‘Mad Men’ fans count down to tonight’s fifth season premier

Will ‘Mad Men’ protagonist Don Draper’s dark secret come to light? Will Peggy Olson keep breaking sexist barriers? Can Roger Sterling keep ‘living like he’s on shore leave?’ And will Pete and Trudy ever dance the Charleston again?

Frank Ockenfels/AMC/AP
The cast of "Mad Men," from left, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jared Harris, Vincent Kartheiser, Jon Hamm, Robert Morse and Elisabeth Moss. The fifth season of AMC's award-winning stylized drama about the men and women who work in Madison Avenue advertising in the 1960s, premieres Sunday March 25.

The long wait is over, “Mad Men” fans.

In a matter of hours, the fifth season of AMC’s award-winning series begins as we pick up again on the lives of the men and women of a Madison Avenue advertising firm.

There are so many things to learn.

When (if ever) will protagonist Don Draper’s deep, dark secret be revealed, and to whom? Just how far can creative director Draper push young copywriter Peggy Olson before she goes off to seek fame and fortune (and maybe true romance) elsewhere? How long can Roger Sterling, a World War II Navy vet and senior partner, keep “living like he was on shore leave?” What happens between Sterling and office manager Joan Harris when her doctor husband gets shipped to Vietnam?

And will Pete and Trudy ever dance the Charleston again? (A scene as memorable as when Allison Janney as C. J. Cregg lip-synched Ronny Jordan’s “The Jackal” on West Wing.)

So many characters, so many relationships to keep track of. And so many evolutions in style as the series moves from the late 50’s into the early and mid 60s. Was there really that much smoking, drinking, and illicit sex?

“Yes and yes,” Jane Maas told the Los Angeles Times. Ms. Maas was a real-life Peggy Olson back then, the author now of “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond,” which the New York Times calls “breezy and salty.”

Just like the staff at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the LA Times reports, Maas as an advertising copywriter had her share of difficult-to-please clients, such as "the Queen of Mean," real estate entrepreneur Leona Helmsley, "the most miserable, abject, cravenly seven months I've had in my whole life." 

Naturally, the Wall Street Journal examines “What Real Executives Can Learn From ‘Mad Men’ ”

Their expert in this case is Rich Sommer, who plays media head Harry Crane.

The main lesson for today’s Mad Men? “Definitely about how not to act,” Sommer says. For one thing, he points out in his Wall Street Journal interview, “Crane fails to recognize the talents of the women around him, losing out on the opportunity to tap valuable human capital.”

Well-known political reporter and TV pundit Eleanor Clift remembers what things were like when she (like Peggy Olson) started out as a secretary, in Ms. Clift’s case at Newsweek magazine.

“Women weren’t supposed to be openly ambitious in the ’60s,” she writes on Newsweek’s Daily Beast web site. “When I started at Newsweek As a secretary, I was thrilled to be where what I typed was interesting…. It didn’t occur to me that I could be a reporter or a writer, but the frustrations that within the decade would produce a women’s movement were taking root at Newsweek.”

Other commentators are having fun with “Mad Men,” examining what we know about the characters so far, fantasizing about the story line and personalities, and critiquing preview showings (without revealing anything that happens in the first two-hour special).

“Few television characters have the ability to inspire such universal disdain as Mad Men's Betty Francis [Don Draper’s wife],” writes Jen Kalaidis in The Atlantic online. “From her questionable approach to parenting to her vindictive, childish attitude, it's no surprise Betty is the character fans most love to hate.”

But examining Don’s and Betty’s behavior throughout the series – neither is a paragon of rectitude – Ms. Kalaidis wonders why most fans and critics seem to give Don a pass for his errant ways but slam Betty as “the worst mother in TV history," as one critic described her.

“If the audience evaluated Betty they same way they do Don – as a character whose flaws are a largely explained by the era he came of age – it's likely they would view her in a slightly more sympathetic light,” Kalaidis writes.

As reported in The Atlantic, Elisa Kreisinger, a fellow at the Center for Social Media at American University, has fun remixing “Mad Men” videos, dubbing in dialogue from other parts of the show.

What if the characters and storyline of “Mad Men” were transported ahead a half-century to 2012, wonders Stephanie Newman of the Washington Post?

“Don Draper, master of the ‘Mad Men’ universe, in 2012 might resemble an older, establishment-oriented Mark Zuckerberg: an ambitious entrepreneur who lives in Silicon Valley, wears flip-flops to formal occasions and rides his bicycle to work,” Newman imagines.

Really out there is Heather Murphy’s “Pairing Up the Heroes of Downton Abbey With Their Mad Men Soul Mates,” on Slate.

Who knew, for example, that Downton’s upright and uptight butler Carson and vivacious (to put it mildly) Mad Men office manager Joan play very similar roles, running a tight ship and winning the complete confidence of their employers?

Or that the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith) can be paired with the Roger Sterling for their superbly timed zingers. “Each character plays the role of ego-deflator, knocking friends and foes alike off of their pedestals,” Murphy writes.

MTV has gathered together some prominent reviews of tonight’s opener.

One example from Variety:

“Series creator Matthew Weiner resists rushing into anything, easing into a reset of where players currently stand in a manner – especially given the protracted absence – that should leave all but the most ardent fans trying to putty-in the gaps. Each time-lapse introduces more wrinkles in the show's world, but the premiere offers a sketchy road map of what's to come, and won't expand 'Men's' footprint beyond its solid arthouse niche.”

The bottom line for MTV’s John Mitchell: “Consensus opinion seems to be that while it might not rank as one of the series' best, [the first episode] does a good job of catching everyone up and setting the tone for what will surely be a riveting season of highbrow television.”

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