×

TV Review: ‘Mad Men’

At first blush, the roster of spoiler no-no’s from exec producer Matthew Weiner accompanying the two-hour “Mad Men” premiere appeared so daunting that about all one could safely say is, “It’s in color.” After some thought, though, it gives away little to reveal the sixth-season opener provides a rather ambitious meditation on nothing less than death and fear of mortality, juxtaposed against the shifting social mores of the 1960s and Vietnam war. Weaned in “The Sopranos” school of drama, Weiner tends to begin seasons slowly, disgorging plot as he goes. Even so, there’s tantalizing material in this latest campaign.

It’s already been reported the show lensed in Hawaii, which provides the crucial introduction to the festivities, as ad man extraordinaire Don Draper (Jon Hamm, never better) and his latest trophy wife Megan (Jessica Pare) gaze out over a pristine beach at Diamond Head. Add extreme tanning to the list of things likely to kill Don (because we now know better) as he puffs away on cigarettes while basting in the sand.

It wouldn’t be “Mad Men,” though, without trouble in paradise, and the homecoming brings the usual assortment of client problems — for both Don and former employee Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) — as well as domestic headaches, all exacerbated by the social changes the country is undergoing as it moves further into the ’60s. (Weiner — who wrote the premiere, directed by Scott Hornbacher — is always miserly about time frame, leaving such clues as references to sporting events to help pinpoint the date.)

At its best, “Mad Men” can cover a lot of dramatic ground — watching Don’s daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) continue her journey into surly baby-boomer-hood, seeing ex-wife Betty (January Jones) struggle to evolve emotionally and in her second marriage, then pivoting to provide a laugh-out-loud moment courtesy of Roger (John Slattery), Don’s longtime partner, who is outwardly, anyway, more apt to slough off life’s absurdities, but every bit the cultural dinosaur Don is.

Without giving anything away, the guest cast is unusually strong, offering the prospect of fertile subplots going forward, while some of the regulars don’t figure prominently at first — again, pretty par for the course.

Even when the writing feels a trifle off (as some of Betty’s exchanges do in the opener), “Mad Men” is invariably interesting, precisely because of the mirror it holds up to the present through the prism of the past.

Weiner has said he knows how the show ends, which might explain why he had the great beyond in mind when charting what amounts to the anchor leg of its journey. Whatever the motivation, “Mad Men” has seldom shied away from tackling life’s messier aspects, and while its leading characters look good in pretty much anything, death becomes them, too.

Mad Men

(Series; AMC, Sun. April 7, 9 p.m.)

Cast: Jon Hamm, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Robert Morse, Kiernan Shipka, Jessica Pare, Christopher Stanley, Jay R. Ferguson, Ben Feldman, Mason Vale Cotton.

Filmed in Los Angeles and Hawaii by Weiner Bros. in association with Lionsgate. Executive producers, Matthew Weiner, Scott Hornbacher, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Janet Leahy; supervising producer, Semi Chellas; producers, Jon Hamm, Erin Levy, Blake McCormick; camera, Christopher Manley; production designer, Dan Bishop; editor, Tom Wilson; music, David Carbonara; casting, Laura Schiff, Carrie Audino. 120 MIN.

TV Review: 'Mad Men'

More TV

  • American Son review

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Releases 'American Son' Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix released the trailer for “American Son” starring Kerry Washington and first looks at Dolly Parton’s new anthology series, “Heartstrings.” FIRST LOOKS Netflix has released the trailer for “American Son,” which premieres Nov. 1 on the streaming service. Directed by Tony award-winner Kenny Leon, the film is based on the [...]

  • BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to

    BBC's Little Mix Talent Show to Be Produced by Management Firm's New Shingle, ModestTV

    The BBC has confirmed its Little Mix talent show, which the pop band’s management firm, Modest!, will produce through a new banner, ModestTV. “Little Mix The Search” will be exec produced by Andrea Hamilton, who has partnered with the management outfit to launch the new operation. Her entertainment show credits include “The Voice” and “Strictly [...]

  • Monica Beletsky Apple TV Plus

    Apple Sets Overall Deal With Monica Beletsky

    Monica Beletsky is the latest of a small group of content creators to set an overall deal with Apple and their streaming platform, Apple TV Plus. Under the multi-year deal, Beletsky will develop and produce television series exclusively for the streamer. This is the first overall of Beletsky’s career. Her previous credits include “Fargo,” “Friday [...]

  • Saladin Patterson

    Saladin Patterson Inks Overall Deal at 20th Century Fox Television

    Saladin Patterson has signed an overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. Under the multi-year deal, Patterson will develop, write and produce comedy series for network, cable and streaming platforms. He was previously under a development deal at the studio earlier in his career. Patterson is currently an executive producer on the upcoming FX series [...]

  • Lenny Abrahamson and 'The Favourite' Producer

    'Room' Director Lenny Abrahamson and 'The Favourite' Producer Ed Guiney Present Their BBC-Hulu Series 'Normal People' (EXCLUSIVE)

    At TV market Mipcom in Cannes this week the team behind BBC-Hulu series “Normal People” – led by Lenny Abrahamson, the Oscar nominated director of “Room” – presented the first footage from the show, and explained how they approached the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel. Variety had exclusive access to the presentation. Ed Guiney, one [...]

  • El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

    ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ Scores 6.5 Million Viewers Across First Weekend

    “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which dropped on Netflix Oct. 11, drew around 6.5 million total viewers in its first three days on the streaming platform, according to Nielsen. The movie also reached just under 8.2 million unique TV viewers. “El Camino” unsurprisingly drew its biggest audience of the three days on day 1, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content