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"Mad Men" opener is maddeningly paced

By Alan Pergament

 Don Draper (Jon Hamm) looks like a zombie at times during Sunday’s extended sixth season opener of “Mad Men,” staring vacantly into space in a few scenes.

AMC, the cable channel that “Mad” appears, only wishes the show would have anywhere near the ratings of its zombie series “The Walking Dead.”

The primary reason “Mad” isn’t in the neighborhood of “Dead” is prominently on display during the 9 p.m. opener: It is a dreadfully slow episode, with the pace bound to drive some viewers away from the cerebral series about advertising men and women during the changing societal times of the

One has to view “Mad” like a novel, with the two-hour season opener a lot like the opening chapter of a book that sets up the central question of what the next several chapters are going to be about.

Unlike most HBO series, “Mad Men” didn’t send out additional episodes beyond the premiere, which makes it more difficult to understand where the season is going.

Last season, Don became a good caring guy, with the creative genius mostly enjoying his life with a new young, lively wife who tried to please him most of the time but didn’t want to give up her dream of becoming an actress. He lost the female copywriter he mentored, Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss), to a rival agency but he eventually seemed OK with that. He did have to deal privately with knowing that his firing of a partner who committed forgery, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), appeared to have led to Lane's suicide.

Going into season six one has to wonder if Don can stay on the straight and narrow and put his demons in the background or if he’ll revert to his old form.

To be honest, reviewing “Men” can be a little maddening because of all the rules that creator Matthew Weiner asks critics to abide by so viewers experience the show without expectations or knowledge of what is going to happen.

In a brief note to journalists, Weiner requested reviewers not reveal the year the season begins (a football bowl game reveals the year), how Don’s marriage to enthusiastic Megan (Jessica Pare) is going, the size of the ad agency, any new characters or any new relationships.

I guess that allows a reviewer to say that Don, advertising partner Roger Sterling (John Slattery),  copywriter Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) and Don’s ex-wife Betty Francis (January Jones) all are experiencing some behavioral changes and self-awareness during a decade of change.

The reason for Don’s zombie-like staring into space is revealed by episode’s end. Roger remains a detached comedian, but is forced to contemplate the meaning of life and death. Peggy is making it in a man’s world and Betty actually seems set to become a little more interesting (that wouldn’t be hard) after years of being self-involved.

The opener is far from riveting and doesn’t give Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks or Betty’s husband Henry (Christopher Stanley) enough to do. It seems proud of slowly teasing the audience with more style than substance, knowing that those viewers who have fallen in love with it over the years won’t mind terribly.

Even if one could long for more action in the opener, “Mad Men” concludes with a plot development  that will bring many viewers back for chapter two to explore those new characters and new situations that I’m not allowed to reveal.      

The premiere of the SyFy network movie “Battledogs” at 9 p.m. Saturday has a Buffalo angle. The movie is set in Manhattan but was partially shot in Buffalo and Niagara Falls and the Central Terminal, downtown Buffalo, and the Niagara Fall's airport are in view throughout the movie. According to Rich Wall, operations manager of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission, “Battledogs” made a "huge" economic impact locally because most of the production crew and extras were from WNY.

Here’s some good news for fans of “The Good Wife.” CBS announced Thursday that it was one of 18 series renewed for another season. It was believed to be in jeopardy of being canceled because of its  older demographics.

Attention fans of "Smash": The NBC series is moving to Saturday this weekend with an original episode to make room for a reality show on Tuesday. Saturday is generally where networks send shows to die. But "Smash" is good counterprogramming Saturday opposite the NCAA men's basketball Final Four on CBS.


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