The Return of Mad Men: A Primer

“I feel like that’s the way it is right now. That’s what I feel we’re undergoing — such tremendous change. Technological, cultural, social, our perception of ourselves as a country, our perception of each other. The country really feels like a melting pot, like it’s culturally diverse as ever and representative. And at the same time I personally — I don’t know what period I’m looking to — but I don’t feel like my feet are on the ground. And what you realize is this is the way it is.” — Matthew Weiner

Mad Men's back. Let’s get tanked. Like futuristic car unveilings of the atomic past, Mad Men is rolling out its brand-new window displays for the new year, and the fins are bigger than ever! Series creator Matthew Weiner gave fans some new clues during the TCA cocktail party and in a long interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The highlights:

• Two beautiful new promo posters: a greenish one with a stylized California midcentury modern illustration of some “masculine” Draperish props (whiskey, lighter, smokes, hat, glasses), and a pink one with some “feminine” Peggy items (typewriter, television, highball, lipstick, letters, pink sunglasses, different smokes).

• It premieres March 25 with a two-hour-long episode directed by Jon Hamm that Matt Weiner calls cinematic: “It’s a Mad Men movie — I don’t think anyone’s going to think it’s two episodes spliced together. There is a story that starts in the middle of it [but otherwise] it’s one story.”

• The period setting is a red herring. “The year doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t. I’m not doing a history lesson.” One might argue that despite its New York ad agency setting, Mad Men is really a roman à clef about the present-day film and TV business in Los Angeles. Incidentally the same argument could be made about Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos, but not Entourage, the most unrealistic show-business show in recent history.

• Weiner on the central theme: “We have a show that’s about people’s personal lives and about people’s jobs. And obviously the office is a big part of it and we take it very seriously — these are ambitious people. There is a certain point where you have to start thinking for yourself and a lot of behavior that you would judge as very negative or destructive or whatever, that is the only way to achieve what you want. If you sit and wait there for someone to give you everything in life there is a very good chance you won’t get it. And that can be an earth-shattering thing about understanding the world.”

• “And you take someone like Don, who we know is trying to be a better person. That’s part of what [the audience] likes about him.” Really? We know that Don is trying to be a better person? Since when? To me it always seemed like Don has some sort of vague philosophical aspirations toward being a better person that don’t jibe with his actual life choices, which tend to be (as Weiner admits) just out-and-out selfish. I guess the struggle is between the “bad” choices, which lead to an outward public image of success but a gaping void where Don’s emotions ought to go, and the flashes of selfless “goodness” in his platonic relationships with Anna Draper and, occasionally, Peggy. But Don’s desire to be a “good” person often seems like a narcissism of small differences about not wanting to identify fully with the Roger Sterlings and Conrad Hiltons of the world. He’s a prick, but he’s not THAT kind of prick. He’s a damaged, sensitive prick. And being Dick Whitman, a handsome, “nice” nobody with an abusive family history, wasn’t exactly selling out furs or landing beautiful, ill-tempered January Jones-looking spouses, was it, now? Do you want to wait tables in Venice the rest of your life?

• “You see someone there who’s got a virtue in their trust of other people and is a bit of a chameleon and curious and open and all of these things we’ve talked about. But Don’s maneuver at the end of last season was really, really selfish and he may have saved the business, but that’s what I’m talking about. It’s like, how long does it take to learn that lesson? And that’s a big part of the season.” OK, FAIR ENOUGH. CARRY ON.

• “I do think that last season’s finale was kind of the most cliff-hanger-y we’ve done because it was such an abrupt shift — and it was really like we’ve just got to Don and all the sudden we’re on the outside again. Some people felt betrayed in a way, I think. … They thought the story was honest but they thought, ‘Oh, he almost made it.’ [WARNING: Forthcoming info is spoilerish for the season premiere.] Don does not marry Meagan … Don proposes to Meagan. And Meagan accepts.”

• “You like chocolate ice cream? I can’t make RICHER chocolate ice cream. I’m going to make orange sherbet this year. And if you don’t like it, you don’t like chocolate ice cream. It’s still ice cream.” Bring it on, ice cream man.

Molly Lambert is a Grantland staff writer.

The Wandering Eye of Justin “Trousersnake” … and Other Horror Stories From This Week’s Tabloids
This Week’s Top 10 Regional Mexican Chart
Your Comprehensive, One-Stop Source for All Crucial Jay-Bey Baby News

Filed Under: AMC, Jon Hamm, Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, TV Press tour

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert

More from Molly Lambert

See all from Molly Lambert

More AMC

See all AMC

More Hollywood Prospectus

See all Hollywood Prospectus