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July 26, 2010

"Mad Men" Returns: Who is Don Draper? (Spoilers)

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Mad Men Don Draper Jon Hamm

"Who is Don Draper?"

Last night's premiere of the AMC drama Mad Men began and ended with variations on that question. Each time, it was from a reporter, and each time, it was directed at the dapper '60s ad man, Don Draper (Jon Hamm).

That single question successfully launched us back into the meticulously stylized world of Mad Men and its fascinating, hard-drinking, hard-loving, cigarette-smoking characters. The show opens one year after Draper, and his fellow rebels from ad agency Sterling Cooper, break off and form their own company, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

On the personal side, Don's life has disintegrated. He's living in a dingy apartment, having his meals prepared by a maid, and accepting fixups from Roger Sterling (John Slattery) of all people. When one of those fixups, a Virginia Mayo look-a-like who lives at the Barbizon, doesn't go for Don's sexual advances -- after all, she's breaking her own dating rules by going out with a divorced man -- he turns to a low-rent hooker.

Betty, the now ex-Mrs. Draper, is newly married to Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), a power broker for New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. She and her randy new hubby live in the house she and Don shared, but despite the wishes of her old husband and her new one, good old Bets doesn't seem the least bit interested in leaving it.

Back at the office, Don is tense and testy, and it's affecting his professional relationships. His response to that original reporter's question is a misstep that comes back to haunt him and his new company.

In a wonderfully edited sequence, we get our first glimpse of the sparkling new offices of SCDP: the pretty blonde at reception, the sleek new logo on the wall, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) tucked away in her own office, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) tucked away in hers, and a group of young and fresh faces added into the mix.

Speaking of Peggy, can I just say how much more I like her now? Gone is the talented yet mousy career woman wannabe, and in her place is a cool, confident chick, who's earned her position in the office and is willing to take a few risks to keep it.

Also back is weaselly Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). He has his work cut out for him as the firm hustles for clients, but considering his "she had my baby and gave it up for adoption" personal history with Peggy, their professional relationship is working quite well. I have a feeling that could eventually cause problems with Peggy's evolving relationship with Don.

But back to that original question, who is Don Draper? He's the man who's already reinvented himself once and by the end of the episode, we find he's more than willing to do it all over again.

All in all, an excellent premiere.

MORE FUN WITH MAD MEN

The success of Mad Men has renewed an interest in '60s styles, fashions and the history of advertising.

On the fun side, you can Mad Men yourself, creating avatars that look like they just walked out of Don Draper's office. I created the one on the left last year and use it for my Twitter account (@MeganSmith). However, since so much has happened in the world of Draper & Co., maybe it's time for an update.

The guys at JibJab have taken that a step further. You can make a JibJab video, starring you and your friends, that gives a recap of the last three Mad Men seasons.

Then there's a new book out by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, "Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America" that's a dishy read, full of advertising history, fabulous period photos and ads, and a look at the ad man Don Draper may have been based on. The book also gives context to the characters' feelings about the world around them that was changing so swiftly.

You can read a sampling of Vargas-Cooper's insights on her Mad Men Unbuttoned blog.

Another piece of advertising history in the premiere was that "John" and "Marsha" riff that Peggy and her office mate, Joey were playfully engaged in. It was from a bit spoofing soap opera dialogue by humorist Stan Freberg, who went on to write many memorable commercials. According to an article about Freberg by Aaron Barnhart, "he's considered the 'father of comic advertising.'"

Mad Men airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC.

Cross Posted from BlogHer

Image: Mike Yarish/AMC

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