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Monday, April 11, 2011

Mad Men Season Four Blu-ray Review


For those of you that haven’t seen the show, Mad Men focuses on the lives of New York advertising men and women.  Set in the turbulent 60s, these men and women navigate the burgeoning new world changing around them and everything that comes with it.  The show has won multiple awards, including thirteen Emmys and four Golden Globes. In addition,it is the first basic cable series to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, winning it in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

  


Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This is a show that really pays off for the viewer if they’ve watched the previous episodes since so much is carried over from the past.  Past characters, events, and situations all weave through the storyline which adds a lot of depth to the show but also makes it very difficult to review since I don’t want to ruin the show for people that haven’t seen the earlier seasons.  When I was given the chance to review this season I immediately watched the previous three seasons and I’m glad I did because it would have been a huge mistake.

The show is smartly layered and a lot of the enjoyment in watching the show is seeing the characters evolve (or in Don’s case remain static).  I will mention that after the explosive third season ending, things have changed quite a bit for the characters on the show.  Some marriages have endured while others failed, and professional fortunes have changed quite a bit too.  Another consequence of the previous season’s ending is the loss of some of the characters and the addition of some new ones.

Don Draper Jon Hamm)is still the consummate advertising pro but events from the last season have shaken him up and left him more vulnerable than before. With his new position in the new company, his ego is running rampant and combined with his increased drinking, it’s a bad combination.  Somehow, he’s still able to keep it together for the most part since he’s so good at selling concepts that he’s been able to sell untruths about himself for years.  No matter how close his secrets threaten to ruin him before, he’s always found a way to escape the consequences.  He’s the James T. Kirk of advertising.  This season however,things don’t go as well for him and Don Draper finally gets a taste of fear.

His ex-wife Betty (January Jones) has the unenviable honor of being the character that has had the greatest arc from being a sympathetic likable character to a cold, vindictive, and immature harridan who I can’t stand.  Betty had some valid reasons for her treatment of Don thanks to his constant cheating and lying, but every season she grows more and more unlikable.  Her vitriol isn’t aimed solely at Don, as she also goes out of her way to make her daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) suffer since she seems to be transferring her anger at Don  onto the easier target of Sally.  Even her new husband (Christopher Stanley) grows exasperated with her constant need for attention and validation.  Betty has never matured emotionally and spends every episode lashing out at everyone.  Her constant petulance about everything has put her relationships with everyone in her life in danger.

Life at the new business has changed the work culture quite a bit with the addition of more young men to the mix.  What was already a male oriented world (much to Peggy’s (Elizabeth Moss) chagrin), but it’s now even worse with a frat boy undercurrent that’s made it even more uncomfortable for women to work there. It’s an issue that also affects Joan (Christina Hendricks) when she is the target of pornographic art that is both demeaning and without a basis of truth.  While Joan seems to have accepted the realities of working in a man’s world, Peggy still fights the good fight, as she questions the prevalent attitudes that perpetuate that status quo.

Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), is still the office weasel but he grows a pair this season to along with his new promotion.  He still constantly complains but he he does finally have some moments in this season where he shows he can be a good guy (if it suits him).  He’s still married to Trudy (Alison Brie) who also seems to have come into her own this season as she starts putting her foot down with Pete over finances.

Speaking of finances, things take a dark turn this season for Roger Sterling (John Slattery) as his relationship with Lucky Strike cigarettes turns ugly, first by being humiliated by the owner, and also because their agency is completely depended on their Lucky Strike contract.  They’ve put all of their eggs into one basket so to speak, and Roger has become lazy and indifferent to the account because of the longevity of the relationship.  His new marriage has lost its luster for him and his attention drifts back to Joan who is now married.  Roger seems completely adrift this season and because of that there will be severe consequences for him and others.

One of the show’s strengths is its attention to all of the characters large and small and they each get a turn to shine.  Jared Harris plays the new Chief Financial Officer and Partner, Lane Pryce and as an Englishman who has come to appreciate New York,he offers a welcome outside view of how events and cultural mores are changing in America.  Dr. Faye Miller (Carla Buono)comes in to share her marketing expertise but ends up trying to help Don against her better instincts and of course discovers Don’s true nature.  I really enjoy watching the elder statesman and founder Bert Cooper (Robert Morse)who doesn’t say much but when he does, he’s deadly accurate and honest.

While the earlier seasons seemed to have a slow and deliberate pace, this season’s events moved quite a bit quicker which made me enjoy this season the most.  More is at stake at this point in their lives, and with the higher stakes comes more drama and more opportunities to learn new things about each character. This show is a well oiled machine at this point and even some of the cast members like John Slattery are now directing episodes with flair.  As good as the dialogue is in this show (and it’s very good), a lot of the best moments are wordless exchanges of just a smile or a look that work because of the previous years work of character building.


Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is very impressive.  Colors pop off the screen, especially from the wide variety of dresses the women wear or the crystal clear blue water Don likes to swim in.  The black levels are also wonderful which is nice since so many scenes take place in dark interiors.  The image quality is very sharp and you can easily see the textures from the clothes and read the writing on props.  Flesh tones are accurate and natural for the most part except for a few instances where it was a little too warm for me.  That’s such a minor detail in comparison to the rest of this superb transfer that I almost didn’t even mention it.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)


This season of Mad Men offers DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound and it too is excellent.  There is a lot of nice cross channel panning and the rear channels offer a lot of good ambiance.  The period music sounds great and never drowns out the constant flow of  dialogue that is the hallmark of this show.  This is a well balanced mix that integrates all of the audio cues into a nice even package.

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars)

There’s some pretty comprehensive extras on this set with great commentaries from the cast and crew as well as some real in depth featurettes that are all in high definition!  I just wish they offered a behind the scenes featurette and more commentaries with Jon Hamm. It’s even more mysterious that January Jones doesn’t have a single commentary track.  While I don’t like her character,I would love to hear her thoughts on the show.

Audio Commentaries with the Cast and Crew:
  • Public Relations - Matthew Weiner and Jon Hamm and an alternate track with David Carbonara and Jane Bryant.

  • Christmas Comes But Once a Year - Matthew Weiner and Michael Uppendahl and an alternate track with Joel Murray and Alexa Alemanni.

  • The Good News - Matthew Weiner and Jennifer Getzinger and an alternate track with Melinda Page Hamilton and Jared Harris.

  • The Rejected - Matthew Weiner and Chris Manley and an alternate track with Vincent Kartheiser, Cara Buono, and John Slattery.

  • The Chrysanthemum and the Sword - Matthew Weiner and Erin Levy.

  • Waldorf Stories - Matthew Weiner, Brett Johnson, Scott Hornbacher and an alternate track with Aaron Staton, Jay Ferguson, and Danny Strong.

  • The Suitcase - Matthew Weiner, Chris Manley, Tim Wilson and an alternate track with Elisabeth Moss.

  • The Summer Man - Matthew Weiner and Leo Trombetta and an alternate track with Christopher Stanley, Matt Long, and Rich Sommer.

  • The Beautiful Girls - Matthew Weiner and Dahvi Waller and an alternate track with Cara Buono, Christina Hendricks, and Kiernan Shipka.

  • Hands and Knees - Matthew Weiner and David Carbonara and an alternate track with Vincent Kartheiser and Christina Hendricks.

  • Chinese Wall - Matthew Weiner and Erin Levy and an alternate track with Cara Buono and Jessica ParĂ©.

  • Blowing Smoke - Matthew Weiner, Bob Levinson and Josh Weltman and an alternate track with John Slattery, Robert Morse, and Andre and Maria Jacquemetton.

  • Tomorrowland - Matthew Weiner and Jonathan Igla and an alternate track with Matthew Weiner, Jessica ParĂ©, and Kiernan Shipka.
Featurettes:
  • Divorce: Circa 1960′s- A three part documentary which covers the rise of divorce in the 60s with interviews with experts and film clips.  This is a fairly long yet comprehensive look that bookends nicely with the events of the show.

  • How to Succeed in Business Draper Style – This two part featurette contains interviews with real life businessmen and advertising executives about Draper’s plan for success.  This is a great featurette for all of the men who have been influenced by Draper and want even more points.

  • Marketing the Mustang: An American Icon – A nice look back at the release of the ’64 Mustang and the effort it took to make the car and market it.

  • 1964 Presidential Campaign – A look at the election between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater which talks about how instrumental advertising was in the campaign and it even includes some vintage commercials.

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Mad Men is a great show filled with smart writing, excellent actors, and good enough attention to detail that it feels like you are in a time warp.  It’s also a show that proceeds at its own pace which can frustrate some people.  It’s been said that season five won’t be released until 2012, so we all have no choice to be patient now.  After watching four seasons of this show, I feel like I need to have some kind of closer to influence you to pick up this set.  How about…buy this because it’s the cure for the common show!

Mad Men Season Four has been released on Blu-ray so order yours now!




2 comments:

  1. That is a movie that sounds good for a rainy day at home. I´m living in Argentina for this semester and since I´m staying in one of those Buenos Aires apartments you can rent, I have a TV with a modern DVD through which I can watch movies every night. I think I will get his one and invite my new Argentine friends and eat Dulce de Leche whiule we watch it, Sounds like a good plan, doesn´t it?
    Nikki

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Nikki!

    That sounds like a great plan but I would suggest starting with season one since this is a continuing story-line. Part of the fun of the show is seeing how the characters change over the seasons. I hope you enjoy it!

    ReplyDelete

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