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Mad Men: Season Four(TV) (2010)
What you are, what you want, what you love doesn't matter. It's all about how you sell it. Mad Men delves into the lives, loves and ambitions of a group of ruthlessly competitive men and women working in a 1960s advertising agency. Set on and around Madison Avenue - home of New York's ad agencies at the time, and the "Mad" of the title - the series was created by Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner and has gained rave reviews in the US. The series revolves around the complicated world of Don Draper, the biggest ad man (and ladies' man) in the business, and his colleagues at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. As Don makes the plays in the boardroom and the bedroom, he struggles to stay a step ahead of the rapidly changing times and the young executives nipping at his heels.
For more about Mad Men: Season Four and the Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray release, see Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 15, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jon Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, Aaron Staton, Christina Hendricks
Directors: Matthew Weiner, John Slattery, Tim Hunter, Jon Hamm, Alan Taylor, Andrew Bernstein
» See full cast & crew
Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray Review
Would you buy a used car, or indeed anything, from this man?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 15, 2011
"Who is Don Draper?"
There's a certain delicious irony to the way creator-writer Matthew Weiner chooses to start off the fourth season of his groundbreaking series Mad Men. When the show became a critical darling years ago, newcomers to the early 1960's world of (fictional, if only barely) advertising giant Sterling Cooper thought Mad Men was an odd, if captivating, recreation of a storied time in American history, highlighted by an appealing if enigmatic turn by Jon Hamm as Sterling Cooper's "boy wonder" Don Draper. Only very slowly over the first season (too slowly, according to some wags) was it revealed that Don wasn't exactly all he pretended to be, and in fact it turned out he wasn't even really Don. While that underlying mystery of who exactly was this lead character never quite rose to the mythic heights of some of the labyrinths woven by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof on Lost, for example, it gave Mad Men an interesting subtext that tended to undercut the shiny new patina that seemed to coat a lot of the series' façades. And here Weiner meets that conceit head on, with Draper seemingly freeze-framed as we hear an offscreen voice intone perhaps the most pertinent question the series has ever asked.
In fact the dichotomy and dialectic between the surface and what lies beneath has been a recurring motif in Mad Men and it may be one reason why the series has been at least occasionally misunderstood and faulted for not being a whiz-bang satire or pungently propulsive character drama. For those who can remember at least part of the sixties, Mad Men may wallow in a certain type of nostalgia, as passingly inaccurate as it may be. For those who came after one of the most turbulent decades in American history, Mad Men may offer a sort of glamorous allure that may or may not be based on a direct reflection of what those times really were like. One way or the other, Mad Men has taken its time peeling back the layers of its multi-character drama, and that frankly has set it at odds with a modern day attention deficit disorder audience which wants everything laid out quickly and easily, with little fuss or bother. The famous adage goes "If you can remember the sixties, you weren't there," but while those who did live through them might argue they sped by in the blink of an eye, from the distance now of some 50 years, the sixties seem positively lugubrious and quaint, and from that aspect, Mad Men positively succeeds in depicting the tenor of its times.
I may be in the distinct minority, but I have always felt the "secret life" of Don Draper has been Mad Men's weakest link. Without posting any major spoilers, there are so many rather Grand Canyon-sized lapses of logic in who Don really is and how he became "Don" to not just strain credulity, but to seriously weaken an otherwise more or less brilliantly evinced recreation of an era. While Mad Men may not have had the wonderful depth and nuance it inarguably has without this addition of subtextual layers to Draper's past and current psychological makeup, I can't help but wonder from time to time if the series really needed this conceit. Don's duplicity and fractious inner world is certainly part and parcel of the Mad Men mystique, and as I long ago mentioned in a review of the first season of Mad Men for another site I was working for back then, the series let us in on the fact that we weren't going to get to know Draper very easily by the nice visual trope of repeatedly tracking into the back of Draper's head, as if his face might reveal too much about him. (How interesting, then, to note that this season starts with a "full frontal" view of Draper's face as that aforementioned evocative question is posed).
By the time we get to the fourth season of Mad Men, Don's secret past has spilled out to the point where his marriage to Betty (January Jones) has disintegrated. Other epochal changes have also occurred, including the mass exit of most of the leading characters from Sterling Cooper, in order to set up their own new upstart franchise, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The inclusion of Draper in the company names signals a new step up the corporate ladder for Don; he's no longer just the creative whiz-kid, he's a partner now, responsible for helping his new agency get a foothold in the shark-infested waters of the New York City advertising game. And in fact that change in role plays a nicely substantial part of the fourth season's arc, as Don realizes his circumspect demeanor is not helping attract new business to the shores of his start-up.
