Mad Men Back on TV

Time Flies When You're Not Having Fun

By: - Mar 26, 2012

Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad

Out of sight. Out of mind.

After too long an absence from the small screen, perhaps a big one in your house, the ABC hit series Mad Men returned last night in a two hour, blockbuster launch of Season Five.

With such long stretches away from fans some of the characters have aged (particularly Don's three kids). The story line has gotten a bit moldy and frayed around the edges.

It’s hard to remember, particularly for us seniors, who has done what to whom and why over what, in TV years, is now a lifetime.

Significantly, the epic bonanza last night focused around the uber huckster and stud, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) a made man with a dark past and senior partner of the smarmy Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce agency turning the big four Oh My.

His 29-year-old trophy wife, the Montreal born, French flavored, bon bon Megan (Jessica Pare) has done the unspeakable. Thrown a surprise party in their high rise, posh, love nest.

We see the Drapers staggering home from a romantic dinner headed, so Don thinks, for an evening of rolling and tumbling.

Approaching their apartment door they encounter Don’s business partner, rival and nemesis, Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and his wife Jane (Peyton List). Typically, Sterling has arrived late and botched Megan’s plan.

Clearly, Don is annoyed on every level. Not least having to make nice with Roger while pretending, for Megan’s sake, to endure a truly dreadful evening socializing with partners and employees. Everyone is there out of a sense of obligation.

It’s the kind of boozy, high end, squaresville party where everyone gets smashed and nobody has a good time. Particularly the Birthday Boy.

Were it not for a generic rock combo, with its mincing leader and MC, the butt of a number of jokes among guests, they would have been frugging to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

As the highlight of the occasion, and a very special tribute to her newly minted husband, Megan, grabs the mike to croon a love song.

I braced myself for a Marilyn version of “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” Instead we were treated to a cute and sexy rendering of  “Zoy Bisou Bisou.” For the leering males guests lapping up her every flip of a hip and flounce of a mini skirt it might just as well have been a pole dance.

Don, a scrupulously private and guarded guy who always strives to have the upper hand, is a puppet in the hands of his wife. He has to grin and bear it while seething inside, angry, resentful, and embarrased before his colleagues.

When the guests finally leave he just wants to sleep it off. We have to recall a now ancient back story when Don lays into her stating that he never had a birthday party. And would rather just forget the disaster of his 40th.

She is understandably crushed that her innocent, loving gesture has gone amuck.

They are not speaking when arriving at the office on Monday morning. Megan has been fast tracked from receptionist to assistant to Copywriter Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss). Megan asks to be excused for not feeling well. Peggy is mulling over a rude blunder to Don during the party.

Peggy's bouncing beans TV campaign for Heinz went bust. During the presentation Don didn't back her up. She makes a crack about it during the party.

Learning that Megan has gone home Don leaves early.

Clearly, the marriage is on the rocks. And this is just the season opener. The trope was to present a happy, loving, different Don Draper. But his dark side has botched that.

He finds her cleaning having dismissed the maid. The place is a mess after the blowout. Telling him to keep his distance she tears off a house coat revealing black lace bra and painties “Because I will be sweaty.” She explains. “Don’t even look at me. You don’t deserve it.”

Not the kind of guy to take no for an answer Don in essence raped her on the now soiled, white shag rug. It is a metaphor for their trampled love nest and no longer innocent marriage. In the post coital afterglow she muses that the rug is ruined and should be thrown out. Megan wonders why they have one and states that she copied it from one of Don’s ad shoots.

“We always have three” for the shoots Don explains. They soil so readily. Adding that he went along with the high maintenance white rug because he wanted her to have whatever pleased her. Which is to say, white rugs are ok if you don’t plan to have company.

That reminded me of the upscale NY party I attended in the ‘60s, following a gallery opening, when I spilled red wine on said white rug.

Ok. So after that long lapse Mad Men is back.

Yet again it has tugged at our heart strings.

It was all in for the season opener but we’ll have to see what evolves when it settles into its regular, 10 PM, Sunday night slot.

Last night there were hints of the racism and sexism of the era. They will evolve into the themes of civil rights and feminism. It’s just a matter of time before Peggy burns her bra. All that smoking and three martini lunches are bound to catch up with the characters.

When will we find them attending AA meetings on their lunch hour, succumbing to cancer, getting gassed and maced during protest marches, coming down with the clap, or drafted and sent to the jungles of Vietnam?

If Mad Men is intended as a snapshot of the 1960s this is hardly what I recall of the era of love, peace and happiness. Or, as they say, if you remember the 1960s you didn’t really enjoy them.

That’s why it’s so tough to swallow a little shit like the callous and ambitious Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). I knew guys like that from the yacht club and debutant balls. It was so funny when he showed up at Don’s party wearing a Madrass jacket. I wore those. What’s funny is at the yacht club some guys still do. Usually with those silly embroidered golf pants.

Yeah, it’s fun to hate Roger Sterling the do nothing partner with deep pockets. He’s such a putz. And such a brilliant comedic foil.

Seems he flirts with Pete’s secretary to steal leads and appointments. Cleverly, in the funniest incident of the episode, Pete plants one for a 6 AM meeting at Staten Island with some Coke executives. We see Roger at dawn getting dressed to crash the meeting.

What to make of the British stiff Lane Pryce (Jared Harris)? There were seeds planted hinting at a sub plot.

Initially, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) was cast as a red headed, voluptuous bomb shell. She was smart, ambitious, and the glue that held the firm together. No, Joan is no candidate to crack the glass ceiling.

During Season Four she left the firm to be with her train wreck doctor husband who washed out of internship. Now he’s off camera performing triage in the jungle. While away at the front Joan got knocked up by her old flame Roger.

Nursing her infant Joan is stagnating at home with her mom. She’s anxious to park the kid in daycare ASAP and head back to the office. In typical Joanie style she over plays her hand. She returns pushing a carriage outfitted in sensational red silk. Where formerly Joan was voluptuous now she is Rubensesque. Oh my.

There is a double entendre when, while approaching Joan, there is a greeting from Roger “How’s my baby?” There are knowing glances between them as Joan presents him with their love child. With a cigarette in his mouth Roger examines the infant, literally, at arms length.

As much as American’s love Mad Men it’s a trumped up, one trick pony. A gag and one liner now lumbering into its fifth season. During some side trips into film and other projects we have learned that, however brilliant as Don Draper, Jon Hamm isn’t much of an actor. Now forty Draper is losing his charm and youthful glow.

In TV years the once hip hit series may be over the hill. Mad Men may run out of gas as it struggles to win back fans. There is always something new and fresh competing for our attention.

Don’t hold your breath for Season Six. Particularly if there is another long layover.

Don who? Mad what?

Tempus fugit.