Few shows have received such universal praise as Mad Men. After a powerful first season, the show returned with another round of thirteen episodes for its second season that resulted in another slew of awards. With two Golden Globe’s for Best TV Drama and six Emmy’s, Mad Men is already on the fast track to being one of the most memorable and critically acclaimed series in television history. And to think it all started on AMC – a network known previously only for the classic movies it aired. With consistently strong writing and absolutely fantastic acting by all involved, Mad Men will continue to be a show that remains on the TV viewers minds for some time.
From Matthew Weiner, the Emmy award-winning executive producer and writer of “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men” is the ground-breaking series about the glamorous and ego-driven “Golden Age” of advertising, where everyone is selling something and nothing is ever what it seems. In its second season, “Mad Men” continues to blur the lines between truth and lies, perception and reality. The world of Mad Men is moving in a new direction — can Sterling Cooper keep up? Meanwhile, the private life of Don Draper becomes complicated in a new way. What is the cost of his secret identity?
I mentioned it in the first season review, I’m sure, but this show really isn’t for everyone. I took issue with it at first and eventually warmed up to it, if only for the superb way in which the show is written, simply because of the way the female gender was represented. Once you acclimate yourself to the show, however, you can “settle” into it simply because that’s the time period represented by the series. And there’s an almost voyeuristic quality to the show…by that I mean to see the 1960’s in such a “scandalous” way feels like you’re looking at something you shouldn’t be.
Picking up where the first season left off, the second season finds the cast of Mad Men in a relatively married state. I say “relatively,” of course, because part of the shows “scandalous” nature are the various relationships the various cast members have with one another. It’s all your basic adulterous escapades that you’d expect from Matthew Weiner and Co., but in a fantastic twist when compared to the first season, the female cast members all develop a fantastic swell in independence, as they make their presence known. The timid secretary, who served as the “new” character in the office that the cast can relate to in the first season, is now demanding her own office by the end of the season due to her newfound individualism.
Between the thirteen episodes of the season there’s not a whole lot of “exciting” situations so much as there are dramatic ones. And while the show has to limit itself in a non-HBO setting, it still manages to feel every bit as edgy as The Sopranos did on HBO. In a way the shows inability to use the full range of expletives and sexualized visuals matches the era it’s painting—back then we wouldn’t think (in public) of such things and in a way it’s kind of the last barrier of “niceness” that this show has yet to shatter about the 1960s.
The second season is really just fantastic drama through and through and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better drama on television. Add to the fact that it’s a summer show, so that means you’ll have little for it to contend with (unless you’re going to watch whatever reality show is in the same Sunday 10pm/9c timeslot). Between Rescue Me and Mad Men, the quality of original summer cable shows has skyrocketed exponentially. If you haven’t seen this second season yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up. It comes Highly Recommended.
Once again Lionsgate delivers perhaps the best TV show box set release in existence. They blew the pants off of fans with the jam packed first season release and now they’ve come back and done it again. And just as a small reminder, these Blu-ray sets are cheap; as of this writing, there isn’t even a $5 difference between the DVD and Blu-ray sets on Amazon. And that’s with them both under $30. Absolutely ridiculous pricing for the amount of content that’s given here—other studios should take notice and follow suit.
Anyway, the set itself doesn’t arrive in any glamorous packaging like the first season, unfortunately (although there is apparently a shirt box variant for the DVD…but I can’t seem to find anything specific regarding it). The Blu-ray is packed into a single Elite case that is about the thickness of a standard Elite and a half. Inside are the three discs, each of which boasts their own beautifully animated menu system. Navigation is quick and easy and I have zero complaints about how this was all assembled.
Video arrives in the form of a AVC encoded transfer and…somehow this series looks absolutely pristine, yet still retains a look of oldness to it. It’s kind of hard to explain, but having seen the first season on DVD only; I’m genuinely surprised by how brilliant this show looks on Blu-ray. It’s likely due to the color palette and tint of grain that is cast over the entire season, but whatever it is the show just replicates the time period it’s living in perfectly…and the video shows it. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is aurally pristine as well, although you’ll be hard pressed to find many moments where your home theater is given a workout of any kind. Very little LFE output and limited surround usage, but the dialogue (every superbly written syllable of it) is crystal clear.
Here’s the short list of extras, as provided by Lionsgate:
• Audio commentaries with cast and crew on all 13 episodes
• “Birth of an Independent Woman, Part 1 and Part 2” – from housewives to working women, this featurette examines the rise of female independence in the Mad Men era (43:08, 1080p)
• “An Era of Style” – featurette explores the fashion of the 1960’s and its lasting influence on designers today (21:44, 1080p)
• “Time Capsule” – interactive featurettes paying homage to historical events of the 1960’s and the daring generation that lived through them
• “Mad Men Season Two Music Sampler” – a short sampler of music from the season.
The Time Capsule piece is especially entertaining, as for those of us who didn’t grow up in the 1960’s likely won’t always get what some of the references are. As a result this timeline can be popped up and short video clips explaining some of the less obvious references (and some of the more obvious ones as well). It’s really quite handy and I found myself clicking away, if only for the history lessons. The featurettes are well worth watching as well, especially since they focus on not only the season’s upswing in feminism, but also the shows remarkable ability to imitate the 1960’s through the fashion of the era.
But the real kicker? They say “audio commentaries” like it’s not a big deal. Well…there are two commentaries for every episode. Normally I’d say that’s exhaustive and…well, it is, but with this show there’s just such an endless stream of stuff to talk about that the commentaries never feel old or overly repetitive. The revolving door of cast and crew that partake in these commentaries is simply fantastic and I cannot think of any other studio that puts so much effort and care into the season set releases like Lionsgate and AMC are doing with Mad Men. Years from now these will still be considered the definitive releases for the film, with every nook and cranny covered by the commentaries and solid featurettes and supplemental to back it up.
Overall Mad Men – Season Two is, without a doubt, Highly Recommended. It’s also so cheap (as of this writing you can nab both season 1 and 2 for a little over $40 for the DVD sets and a little over $50 for the Blu-ray editions. If you have a Blu-ray player, definitely go for the Blu’s—the video and audio on this second season is absolutely fantastic and the interactive Time Capsule is genuinely worthwhile to play around with.
Mad Men – Season Two is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.