By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer
“Mad Men,” perhaps one of the best shows on TV, returned Sunday night after an agonizing 17-month hiatus.
The last time we saw the men and women of Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce ad agency, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the show’s conflicted hero, proposed to his young secretary, Megan (Jessica ParÃ©), who appeared to be the exact opposite of his cold and entitled ex-wife Betty (January Jones). The office seductress, Joan (Christina Hendricks), was pregnant with Roger’s (John Slattery) baby and her husband was going off to an uncertain future in Vietnam. Don’s protÃ©gÃ© Peggy (Elizabeth Olsen) was still struggling to find her footing in the largely male-dominated workplace.
The season premiere picks up three months later with Don and Megan married, living in a hip New York apartment and working together at the agency. Joan’s had her baby, Kevin, while living with her bothersome mother and Peggy is still toiling away on an account for beans.
To say anything more would be giving away what makes “Mad Men” so special. Of course the premiere had everything fans of the show have come to expect. Don, dashing as ever but so emotionally cut off that he destroys everything in his path; Peggy, smart but continuously fumbling; Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) being conniving; Roger, painfully awkward.
Anyone who watches “Mad Men” knows that most of the characters inhabiting this universe writer Matthew Weiner has so precisely created are not the most pleasant of people. They’re cold and unforgiving. Even the show’s protagonist, Don, is sometimes hard to like.
“What’s the matter with you people?” Megan asks Peggy in the premiere. “You’re all so cynical. You never smile, you smirk.”
Hamm, going into his fifth season playing Don, is just exceptional. He oozes charm and, even if you hate him, you want to love him just a little bit, too. He holds the show together in every way, not just because Don is the central character but because he’s the perfect poster boy for everything that’s wrong and perfect about “Mad Men’s” world. Strong jawed, shockingly handsome and painfully uncomfortable with who he really is, Don seems to define “Mad Men.”
Jarred Harris, who plays Lane Pryce, is an incredible standout. A truly wonderful actor, Harris is one of the most underrated characters on the show and is always a welcome delight stealing almost every scene he’s in. Kartheiser’s Pete is also always a welcome character. It might be nearly impossible to like a weasel like Pete, but there’s something magnificent about him.
It’s magical and hypnotizing watching these characters flutter around in a lush world that hides so much debauchery behind such a pretty surface. It’s impossible not to see the greatness in “Mad Men.” Underneath Don’s apparently heartless demeanor you see flashes of a man who wants desperately to be a good person and that’s really the point of the show. We all present a faÃ§ade, but at the end of the day it doesn’t take much to turn us cold. All I can say is, thank God for Hamm’s jaw line, Weiner and the magic men of “Mad Men.”