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‘Mad Men’ season 3 premieres Sunday! Here’s what you need to know:

August 14, 2009
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madmen_glamorous castI am so excited for the new season of Mad Men.  If you’re already a fan, don’t forget that the new season premieres this Sunday, August 16th @ 10:00 p.m. on AMC. If you have never watched this fabulous show, here’s what you need to know to catch up (needless to say, what follows is spoilery for the two previously aired seasons):

Mad Men is a drama created by Matthew Weiner (previously a writer & producer on The Sopranos), that premiered in July 2007.  The first season was set in 1960 New York, while the second season jumps ahead two years to 1962.  The time period is key to the show, which features amazingly authentic costuming, set design, and scripts.  Often major historical events are happening in the background–such as the Nixon vs. Kennedy campaign, the death of Marilyn Monroe, etc.  The way the characters talk and behave is decidedly PRE-politically correct: smoking and drinking pregnant ladies, blatant littering, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  I find this completely fascinating, as it is done so realistically and intelligently. Much of the story revolves around a Madison Avenue advertising firm, Sterling & Cooper, and the people who work there–hence, the title of the show.

Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, is the center of the show.  He is the Creative Director at Sterling & Cooper, and is the genius behind the success of the company.  He is handsome, charming, and charismatic.  The ladies love Don Draper, as they should.  He’s also a fraud.  Turns out that he was really born Dick Whitman, the son of a prostitute, who died giving birth to him (seriously).  When he was in the military, during the Korean War, he took on the identity of a fallen officer, and never looked back.  He’s married to perfectly pretty (and somewhat immature) Betty, played by the gorgeous January Jones.  The Drapers have two children, a girl and a boy, and live in a perfect suburban neighborhood … but their lives are far from perfect.  Betty Draper is all about appearances (as are many of the characters), and seeks to present her life as perfectly as possible to the outside world.  While this show portrays the artificiality of these forced appearances, we also see the much less perfect reality beneath the surface–which is what makes this show so fascinating.  The Drapers were separated for most of the second season, after Betty found out about Don’s latest affair.  Don spiraled into crazy for awhile, but finally wrote his now-pregnant wife a love letter–all fixed!

The other main characters work at Sterling & Cooper, including the lovable white-haired Roger Sterling, who recently left his wife for the new hot secretary (played by Smallville‘s Lucy Lane).  Roger used to have a thing with the gorgeous head-secretary, red-haired Joan Holloway (played by the amazing Christina Hendricks, whom I loved as Saffron/ Bridget/ Yolanda from Firefly).  But that ended, and Joan got herself engaged to a young handsome doctor.  Unfortunately, said doctor was revealed to be a raping asshole at the end of season two, so my heart breaks for her.  Nevertheless, Joan remains fabulous, and the whole show lights up when she’s on screen.

Then of course there’s Peggy Olson, played by Elizabeth Moss (whom I remember well as one of President Bartlett’s daughters on The West Wing–oh, how I loved her romance with Charlie).  Peggy is perhaps the most relatable character, an intelligent young woman who is struggling against the sexism in the workplace.  She begins the show as a secretary, and ends season two as a copy-writer, with a fabulous office, bigger than that of many of her male colleagues.  There’s also a whole storyline involving Peggy and her co-worker Pete Campbell (played by Vincent Kartheiser, i.e. Angel’s son Connor!).  The two hook-up after a party, and Peggy ends up pregnant.  She doesn’t tell the engaged Pete, for reasons we learn in the second season finale: he broke her heart, she wanted other things, and she got over him.  She gave the baby away, and the whole pregnancy was hushed up, given the times.  Ignorant Pete marries Trudy, the daughter of a rich client, whom he seems to despise, and falls in love with Peggy gradually, after it is much to late.  In the season finale of the latest season, Peggy tells Pete the truth, after he declares his love for her, in an extremely powerful scene.  I can’t wait to see how that storyline plays out.

Then there are the other copy-writers, account guys, etc. who work at Sterling Cooper.  These boys often provide some great comedy in the show.  My fave is Salvatore Romano (yay, an Italian!), who is clearly gay, but even he doesn’t realize it.  Between seasons one and two, Sal gets married to the adorable Kitty (played by Sarah Drew: Hannah from Everwood!), but in season two he develops a crush on cute blond Ken Cosgrove (who is aptly named, as he looks kind of like a Ken doll).  Ken is oblivious, and tends to chase anything in a skirt.  Also there’s Harry Crane, who has had quite an interesting storyline.  After a rocky patch with his wife, during which he slept with secretary Hildy, he and his wife reunited, and are having a baby.  He gets the idea to expand the television department in Sterling & Cooper, and manages to snag the job of heading the department.  He’s sweet, and wears hipster glasses.  Then there’s Paul Kinsey, whose smarmy-self I pretty much despise.  He’s an aspiring Bohemian, who seems to merely put on the pretense of believing in social equality.  He used to have a thing with Joan, but it didn’t end well (it never happened on screen, but is alluded to in encounters between the two).  Some of my favorite scenes feature Joan terrorizing Kinsey–he is hopelessly outmatched.  There are also a number of secretaries, such as Hildy (Julie McNiven)–they’re all gems, and do a fabulous job in their roles.

Any questions?  Feel free to ask.

mad_men_castCharacters from left to right: Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse), Paul Kinsey(Michael Gladis), Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt), Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Paul Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss), Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Betty Draper (January Jones).

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