Monday, August 2, 2010

Christmas in August

Mad Men typically takes its time to get its seasons started, doing a slow build that pays off big time by the finale. But after two episodes, it seems season 4 is no typical Mad Men season. That extra energy present in the season 3 finale that had been absent in the rather gloomy and downbeat season preceding it was back in full force in last week's premiere, as we watched Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce well into their start-up mode and very much in action.

There's a new feel to this season, and so far the change is for the better. Sure it's sad to see characters like Paul go, but that just means more time for favorites that had been neglected last year, like Peggy and Roger. And I imagine we'll see everyone soon enough, seeing as we've already had returns from Freddy Rumsen and Glenn, both of whom I'm pretty sure haven't been seen since season 2. Though I may need to refresh my Mad Men memory. Is Peggy's boyfriend new, or was he on last season?

As fun as the premiere was, it was actually the second episode I'd put as the first classic of the season. As odd as it may be to watch a Christmas episode in the midst of this heat wave filled summer, it was certainly a great one. Last week I think we witnessed the emergence of Diva Don - Don's the star of the new agency and everyone else pretty much has to do what he wants. But Don's star was nothing compared to that of Lucky Strike Lee, who's previously used his power to get Sal fired. As the sole person keeping the new venture afloat, he got to act like a little kid and have everything his way. The big party, the present, and most forcefully Roger in a Santa suit all came about to attend to his desires. Who else thought Roger might put the company in jeopardy by punching him in his over-tanned face?

While Roger was swallowing his pride to keep the agency going, Don didn't worry about his. Needing to be tucked in at night first by the nurse down the hall and then his secretary, it's clear his post-divorce life isn't going so hot. Though this week's Don's storyline was really ruled by his secretary, who I can't say I had noticed before (did she come over from Sterling Cooper or was she new last week?) but did a pretty great job establishing her character within the one episode. From competently yet flirtily taking care of Don's holiday shopping to thinking her crush had gone requited only to seemingly be paid off to keep quiet, she got quite the arc for a character whose name I still don't know. May be interesting to see if that continues this season.

Finally, I guess Glenn was always kind of creepy, but he definitely went big time creepy this week. I'm not sure if his sneaky phone calls or his breaking in was worse, but he seems to be getting kind of stalkerish towards Sally. Or maybe he's just trying to make Betty jealous. I have to admit I'm not minding the diminished screentime for Betty so far. Her courtship with Henry last year took away valuable time from the office. She's clearly sticking around, but for now at least she's taking up an appropriate amount of the episodes.

Oftentimes when shows try to change things up, it either fails miserably (Weeds moving to the Mexican border) or devolves back into the show the writers were trying to escape from (Nip/Tuck moving to LA). But while it's only been two episodes, it's looking like the move to SCDP was just what Mad Men needed after all. I'm looking forward to seeing how the new agency manages.

Elsewhere on AMC, Rubicon, the network's third original series, premiered last night. Due to a DVR mix-up I've only seen the first of the two episodes, but I can't say I'm excited to keep going. While the premise certainly sounds like my kind of show and the opening credits had me intrigued, Rubicon's pilot had to be one of the slowest moving hours of TV I've ever seen. I swear if they eliminated every long silence it would have been a third as long.

So what did happen? Not too much. Kim Bauer's ex now has Will Schuester's hair and first name and works at some government office where he sits around and does crossword puzzles all day. One of the crossword puzzles turned out to be dangerous and got his boss/father-in-law killed. This caused him to stare at a parking lot for 20 minutes. And....that was the first episode!

I will say that the preview for coming episodes did look a whole lot more interesting, but maybe that's because they took the entire season's worth of plot and condensed it to 30 seconds. I don't want to dismiss this one too soon because I wasn't wowed by Breaking Bad either and now I've got 3 seasons to catch up on since everyone says it's the best show on TV. But so far Rubicon is feeling to me like Treme did: something that's slow and boring but gets critical acclaim anyway. While I now know Treme never did pick up, there's still a chance Rubicon could. Did anyone watch the second hour? Will it change my mind? Or should I just enjoy Mad Men and not worry about what comes after it?

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