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MAD MEN: SEASON TWO
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, Vincent Kartheiser, Mark Moses, John Slattery
Creator:  Matthew Weiner
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Lions Gate
Features:  See Review
Length:  611 Minutes
Release Date:  July 14, 2009

“Sex sells.”

“Says who?”

Shows ****

I’m sometimes paranoid that my enthusiastic endorsement of great television shows translates to a death knell.  Over the years as a critic, I’ve extolled the virtues of the likes of Ned and Stacey, The Riches, Veronica Mars and others, only to see them die premature and undeserved deaths.  So, it is with plenty of enthusiasm and some understandable trepidation that I proclaim Mad Men the greatest show currently on the air.

At least I’m hardly alone…this AMC series has won the Golden Globe for Best Drama two years straight, and became the first ever basic cable show to earn an Emmy nomination for Best Dramatic Series.  The accolades continue…this year, the show is up for more than twenty Emmys, for Series, Writing, Directing, Acting (both Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, finally getting her well-deserved recognition).

Yet, despite all the praise and the loyalty of us fans, there actually was some talk that the show might not make it back for a third year.  Quality is quality, but the almighty dollar rules all, and apparently, even with all the critical and popular praise, not enough people have been tuning in to make the show the true hit it deserves to be.  And now, here I am, on the edge of the precipice of another great show near the abyss, and hoping in some small way my feeble words can make the slightest difference in keeping it from falling over.

Mad Men is the brainchild of creator Matthew Weiner, who came up with the concept while he worked on The Sopranos.  His new show would focus on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s, where office environments were made complete by clouds of smoke, glasses of Scotch, and women still being treated as something less than equal.  It was the world of Don Draper (Golden Globe winner Hamm), the creative director for the firm of Sterling Cooper. 

Draper was and is one of the most enigmatic characters on television.  His smooth style and talent for his job make him admirable; his penchant for hopping into bed with female clients (in the literal sense) behind the back of his increasingly sad trophy wife Betty (Jones) makes him a heel.  But over the course of two years, there have been puzzle pieces coming to the surface that help shape both his character and the way we feel about him.  In the first season, we learned he wasn’t exactly who he claimed to be, and why.  In year two, we find out a little more about the price he’s had to pay as a result.

Peggy Olson (Emmy nominee Moss) has been that rare woman at Sterling Cooper to buck the trend, growing from a secretary into a copywriter with a few successes under her belt.  But at what cost?  The arrival in her family’s world of a handsome young priest (Colin Hanks) could prove to be a catalyst in her re-examining her values. 

On the other side is Joan Holloway (Hendricks), a red haired beauty who has never been above letting men ogle her rather incredible form to secure her position in the workplace.  But she can’t get what Peggy has, even when an opportunity arises in the company that proved to everyone just how smart and capable she really is.  She seeks happiness in an upcoming wedding, but even that only seems to serve as a sad reminder that her time to shine may be running out.

And a new presence, Duck Phillips (Moses), is causing a bit of a stir at Sterling Cooper.  Recruited by the company from a larger European firm, Duck’s job is to bring in new business and make Sterling Cooper one of the true giants in the industry.  But his method seems more focused on changing Don than using Don’s talents and ideas.  Duck is learning the limitations of becoming the bigger fish in the smaller pond, and as the season comes to a close, his bold and daring move left the future of Sterling Cooper hanging in the balance.  But one can imagine that’s not all that’s up in the air…the finale of the second season also bring us close to the end of 1963, when a tragic national event was about to forever alter the course of America.

It’s really hard to summarize what a rich, deep and dramatically satisfying show Mad Men is.  It’s brilliantly written, superbly acted, and endlessly imaginative in the way it brings back a bygone era with all its sheen and flaws unapologetically.  In two short years its managed to earn almost unprecedented and universal acclaim…my only hope is that the fan base, loyal as it is, will continue to grow and support this unique and amazing show and see it for what it is…the best television program on the air today, and already one of the greatest shows of all time.

Video ****

“You have a reputation…enjoy it.”

Mad Men is a series with amazing attention to detail, and as such, it was truly made for high definition.  This Blu-ray set offers the full breadth of Matthew Weiner’s vision and style.  There’s so much information in frame after frame that would be easy to overlook, but that jump out in high def, and really make the 60s come alive.  Noticing products, packages and other subtleties from 1963 is something that adds an extra dimension of fun to the show, and with vibrant colors, sharp, crisp images and vivid detail, this is one series that’s so authentic it almost hurts.

Audio ***

“If I don’t come into that office every day…who am I?”

Though dialogue-driven, the DTS HD sound offers a fair amount of dynamic range and a few bigger scenes in clubs and such that help bring the background alive in tune with the foreground.  This series has one of the best ongoing soundtracks of any currently on television, and the period music sounds full and potent with new digital remixes. 

Features ***1/2

“What do you want me to say?”

Each of the thirteen episodes comes with a pair of commentary tracks…at least one involves creator, writer and director Matthew Weiner, but other directors, writers and cast members appear, and all make for enjoyable listens.  The first of the three discs also has an interactive music sampler for the second season…peruse a few tunes, and then pick up the CD, because you’ll be hooked.

The second disc has a two-part featurette “Birth of an Independent Woman”.  It looks back at an era when women were starting to realize their potential and taking their claim in the world of business and modern American life.  The third disc has two additional featurettes.  “An Era of Style” looks at the early 60s with an eye for fashion, while “Time Capsule” looks at some of the actual historical events that shaped the world of Mad Men.

The first disc also kind of starts off with an image of lipstick on Don Draper’s collar, and a plug for Clorox Bleach.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry over that one.

Summary:

There’s a lot of great programming on television today, but for me and many other critics, it’s Mad Men that towers above the competition.  With increasing acclaim and a growing fan base, and with the third season about to begin, there’s never been a better time to go back and experience the first two seasons of this incredible show and learn what all the buzz has been about.

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