This time last year, we were all pleasantly surprised and comparing notes around the office. "Have you seen 'Mad Men'? It's really good. Jon Hamm is amazing."
"Mad Men" commanded our attention last summer as soon as the first screeners were sent out. Like most showbiz journos, Variety's resident TV fanatics approached the show with some skepticism because of what it was: the first foray into original drama series by AMC, and a period piece. We wondered how you could do a credible job on re-creating early 1960s Manhattan a la "The Apartment" on a basic cable budget.
We stopped worrying about halfway through Joan's tour of Sterling Cooper office with the new girl, Peggy, in the pilot seg, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
"Mad Men" got better and better as its first 13-segs unfolded, as evidenced by the 16 Emmy noms the Lionsgate TV production raked in earlier this month. In a sign of its high-quality construction, "Mad Men" episodes hold up incredibly well in repeat binge viewing, as some of us are doing in preparation for season two and for what feels like inevitable Emmy night sidebars.
To make the most of season two, Variety's Stuart Levine, Cynthia Littleton and Kathy Lyford will be opining here on the show on Sunday nights (or by midday Monday) about each of its 13 episodes, starting this week with the opener, "For Those Who Think Young." (Please consider this fair warning for those who watch on their own timetables and want to avoid learning plot points.)
The three of us have had the pleasure of seeing the first two segs of the new season. We have a firm no spoilers policy in this space, but suffice it to say that we're in for a hell of a ride. (Here's Brian Lowry's review.)
"Mad Men" creator/exec producer Matthew Weiner was walking on air last week at the series' season two preem party at Musso and Frank, which followed a screening of "For Those Who Think Young" at the Egyptian Theater across the street. The Emmy nom glory and the continued critical hosannas are like an inch-thick coating of butter cream icing atop the three-layer chocolate mousse cake that he and his cast and crew get to feast on in doing the show of Weiner's (period) dreams.
As moody and complex, naughty and macho and wonderfully unshaven as Hamm's master manipulator Don Draper was last season -- we ain't seen nuthin' yet, Weiner promises.
"Don's story over the course of the season is about his search for identity. I think it is going to be profound for people," said Weiner (pictured right with wife Linda Brettler). "Peggy's story is kind of about that too. Don's story this year is going to blow people away."
And a word to the wise viewer: Pay close attention to everything (we'll try to help with that in our blogging). Because as Weiner learned in his years on "The Sopranos," great drama in episodic TV is about building up finely drawn characters, one tidbit, one gesture, one offhand remark at a time, without clubbing the aud over the head with exposition.
"I like to drop little things here and there into every episode and hope that the audience forgets about them for a while," Weiner said with a satisfied smile.