By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, March 20, 2012 — Here’s a surprise about this Sunday’s season premiere of “Mad Men” that might spoil the show for you: It’s terrible.
Yes, I know — it’s a shocker. It might even be the first time any critic anywhere has ever used the word “terrible” to describe “Mad Men,” but there it is. Sorry.
I hate to spoil a viewing experience for anyone, especially for a show whose return (after more than 18 months away) seems so highly anticipated. But I can’t help myself: For the first time in my own personal history with this show, stretching back to its glorious beginnings in summer 2007, I was bored stiff watching the two-hour premiere that AMC sent over for preview.
The DVD came with a “letter” from the show’s creator and executive producer, Matthew Weiner, who requested, politely, that critics who view the preview DVD please refrain from revealing various plot points and other developments that might spoil the experience for the show’s fans. Well, Matt, your secrets are safe with me because nothing much happens in these two hours anyway.
I’ll tell you what happened to me when I was watching it, though: Some time during a lengthy party sequence (yes, there’s a party in the show — I hope that revelation doesn’t spoil the “experience” for anyone), I realized that I couldn’t have been more bored, and have rarely been so bored, in the process of watching a TV show. And since it was “Mad Men,” which once upon a time was one of the finest, most electrifying TV series ever produced, this surprising onset of extreme ennui came as a huge shock.
I was so disappointed in what happened to this show that I started contemplating some of the words I might eventually use to describe it in this blogpost. And besides “terrible” and “boring,” another one came to mind that is even worse: “Disaster.”
Before continuing, here’s a caveat: By all means, watch the two-hour premiere (it starts at 9/8c on Sunday, March 25, on AMC). And you are more than welcome to enjoy it too. You just might love it. But I have a feeling many will not.
And that’s where the word “disaster” comes in. The last thing an arty TV series like this needs is to come back on the air after an 18-plus-month absence and then bore its core audience to death. However, that outcome is a distinct possibility.
Why? Well, to delve fully into those reasons might involve revealing details and plot points that Matthew Weiner might not want divulged. So I’ll try and work around them.
Generally speaking, the whole thing seemed listless, sloppy and predictable.
In the listless department, the aforementioned party is exhibit A. At just about the time I looked at my watch for the first time ever in the viewing of “Mad Men,” I realized that this party had begun to resemble an old Dutch still-life, with the guests standing or sitting around doing nothing. At such times, you rely on a literate series such as “Mad Men” to entertain you with dialogue. That didn’t happen either in this scene or any other in the two-hour show.
The party took place at a new Manhattan apartment apparently purchased between seasons Four and Five by Don Draper (Jon Hamm). And at this point in this blog post, I was tempted to reveal what happened with Don and his new love, Megan (Jessica Paré). Remember her? She was a secretary in the ad agency in Season Four. As that season came to a close way back on Oct. 17, 2010, she and Don were in love and he asked her to marry him. (Forgot about that? That’s understandable since it was 18-1/4 months ago.) In his letter to critics, Matthew Weiner asked that we not divulge what happened there. And like the good sport I am, I humbly acquiesce.
Anyway, like so many of the settings in this marathon “Mad Men” fifth-season premiere, Don’s new digs look more like a stage set than a New York apartment. And so does the office of the ad agency, Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce. It’s immaculate, like it’s a display at Ikea or one of those Design Within Reach stores, where they sell knockoffs of iconic mid-century furniture designs. One thing it doesn’t look like: A Manhattan office where work is performed.
It doesn’t sound like one either. If you watch the show, try and observe the sound made when people walk around — most notably in the SCDP offices. Even petite Elisabeth Moss (who plays Peggy Olson) can be heard clomping around like she’s wearing army boots. That’s because the floors give off a sound like they’re hollow, like a stage set, but not at all like the floors in a Manhattan office building. They’re usually concrete.
Speaking of architecture, one character refers to an architectural feature in one of the SCDP offices as a “beam” when it is actually a column. That’s sloppy writing. Rule of thumb: Beams go across ceilings; columns are those things that go up and down.
And as far as this show’s predictability goes, that can be a problem when a series such as this — one that is about 95 percent character development and about 5 percent plot — has been around for four seasons and is starting its fifth. We already know so much about the personalities of the principal characters — warts and all — that everything they do in this two-hour premiere seems old hat.
In his “letter” to critics, Matthew Weiner implored us not to divulge plot points that could ruin any surprises for those tuning in on Sunday to herald “Mad Men’s” return. The thing is: The only surprise I experienced in the season premiere was my own disappointment.
Forgot all about “Mad Men”? That’s understandable because it was last seen SO long ago. Fortunately, my “Mad Men” archives contains all of my recaps from Season Four from way back in 2010 (plus a few other gems). Read ’em all right HERE.
Contact Adam Buckman: firstname.lastname@example.org