen (Moss) is coming into her own and, now that she's shed some weight, is revealing that Queen Bee Joan (Hendricks) may not be the only tough broad in the office. A sign in change also takes the intimidating form of a copy machine with everyone unsure of where exactly it should be placed in the office. Herman "Duck" Phillips (Mark Moses) tells Sterling (Slattery) that they need to infuse young blood into the agency and this rattles everyone's cage while Don berates his ad team for failing in a new concept idea for a airline. Meanwhile, the Draper marriage is examined as Don (Hamm) treats his wife (Jones) to a night at an upscale hotel and the events of their evening show, once again, that the exterior of their marriage is much closer to perfect that what is truly going on. Meanwhile, televisions everywhere are showing new First Lady Jackie Kennedy give a tour of the White House; change happening right in front of everyone. More reminders of youth slowly coming into power occurs with a young ad team (they're 25 and unattached!) interviewing for work with the agency. Betty shows another layer to herself when she flirt with a mechanic to fix her car. Finally, a book of poetry by Frank O'Hara entitled "Meditations in an Emergency" is read by Don (he meets a man in a bar who is reading it) and, in the final moments of the episodes, the voiceover of a poem called "Mayakovsky" encapsulates how the too-still Don feels deep inside with the lines, "Now I am quietly waiting for/ the catastophe of my personality/ to seem beautiful again�" The inclusion of poetry itself doesn't make the show smarter but weaving emotions through these characters and giving a voice to their quiet desperation surely does. Weiner obviously was paying attention when he worked for David Chase on "The Sopranos."

What works: Everything. The writing is the smartest out there because the series never panders or spoon feeds the intelligent, grounded narrative and there's always so much brewing beneath the surface. The cast is also as sharp and impressive as ever with the women becoming more and more interesting, which is not a bad thing when pros like Jones, Moss and Hendricks are effortlessly raising the bar for everyone else.

What doesn't: I honestly cannot think of a thing except more, more, more of this modern day gem.

The bottom line: "Mad Men" lives up to the hype. Period. The only thing that could hurt it is the incredible expectations being placed upon it as the show gains in popularity proving that the one negative thing about being on a pedastal is how far the fall can be.

  [september 2021]  


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