After a bit of a hiatus, 4-times-in-a-row “best dramatic series” winner Mad Men has returned to AMC.  Within five episodes this show has put nearly every other dramatic series to shame with its seemingly boundless creativity and enormous entertainment value.

Adult themes, unpredictable plot twists, and superb acting work in perfectly balanced harmony to create an always fascinating screen image for viewers to digest. The characters, even the less attractive ones, are all beautiful to look at. Richly drawn and slowly developed, many of these characters (Roger, Peggy, and Lane to name a few) are worthy of a show all their own.

But what really sets this show apart from nearly everything else out there today is the very deliberate pacing that has become the shows signature. Never rushing toward a punch line or a network mandated commercial break, every scene has ample time to unfold in ways unusual for network television. Plus, shorter than usual commercial breaks provide a pause to digest what has just transpired.

This time elasticity allows actors to act (and react) in genuine ways. There is no winking at the camera in Mad Men – it is all played straight. Even when the going gets wild, as when Lane and Peter engaged in fisticuffs, or Peggy provided a release for midday movie goer, it never strays to camp as it could in less capable hands. It is always serious and somehow on-the-money.

Best of all viewers are able to take in all those perfectly preserved relics from 60’s culture that set directors and costumers weave into virtually every scene. It might be a lamp, wallpaper, a magazine cover, dress or a console stereo (not only does it sound great, it makes a great piece of furniture!). Each episode has something that can easily trigger a baby boomer a synaptic trip down memory lane.  Better put for this season, at times the show is an LSD flashback.

And what of the plot? Try as much as it has plot has never been the key selling point. The Don Draper/Dick Whitman back story and the growing pains of a new agency are hardly factors this season. Betty Draper has virtually disappeared. While Pete, Joan, and Peggy toil to gain respect within in their various sub groups, Roger squanders whatever is left of his in the most flamboyant fashion.

But these are all merely glorious details of what is for the viewer, to use appropriately a 60’s term, a wonderful Gestalt.

Mad Men achieves that rare outcome where entertainment and information are skillfully combined – Mad Mad makes you think.

Mad Men, while entertaining you, asks you to consider your life, your time, and your choices. Best of all – through the eyes of Don Draper and others – and get to view those choices for what they always are – gloriously precious and beautiful.

Mad Men is on Sunday evening. 

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