Returning for its third season, the two-time Golden Globe®-winning series for Best TV Drama bursts with one scandalous surprise after another. Jon Hamm and the rest of the award-winning ensemble continue to captivate us as they contend with a world on the brink. Welcome to "Mad Men” - a shocking portrait of a time that was anything but innocent. Nothing is as sexy. Nothing is as provocative. Nothing is as it seems. "Mad Men": Where the Truth Lies.
Everything about Mad Men
is stylish, even when it's all falling apart. And in season 3 of this Emmy-winning drama, many things fall apart--marriages, childhood, even the ad agency itself--but the unspoolings play out delicately and tragically, making for utterly compelling television. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) appears to dedicate himself to being a devoted family man, with the impending birth of his third child with Betty (January Jones), but the premiere episode, "Out of Town," has him right back to his philandering ways. While the Drapers do enjoy a romantic interlude during a business trip to Italy that makes you wish those darn kids could just work it out, the writing's on the wall that this marriage is sputtering out. Adding to the complication is Betty's discovery of Don's identity-switching past, her own dalliance with a politician, and their oldest child Sally's growing petulance as she observes her world crumbling around her (9-year-old Kiernan Shipka is a revelation). Meanwhile, the Brits infiltrate Sterling Cooper after a merger, leaving Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Ken (Aaron Staton) competing for the same job; Conrad Hilton (Chelcie Ross) brings in his business and his idiosyncrasies; the closeted Sal (Bryan Batt) nearly gets pushed out of the closet by some compromising situations; Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) asserts herself in the workplace and experiments with loosening her collar (this includes a surprising fling); and Joan (Christina Hendricks, arguably the sexiest woman on television) finally leaves the agency to be a housewife, only to find herself looking for work when her doctor husband comes up short in the promotion department. As usual, the comic relief lies in the reliable hands of the razor-sharp John Slattery as agency partner Roger Sterling, whose marriage to the much-younger former secretary of Don's drives tension between the once-chummy colleagues. At the end of the season, JFK's assassination provides a tragic backdrop for people preoccupied with their own troubles. The top-drawer writing and staging feels very much like a play, especially in the way it merges Don Draper's past with his present. Each episode also includes commentary by creator Matthew Weiner, various writers and directors, and pretty much all cast members (some are entertaining, some pretty superfluous). Also included are featurettes on the history of cigarette advertising and civil-rights documentaries on Medgar Evers and the "I Have a Dream" speech. The latter features, while substantial and well made, feel curiously out of place next to the materialistic and ethically challenged characters on Madison Avenue. Although not as consistent as the first two seasons, Mad Men
's third season has enough power to keep it the best series of 2009. --Ellen A. Kim
Stills from Mad Men: Season 3 (Click for larger image)