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Mad Men: Season Three (Blu-ray Review)

29 Mar, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 3/23/10
$49.98 four-DVD set
$49.99 three-disc Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery.

With new British bosses having invaded Manhattan’s Sterling Cooper ad agency without a Paul Revere in sight, the most recent Emmy winner (for season two) put into motion plot points that were subtly seeded in previous years — including a lot of “comes-around” from some of its characters’ earlier and foolhardy go-arounds.

By now, it’s probably not much of a revelation that the Draper marriage (ad exec Don and suburban bombshell Betty) goes bust in this collection. As a former editor of mine posted on Facebook after the final show aired: “Is it too soon to start hitting on Betty Draper?” Well, forewarned is forearmed, even if it’s best not to play spoiler in too many instances for those who’ve waited to catch up on all of these 13 episodes in one fell swoop. But one thing that really comes out in this set is how philandering Don (Jon Hamm) is a surprisingly “good” and certainly caring father, while Betty (January Jones) is really one cold cookie, especially when it comes to her kids.

Along with “The Colgate Comedy Hour” in the 1950s and “Later With Bob Costas” in the 1980s, “Mad Men” is my favorite TV show of all time. This is no doubt partly because I worked in the promotion department of a CBS affiliate during high school and college in the 1960s — dealing not only with a local ad agency but also watching the sales force traipse off to New York to deal with the Madison Avenue Big Boys.

The décor and other period detail remains astonishing (especially on Blu-ray), as in the episode where Sterling Cooper films a commercial that deliberately apes Ann-Margret’s opening-shot entrance to the 1963 movie version of Bye Bye Birdie. Next to the March on Washington, the long-delayed release of Cleopatra and maybe the fact that Kyu Sakamoto somehow scored a No. 1 Billboard hit with "Sukiyaki" (in Japanese), Ann-Margret’s pulchritude was just about all that anyone talked about that summer. And, of course, it’s compels to know facts in advance that the characters don’t — as when the daughter of Roger Sterling (John Slattery) schedules her wedding long in advance for the weekend of Nov. 22.

The re-creation of television’s reaction to JFK’s assassination is outstanding, utilizing real CBS and NBC footage from the weekend in which mass media as we now know it began. Other highlights include the efforts of some hideously callow rich guy’s son to pitch Sterling Cooper on the idea that jai alai is going to become new the national pastime; the introduction of Conrad Hilton (as played in faux folksy manner by Chelcie Ross, it’s doubly interesting to recall that the hotel magnate was once married to Zsa Zsa Gabor); and the jaw-droppingly delirious pay-off scene in episode six, which takes the idea of worker’s compensation accidents to surreal levels.

In addition to some period documentaries (including one on civil rights figure Medgar Evers and another on cigarette advertising), every episode offers group commentary by cast or crew members. It’s nice to report that Vincent Kartheiser (whose “Pete” character started out as a little twit but has grown more likable) has a sense of humor. And as if her sheer voluptuousness weren’t enough, that Christina Hendricks (who plays office manager Joan Holloway) is blessed with one of the world’s great giggles.

One commentator also points out that actor Slattery always gets all the best lines, which is true. But there’s also never been one that he hasn’t hit deep into the third deck.

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