I gave in to the rave reviews and checked out Mad Men in episode three of last season and was hooked by its multilayered characters, its authentic sixties look and its glimpse into the offices and boardrooms, complete with no-we're-not-going-to-catch-you-up shop talk. The inclusion of Robert Morse, who burst on the scene four decades ago as the archetypal sixties' corporate climber in the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, was inspired casting.
I had high hopes for the third season, and while they haven't been exactly dashed, let's just put it this way: Starting pitcher Matthew Weiner (series creator and sole writer of Sunday's episode) wasn't properly warmed up, and had a rough first inning. Really rough. There's plenty of time left in the game, but the home team has to rally -- the sooner the better.
I had to hit "Replay" on my DVR at least a dozen times to figure out what the Sam Hill was going on with Don/Dick's flashback, which wasn't really a flashback because he wasn't around to view his own accidental conception and birth. I mean, what is, this, The Dead Zone?
Think that months of preparing to be a father for the third time by a woman who took him back after a disgraceful affair might have tempered Don's passion for illicit flings? Apparently not. On a short trip to Baltimore, he gives in to a beautiful but bimbonic stewardess with the subtlety of a steamroller. He doesn't seem to be conflicted for even a second until she confesses in her soused state that she's engaged. Might Don put on the brakes as well? If he even tapped them, he then hit the gas in telling her it's his birthday. Then she gets into her birthday suit.
The cringe when we were shown a second of viewing a stillborn child was nothing compared to the never-ending makeout scene with Sal and The Bellboy With Industrial-Strength Gaydar. "Aw geez, here it comes...it is over yet? Ahhh! ... Oh, for crying out loud! ... Ewwww! ... Make it stop!" Thank goodness for that fire alarm! Talk about "saved by the bell!" But Don and his hostess hottie escape through the window (Huh? Was that SOP back then?) and somehow, he knows just where the window in Sal's room is from the outside. Holy Wee Willie Winkie, Batman! Was it that easy to be a Peeping Tom back then?
That situation does bring up a bit of intrigue, since Don already knew Sal's secret. But, how does he actually handle the knowledge of what Sal was up to in his hotel room? In the early sixties, is Don such a libertine that he thinks nothing of it? Evidently. When Sal thinks the boom is going to be lowered on him (whatever implications that might have), it just turns out Don is simply pitching his concept for a print ad. Or is he? Time to hit the replay button again! "Limit your exposure" -- is that some sort of code?
Well, I guess. But then the ad Don pitched is drawn up by Sal and he gets compliments for it as if it is genius. IMHO, it stinks! How is a young woman flashing on a subway car supposed to sell raincoats? It doesn't make any sense at all, which is very un-Don Draper, and very un-Mad Men.
(Also un-Mad Men is the inclusion of contemporary expressions in a show set two full generations ago. I want to know when the word "gynocracy" was first recorded in print. Somehow, I doubt it was during the Kennedy Administration.)
It all had the feel of the pique of political outrage in Hollywood borne out of the placing of Proposition 8 (the same-sex marriage repeal) on the California ballot, which seemed to inspire the creators of Boston Legal and The New Adventures of Old Christine to marry their main characters to their best friends. Prop 8 passed, of course, and it looks like the first thing on Weiner's agenda was to do as much as he could for the cause within Mad Men's retro framework. He will probably get away with that self-indulgence with critics and industry insiders, since Weiner can do no wrong to them; the highly-acclaimed but low-rated reigning Best Drama Series is lined up for more Emmy trophies next go-round than any other program. How unsuspecting, uninitiated first-time viewers will react may be a different story.
P.S. As much as I enjoy Mad Men, I believe Breaking Bad is a superior show. It kills me that while FOUR episodes of Mad took up all but one of the writing nominations for a drama series, John Shiban didn't get an Emmy nod for his screenplay for the Breaking episode "Peek-a-Boo," which made the latest TV Guide "100 Greatest Episodes Ever" list and is one of the most magnificent hours of television I have ever witnessed.
P.P.S.: Click here to see what the President of the United States and Don Draper have in common: Barack Obama: 'Mad Man' With a Tan