AMC's Mad Men Debuts to Critical Kudos


AMC’s Mad Men — a series set in a Manhattan ad agency circa 1960 — launched Thursday at 10 p.m. The critical buzz appears to be almost entirely positive.

Miami Herald critic Glenn Garvin calls the series "captivating," and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rob Owen says the show is "quality, meaty dramatic television."

The Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan gave the series her thumbs-up, saying the show is an" intelligently made character drama," and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Melanie McFarland notes that the series is "something rare and wonderful, a remarkable, original vision."

Mad Men is "a series that breaks new ground by luxuriating in the not-so-distant past," observes The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley.

TCA buzz was upbeat and demand for screeners was hot. Following AMC’s Sunday-afternoon panel, journalists milled about the AMC desk hunting for DVDs after the network unexpectedly ran short.

AMC played host that night with dinner and live jazz held at the iconic Friars Club — a dark, red-velveted place weighted with Rat Pack/Hollywood history. AMC served up appropriately 1960s dishes: medium-rare roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy.

The Mad Men cast was in the house — including John Slattery (Roger Sterling), lately of Desperate Housewives. But I remember him in K-Street, the Soderbergh experiment unceremoniously dumped by HBO after 10 episodes. The story arc was left hanging and the audience was hung out to dry, as well.

After HBO’s K-Street, Deadwood and Rome cancellations, I’m almost afraid to commit at this point.

Operative word: almost. After screening four episodes, I’ve developed an appointment-TV attachment to Mad Men. Sure, I can TiVo. But I don’t want to wait that long. Which is scary. I try not to get too attached these days because network executives can’t be trusted and I’ve been burned one too many times, starting with the original Star Trek when I was 12 years old.

But sometimes a series is so irresistible that you’re powerless against its magnetic forces. Mad Men is all that. The dialog is snappy and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. The story arcs have been mapped out. The period detail is so exact that it’s impossible not to become lost in the recreated world, a bit like Second Life.

Mad Men is a work of genius, a work of devotion. There is passionate commitment to excellence in every aspect of this series and as a viewer you can sense it. (Creator/writer Matthew Weiner said he’s personally involved in the production minutiae — more of my interview with Weiner in the coming weeks.)

I would say that if you had to make a choice to watch just one series this year — not that you would ever want to, because cable is an embarrassment of riches at the moment — but say you had to. Say you were on a desert island and someone was holding a gun to your head — that kind of choice.

Then, my vote would be Mad Men.

In one scene, the gloriously snively, slimy character Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is suddenly humanized. A moment with his parents suggests, perhaps, the 1959 teen soap theatrical Summer Place. Later, when Pete looks out on the shimmery night sky of Manhattan, distanced from his wife and co-op neighbors, his longing is suddenly illuminated. It’s an enlightenment moment for the viewer, as well.

The tag line for an old Troy Donahue film, Parrish (of the same Summer Place ilk), is: "Looking for something. Wanting everything." It could be the tag line for Mad Men, too.

Kartheiser struts his range in Mad Men and he’s perfectly cast in his role.

Also wandering about the AMC party was Bryan Batt, who plays Salvatore, the token Italian working in the ad firm.

Jeff Goldblum’s band entertained by playing jazzy covers of old television series like 77 Sunset Strip and Bonanza. When Goldblum invited audience members to take the mic and sing, Batt stepped up to the stage. After a brief discussion with Goldblum about tempo or key, he belted out Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” swinging and clutching the mic, transfixing the crowd.

The moment was a clear reminder of the depth and breadth of this 10-plus ensemble cast. It’s another embarrassment of riches, and Weiner must have his hands full keeping them busy — a problem he relishes, I’m sure.

CLICK HERE TO SEE A FEW PICS of the AMC party and two snaps of Weiner taken during our one-on-one interview at TCA.