Mad Men - Season One

by Robert Newton

National Film Editor

Tuesday July 1, 2008

When a show like "The Sopranos" makes its final cut-to-black, its greatness does not merely evaporate into the ether; like some kind of symbiotic organism, it finds another host to inhabit, and in this case, that show's executive producer and writer, Matthew Weiner, has found purchase in the form of AMC's Mad Men: Season One. It is a brilliant series, and a great DVD set, as well.

The action centers around fictional Madison Avenue ad agency Sterling Cooper in 1960. American Dream-living idea man Don Draper (Golden Globe winner Don Hamm) is a king among men, though he lives a mysterious life with plenty of inner turmoil. His beautiful wife, Betty (January Jones), whose mother recently died, suffers panic attacks and seeks the counsel of (da-dum!) an analyst. His affairs include free-spirited beatnik illustrator Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt) and rich department store owner Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff). Life is good, or so it would seem.

And that's just the drama in Don Draper's life. Weiner writes so incisively, never giving into the wink-wink "look how wacky things were back then!" impulse and instead letting his cast and team of artists recreate a bygone era so seamlessly that the story could just as well take place today. He expertly juggles multiple story lines involving Draper's team, a combination of old school veterans and hungry up-and-comers, played by, well... a combination of old school veterans and hungry up-and-comers. Tony winner Robert Morse pops up as Bertram Cooper, the agency's amusingly eccentric shoes-hating co-founder, and John Slattery as his partner, Roger Sterling, is commanding. Young buck Vincent Kartheiser as newlywed Pete Campbell is a wonderfully fierce ball of angst, and snow white new girl Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is an engaging riddle, in that she may be as na?ve as she seems or may have an agenda to rule the advertising world.

Collectors will fawn over the presentation. In that smoking is so prevalent in the world of "Mad Men," the four-disc set is packaged in an oversized metal cigarette lighter box. The top flips open to reveal the four discs, each easily accessible as if it were itself a cigarette. Like the similarly packaged "Disney Treasures" sets, the packaging is somewhat fragile, susceptible to dents and dings, making a clean box all the more challenging to find, and all the more valuable when it is found.

AMC includes a selection of more-than-perfunctory special features. There is running commentary on all 13 episodes, plus a behind-the-scenes introduction to the world of "Mad Men." There is a nice featurette about the 1960's creative revolution in media, as well as a lovely narrated photo gallery by the costume, hair and production designers. Because the music plays such a part in establishing time, place and mood, they have also included a one-on-one discussion with composer David Carbonara. All these features go far in helping foster a greater appreciation for a series that already lends itself to greater appreciation through multiple viewings. And considering that the only way to catch up on Season One before Season Two starts later this month is with $1.99 iTunes downloads, that money would be better spent investing in a swell set like this and sharing with friends (whom you can trust not to dent the case, of course).

*SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary on all 13 episodes; Featurette - "Establishing ’Mad Men’"; Featurette - "Advertising the American Dream"; Photo Gallery - "Pictures of Elegance"; Featurette - "Scoring ’Mad Men’"; Music Sampler

Robert Newton is the National Film Editor for EDGE. He is also Editor of North Shore Movies Weekly, and a film and TV writer for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He is also an award-winning novelty recording artist (aka "Fig"), and runs The Cape Ann Community Cinema on the island of Gloucester, MA.