Mad Men's slow, deliberate pace has probably been one of the biggest obstacles it's faced over its relatively short life, but the good news is, for those who have found the show simply too leisurely to maintain much interest, the show seems to have listened to some of these (perhaps unfounded) complaints, and the pace is noticeably brisker in this season. We get off to a rip-roaring start, as we pick up with the new agency's increasingly desperate attempts to hold on to the few clients it has, even while weathering Don's temper tantrums when potential new clients don't exactly cotton to his "creative" tinkering with their brands. Once again, Mad Men does some amazing work here visiting actual real life companies that many of us grew up with, injecting them into the fictional world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and then sitting back and watching the sparks fly. The series is also exemplary in handling the slow cultural shift after the assassination of President Kennedy, one of the epochal events in the series' previous season. The American landscape is noticeably darker now, with an almost dangerous undercurrent which sucks at the foundations of many of these characters.
The second and third seasons of Mad Men skewed at times more toward the mad women of the show, as I've mentioned in previous reviews. While there's certainly no shortage of distaff story lines in the fourth season, notably Christina Hendricks' Joan, who finds herself pregnant, and Elisabeth Moss' Peggy, who continues to be one of the most interesting female characters on the current television schedule, this year we're fairly solidly back in Don's shoes, as he treads a new territory of divorce and career chaos. Hamm brings an elegant simplicity to his approach, never overemphasizing the sometimes melodramatic aspects of Draper's life, especially the mysterious backstory, while also never shirking from the many layers, some of which are bathed in subterfuge, which make Don such a fascinating man. The show still has a tendency from time to time to dip into overly dramatic subplots, with such mid-sixties bugaboos as abortion raising their ugly heads (yet again), but the show also manages a concise, often dryly humorous, writing style that helps elevate it above some of the histrionics the characters occasionally suffer.
What makes this fourth season of Mad Men so bracing is how the characters have had to reimagine themselves in light of the developments which shook the series as the third season came to a close. Don's carefully constructed image, as fake as it patently was, had carried him through his early career success, and to at least a middling approximation of a happy marriage. Now both the marriage and the agency he helped to build lie in ruins, and the show is actually much better for it. With the crack in Don's steely demeanor, we're finally let in a bit to his underlying humanity, if also to his frankly loutish side. After he discards yet another woman when he claims to have found "true love," the jilted lover reprimands him for "loving beginnings." Mad Men started a sort of new beginning itself with this fourth season, and while the jury's still out as to whether there will be a fifth year, all signs point toward this being the start of something big.
Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray, Video Quality
As I've asked before, is there a better looking show on television right now than Mad Men? While this series may not have the immediate "wow" factor of Lost or some of the science fiction extravaganzas like Battlestar Galactica that have left our midst, the series has consistently raised the bar of just how filmic a series can actually look. Delivered here with a stunning AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1, Mad Men is, despite a very few extremely minor issues, reference quality video that should delight all lovers of high definition imagery. With a crystalline image that reveals amazing levels of fine detail (you can virtually count the stubble on Hamm's five o'clock shadow in many close-up shots), this season takes a noticeably more restrained approach with regard to at least some of the women's apparel. That said, the costumes here bristle with detail, and luckily Christina Hendricks' character Joan still gets some amazingly wonderful dresses to wear, including a bright blue number that will knock your socks off from at least a saturation standpoint if not its form fitting allure. The only very minor issues on this stupendous three disc set are extremely transitory shimmer on a couple of busy scenes, and some almost negligible crush on some of the nighttime scenes at the old Draper household where Betty and her new husband are still ensconced for the bulk of the season. It's actually almost curmudgeonly to even discuss these niggling issues in light of just how brilliantly sharp and well defined the fourth season of Mad Men looks on Blu-ray.
Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Mad Men once again offers a nicely detailed lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. What's notable this season is the relative paucity of source cues, which does rob the surrounds from their typically full assortment of pop hits of the day. We still get the occasional number providing literal and figurative counterpoint to the characters' inner lives (the season closes with a perfectly apt snippet of "I've Got You, Babe," temporally well placed as a huge 1965 hit and also wonderfully appropriate for where Don finds himself at season's end). But overall the surrounds this time out are utilized more for ambient environmental sound effects as well as busier dialogue scenes where there are background conversations also taking place. Fidelity is spot on here, with excellent reproduction through all frequencies, and a nice, if sometimes subtle, dynamic range.
Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Mad Men shook off some its at least perceived lethargy in its fourth season and found new life with some great follow-up to the epochal events shaking both the nation and the show's characters as season three came to its close. Somehow things seem more visceral now with Don's imploded marriage and the dissolution of the old Sterling Cooper agency. The series still tends to get a little maudlin and even melodramatic at times, and I for one can't really understand the real need for Don's "hidden" (well, not so hidden anymore, eh?) past, but those are passing qualms in what is arguably still the best written show on television, broadcast or cable. Once again Lionsgate has pretty much hit this one out of the park with another stellar Blu-ray release of one of the nicest looking series out there right now. Highly recommended.
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Mad Men: Season Four Blu-ray, News and Updates
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• Mad Men Season 4 Blu-ray Gets Late March Date - January 5, 2011
On March 29, Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release Mad Men: Season Four on Blu-ray. The 13 episodes of this fourth season of this Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning series, aired on AMC, will be presented in a three-disc BD set.
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