Mad Men Season Four: Smart, Snappy Re-boot

Over the past couple of days, two friends commented that they don’t watch Mad Men anymore because they find it kinda slow. Wait, I couldn’t halp thinking, till they see Rubicon (AMC’s new original series, a conspiracy theory drama starring James Badge Dale). Me, I’ll take all the slowed down, measured, true-to-life moments both these series offer.
Tonight’s fourth season premiere of Mad Men (10 p.m. on AMC), however, seems to zip by as far as I’m concerned. There is a lot to jump back into. The story picks up nearly a year later, in the fall of 1964 (although there isn’t a single Beatles tune on the very evocative soundtrack–executive producer Matthew Weiner, composer David Carbonara and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas stick with their cool, Nelson Riddle-meets-Bernard Herrmann back beat).
Maybe the friends were sick of the downer storyline involving the failed marriage of Don and Betty Draper (January Jones and Jon Hamm, above right). If that is the case, the good news is that the focus is off the dead-end marriage and fully on efforts to get the new ad agency up and running. The show seems more positive, with office dysfunctions set aside and everybody pulling together.
This won’t last. But you sense that Weiner’s plan to blow up the old Mad Men world and start again has had the desired effect to get everybody–including the viewer–back into it. Weiner’s script crackles with sharp patter from the usual sources, especially John Slattery as cynical Roger Sterling.

Other characters seem to grow, especially Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss, above left), who has lost the bangs and seems determined to bang with the big boys.
A key part of tonight’s storyline involves an interview between Draper and a reporter from Ad Age. The fall out from that awkward exchange is later parsed at the office and those scenes provide sharp insight into what publicists have to deal with all the time when a story goes wrong. Managing press is a controlled science in 2010, but even in the world of 1964, targets and expectations and outcomes all mattered. It is cool to be a fly on the wall for this snarky post mortem–not that I’ve ever put a publicist in a corner, mind you.
Hamm deserves plenty of attention for playing somebody who keeps everything in check, yet keeps viewers keen. It is a neat high wire act, and this episode challenges him to really take it to a higher level.
Wrote more about the Mad Men Season Four premiere for Sunday’s Toronto Star. You can read the full story here.

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