‘Mad Men’ thrived in second season

Emmy-winning AMC series transcended hype

Judging by the critical acclaim it received, there was no sophomore slump with AMC’s 2008 drama Emmy winner, “Mad Men.”

“There was enormous pressure to do the near-impossible, which was be better than season one, sustain both the hype and the acclaim, plus add viewers,” says San Francisco Chronicle critic Tim Goodman. “I was worried (creator) Matthew Weiner might implode. But the very first episode of season two proved nobody had to worry, the genius was still there.”

Asked to pick a favorite scene from last season, Goodman votes for “Don walking into the Pacific Ocean, a kind of baptism, cleansing and rebirth all in one. Just beautifully conceived and shot and so anti-‘Mad Men’ in that it wasn’t an interior shot with stark blacks and immaculate suits.”

Chicago Tribune critic Maureen Ryan was also taken with the California storyline, beginning with episode “The Jet Set.”

“When Don visited the ‘real’ Mrs. Draper, it showed a side of him we hadn’t seen, a more relaxed and vulnerable aspect of his personality,” Ryan notes. “It was not only fascinating to see that part of Don’s ‘secret,’ it was another opportunity to appreciate Jon Hamm’s finely calibrated performance. No matter what era of Don’s life is depicted, he makes each iteration of the man slightly different, yet the character remains consistent.”

Another second-season strong point for critics was seeing the female characters get their due.

“Christina Hendricks, Elisabeth Moss and January Jones were all given substantial work and they were flawless,” says Ryan. “The title may be ‘Mad Men,’ but the show has given us some of the most complex and compelling female characters on television.”

Not every moment was perfect. Ryan’s least favorite seg involved Draper and Bobbi Barrett.

“I didn’t feel actress Melinda McGraw and Hamm had any chemistry,” Ryan says. “Perhaps that was supposed to reinforce the idea Don could be emotionless and cold at times, but that side of him is less interesting, and I found those scenes fairly repetitive.”

Goodman says he was only irked with one thing: the inconsistent use of music. “If it’s going to use contemporary music (like the Cranberries or the Decemberists), then it needs to use them a lot,” he says. “Either period music or not, or a roughly even split. The contemporary stuff really jars.”

But, adds Goodman, if one is nitpicking about music, “the rest of it must be damned great.”