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Thoughts on ‘Mad Men’ opening day and the ‘Luck’ season finale

The words that I’ve been using to describe the season opener of Mad Men are “jarring and fascinating.” The show has constantly evolved in character and look, but you’ll never notice it more than in the leap forward it has taken between its last season, which ended 17 months ago, and tonight’s season-five premiere (whose pace I found more engaging than Variety critic Brian Lowry in his review). So some of it comes as a shock to the system, but at the same time, you’ll see the logic behind every move of the many pieces on showrunner Matthew Weiner’s chessboard, while feeling a great deal of anticipation for what’s to come. There’s also some pretty sly humor mixed in with the darkness and tumult, I will say.

Meanwhile, a less successful but still intriguing show wraps up its first and last season tonight. The final episode of Luck lays out all its strengths and weaknesses. Some of the characters are extremely compelling –- Kevin Dunn as Marcus particularly shines in the finale –- but others are a mixed bag, including Dustin Hoffman’s Ace, who is played almost like what might have happened if his Rain Man character had gotten, say, 65 percent of the social skills he’d ideally have. Above all, though, the cinematography of the final race is beyond spectacular. Of course, the reliance on horses is what ultimately sowed the seeds of the show’s demise, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any program that had more appreciation for the artistry of the animals. Luck will occupy a place in the middle range of HBO shows of the past several years for me, but I don’t regret watching it.

My Variety colleagues and I will be talking Mad Men and other TV in a live chat Monday starting at approximately 9:45 a.m. I’ll post a link when I have it – join us then, but feel free to have any initial discussion here tonight.

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