Mad Men: Season One (Blu-ray)
Directed by Alan Taylor et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 616 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: July 1, 2008
Review Date: June 24, 2008
AMC’s Mad Men burst onto the scene in the summer of 2007 taking critics and public alike by total surprise. It’s a literate, penetrating look back at a nearly impossible-to-imagine era featuring a fascinating cast of characters and focusing on one of the most enigmatic central characters in recent television history. Already the recipient of the Golden Globe Award as the Best Drama Series and the prestigious Peabody Award for its outstanding freshman season, the series seems a sure bet for handfuls of Emmy nominations when they're announced in mid-July.
It’s 1960, and we’re in New York City, specifically in the Madison Avenue offices of the leading advertising agency of Sterling Cooper where the golden boy of the ad game is midlevel executive Donald Draper (Jon Hamm). In the very first episode, we see only a few of the multitude of facets that go together to make Draper one of the most sparkling gems in the ad game, but as the series progresses, we learn more and more about this mystery man. Who is Donald Draper? The first 13 episodes certainly offer up many of the pieces of the puzzle, but there is still much to learn. (Fortunately, despite lackluster ratings, AMC has greenlit a second season of the show.)
And Draper isn’t the only diamond in this tiara. The series is filled with engaging personalities: some quixotic, some infuriating, some duplicitous. There is the eager to please new secretary Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), the oily office weasel Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Don’s idea and art team who represent a cross section of the single and married male population of Madison Avenue (Michael Gladis, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Bryan Batt), head of the steno pool Joan (Christina Hendricks), Don’s jovial boss (John Slattery), and occasional visits from the eccentric company owner (Robert Morse). And there are two other important women: Don’s fluttery wife Betty (January Jones) and Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), the owner of a department store, a woman Don seriously falls for.
The characters who inhabit this world are certainly captivating personalities, but the times themselves are even more eye-opening. The constant smoking and drinking even during working hours, the misogynistic attitudes toward women exhibited by every man in sight, the arcane ideas about the dress and behavior of working women and the role of a housewife as an appendage of her husband, even down to the elevator operators and food cart vendors with their thirty cent sandwiches: Mad Men intrigues us with its sights (print ads for everything from Lucky Strikes to Volkswagens) and sounds (the popular music of the day) of the period but leaves us always wanting more.
Jon Hamm delivers a star-making turn as Don Draper, the enigmatic charmer carrying with him memories of a tortured past and yet living in an angst-filled present. We see pert Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy grow in confidence as the season progresses (though the writers stick her with an absurd storyline near the conclusion of the season which for me was the one misstep in an otherwise sparkling run of episodes). And we see the lovely January Jones’ Betty slink uncomfortably into an abyss of uncertainty and unhappiness. Each of the other principal performers is given one or more showcase episodes to strut his or her stuff, and they always deliver with particularly pleasing and on-point performances.
Here is the listing of the first season of episodes contained on this three disc Blu-ray set:
1 - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
2 - Ladies Room
3 - The Marriage of Figaro
4 - New Amsterdam
5 - 5G (my favorite episode of season one)
6 - Babylon
7 - Red in the Face
8 - The Hobo Code
9 - Shoot
10 - Long Weekend
11 - Indian Summer
12 - Nixon vs. Kennedy
13 - The Wheel
The program’s 1.78:1 aspect ratio has been delivered faithfully in these wonderful looking 1080p transfers using the AVC codec. Flesh tones are beautifully delivered in this set, and color saturation, black levels, and shadow detail all are of a high caliber. Though sharpness is usually exemplary, there are some occasional moments that fail to deliver top notch video, but at least no edge enhancement has been used to artificially render the images. You will literally feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you watch these exquisitely produced episodes. Each episode has been divided into 5 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix seems almost like overkill here for a series that’s much more about words and images than it is about lush sound design. The rears are rarely used even with the pop music standards or David Carbonara’s moody background score which are woven throughout the series. The episode dealing with Don’s Korean war experience does afford the surrounds and the sub some discreet interplay, but otherwise surround ambience is fairly minimal. It’s a very front heavy audio mix, but any lossless audio is always a welcome gift.
Every episode contains at least one audio commentary and many contain two. Many of these conversations have actually been edited together from separate interviews with the actors, writers, and directors who participate into a unified single commentary, but it’s obvious when the speakers are alone in the room or are with other parties. The actors mainly talk about how brilliant the material is and how fortunate they feel to be working on the show. The writers and directors have more cogent things to say about making the series. Here’s the rundown of who’s featured on each episode’s commentary. Separate lines indicate separate commentaries:
1 - Matt Weiner
2 - January Jones, Rosemarie DeWitt
Michael Gladis, Elisabeth Moss
3 - Jon Hamm, Maggie Siff, Darby Starchfield
4 - Vincent Kartheiser, Allison Brie, Lisa Albert
5 - Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Aaron Staton
Lesli Linka Glatter
6 - Christina Hendricks, Maria & Andre Jacquemetton
7 - January Jones, John Slattery, Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser
8 - Vincent Kartheiser, Elisabeth Moss, Bryan Batt
9 - Jamie Bryant, Matt Weiner
10 - Christina Hendricks, Matt Weiner
Tim Hunter, David Carbonara
11 - Elisabeth Moss, Matt Weiner
12 - Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Rich Sommer
Alan Taylor, Matt Weiner
13 - Jon Hamm, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss
Matt Weiner, Robin Veith, Malcolm Jamieson
Kudos to Lionsgate for producing every one of the bonus featurettes in 1080p.
“Advertising the American Dream” is a 19 ¾-minute overview of how advertising has been used to sell products, politics, and the modern age to the middle and upper classes for generations.
“Scoring Mad Men” introduces us to the show’s in-house composer David Carbonara as he discusses his various themes for individual characters and couples. The featurette runs 7 ½ minutes.
“Mad Men Music Sampler” is basically a sales pitch for the show’s soundtrack album. 13 short selections from the CD are offered for sampling. Some are golden oldies from the likes of Vic Damone, the McGuire Sisters, and Ella Fitzgerald while others are instrumental versions of some David Carbonara themes from the show.
“Pictures of Elegance” is an interesting interactive section in which the viewer chooses to hear costume designer Jamie Bryant, hair stylist Gloria Casny, or production designer Dan Bishop discuss various facets of their work as a chosen cast member or set piece revolves on a turntable with accompanying audio commentary.
The disc offers a rather generic preview of season two which only lasts 1 minute.
“Establishing Mad Men” is the set’s most detailed documentary: 61 ½ minutes that take the viewer from the writing of the pilot through production designs for the pilot which was shot in New York, the casting process, the script writing once the show was picked up for a series, the hiring of an ad consultant to advise on that important aspect of the show, and the moving of the production to Hollywood with an emphasis on the wardrobe, clothes, and sets which had to be duplicated on a soundstage.
Mad Men was one of television’s most addictive and absorbing series during the 2007-2008 season. This Blu-ray release brings all of the era’s looks and sounds to incredible life in this most highly recommended package.