AMC • Thursday, July 19 (10 p.m. ET)
Set in the fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper, Mad Men is a highly stylized revisiting of a bygone era — Madison Avenue's go-go days of booze, butts and broads.
From The Sopranos executive producer and writer Matt Weiner, the show, through impeccable detail to fashion and furniture pieces, references to the “bomb” and images of a polio-stricken child, decanters and ashtrays, transports watchers back to 1960.
The protagonist is creative genius Don Draper (John Hamm), whose suave, good looks make him the envy of the office, particularly for Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), an account exec with an eye for more power.
Steno-pool neophyte Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) goes through the paces of rejecting/embracing her moment as “the new girl,” taking advice from boss Joan (Christina Hendricks), who flaunts her assets and office experiences.
At home, Draper tucks the kids in. But whether she's even vaguely aware of her hubby's varied dalliances, wife Betty's (January Jones) shrink visits are justified: Daddy can't even erect a daughter's playhouse without quaffing a few beers and disappears during the kid's birthday party.
This venture into suburbia and ad community, rarely the scene of TV dramas, is well-crafted and written. Although today's more PC affectations of office politics and innuendo are the evolutionary link to this period past of racism, sexism and sexual harassment, one has to wonder if the viewers will open en masse to an unfamiliar world shrouded in smoke and midday imbibing.
— Mike Reynolds
THE BILL ENGVALL SHOW
TBS • July 17 (9 p.m. ET/PT)
There are a lot of familiar, bland elements making up the stew that is this original TBS sitcom.
There's the average-looking guy (Engvall) paired with a hot wife (Nancy Travis), a conceit we've seen a bazillion times. In this case, Bill Pearson is a family counselor (echoes of The Bob Newhart Show), giving him a chance to interact with wacky patients and office neighbors like Bob Spoonerman (Steve Hytner).
Pearson is also father to three: the youngest is the precocious Bryan Pearson, played by Skyler Gisondo (think Family Ties' Alex P. Keaton, minus the politics); Graham Patrick Martin's dumb-as-toast Trent (think Aston Kutcher's Kelso on That '70s Show); and slacker daughter, Lauren, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence (think the Kaley Cuoco character in 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teen-Age Daughter).
Viewing one of the early episodes, credit must be given for veering into “very special episode” territory so soon, confronting the family with the decision between vacationing in Hawaii or paying for cancer treatment for butt-ugly dog Raffles. Producers are obviously banking on drawing fans of Engvall's work on The Blue Collar Comedy Tour. But in our estimation, the show doesn't live up to the network's tagline “very funny.” We'll give it a begrudging “mildly amusing.”
— Linda Haugsted