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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Mad Men: Season Three

March 22nd, 2010

Mad Men: Season Three - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Mad Men is one of the most acclaimed shows on TV at the moment. It has won for Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmys twice and at the Golden Globes three times. And that's just the big prizes. It has won more than a dozen Emmys and Golden Globes combined, not to mention two DGAs, two PGAs, two SAGs, and three WGAs. I reviewed Season Two when it came out and awarded it the Pick of the Week. Will this season maintain this level of quality?

Season Three starts off with the... wait a minute, there are plenty of spoilers ahead, so if you want to skip all of them, click here.

Season Three starts off with the repercussions of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency being sold to a British Company, PPL. This means that there's a new man in charge, sort of. Lane Pryce has little control creatively, but he's there to cut costs and increase profitability, something the creative minds dislike. In Episode Two, Sterling Cooper works on an ad for a Diet drink called Patio and the company wants them to do a take on "Bye, Bye Birdie", as sung by Ann-Margret in the film of the same name. However, how to move forward on the campaign divides the team. On a side note, as much as I like Ann-Margret, I agree with Peggy: her voice in that song is shrill. My Old Kentucky Home has the higher-ups going to a Kentucky Derby party at the Sterlings that includes one of the most cringe-worthy scenes of the season. (It's one of those moments where you ask, "Was that really acceptable in 1963?") Meanwhile, the staff are forced to work over the weekend, but the guys use it as an excuse to smoke pot. In a bit of a change of character, Peggy joins them.

Disc Two starts with The Arrangements, which has both Don and Peggy dealing with new living arrangements. Betty's father, Eugene, comes to stay with them after his stroke left him suffering from episodes of dementia. But since he always hated Don, this is a problem. (On the other hand, Sally loves spending time with her grandfather. What 10-year old wouldn't love spending time with a grandfather that lets her drive the car?) Meanwhile, Peggy decides to move to the city, but needs a roommate to split the rent. Eugene's health was apparently worse than realized, as he collapsed and dies in the next episode. As a tribute, Betty names her new son in his honor. However, this causes problems as Don hates the name, as Eugene hated Don. Sally thinks the new baby is the reincarnation of her grandfather, which scares the hell out of her. More tragedy strikes in Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency. In this episode, representatives from PPL come by for a snap inspection and it is revealed that Lane Pryce will be moving on and taking over a business in India. That is until his replacement is crippled in a riding lawnmower accident. It's hard to explain, and it's a lot more graphic than I was expecting.

During the Kentucky Derby party at the Sterling's, Don met a man trying to avoid the other guests, just as Don himself was doing. This man turns out to be Conrad "Connie" Hilton, hotel magnet, who now wants Don to do the advertising for his domestic properties. This would be a huge, huge win for the company, but there's a catch... Connie wants Don signed to a contract. Next up is Souvenir, which deals mostly with Don and Betty's relationship, but it's mostly delaying the inevitable and doesn't move the story forward. Wee Small Hours has three potential affairs. Don does start sleeping with his daughter's teacher. Betty reconnects with an old friend when she needs some political help, but while they have chemistry together, she doesn't want anything to come from it. Meanwhile, Sal, whose star had been rising at Sterling Cooper, turns down the sexual advances of another man because he's scared of his sexual orientation being exposed. However, this has disastrous consequences.

Major revelations begin in The Color Blue after Betty finds the key to Don's desk draw and in it finds clues to his past. By the next episode he is forced to reveal his biggest secrets. In the penultimate episode of the season, The Grown-Ups we see one marriage begin, that of (Sterling's daughter) and one end (that of Don and Betty). This happens at the same time as the Kennedy assassination, which obviously has a major effect on all of the cast. In the season finale, Don, Sterling, and Cooper find out Sterling and Cooper will be sold, something Lane Pryce knew for a while. What he didn't know was that PPL, S&C's parent company and the company he works for, is also being sold. So the four conspire to start a new company, taking with them a few important personnel and as many clients as they can.

Season Three has all of the elements one has come to expect from Mad Men: incredible writing, amazing acting, and magnificent attention to detail. The show earned three of the five nominations for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series Night at the DGA awards this year, winning for Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency. (Thinking about that episode still makes me wince. I knew something bad was going to happen, but I was still shocked when it did.) The cast earned their second win for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama at the SAGs, while John Hamm added to his list of nominations. I'm kind of surprised that other members of the cast haven't been singled out as much, as the quality of the acting is superb from top to bottom. I especially like Elizabeth Moss's performance, as Peggy's development as a character has been great to watch.

Extras on the four-disc DVD include eleven audio commentary tracks on eight episodes, featuring more than a dozen cast and crew members. More than half of the episodes on this DVD have commentary tracks, which is impressive. There is a two-part featurette on the life and assassination of Medgar Evers that runs 70 minutes long and is very in-depth. On Disc Two there's also a 14-minute look at illustrations done by Dyna Moe for the show. On Disc Three there is a two-part, 46-minute long featurette on the history tobacco marketing, including a lot of information I did not know (like how baseball cards started in cigarette packs). Finally, there is a 17-minute audio clip of Martin Luther King's speech, with a slide show of images from the march on Washington. That's a lot of extras, and very substantive ones at that.

I do not currently have the Blu-ray, but I don't think there are any exclusive extras. Even if there are not, it only costs about 30% more, which is a fair premium for TV on DVD.

The Verdict

Mad Men is one of the most critically acclaimed shows on TV right now, and with good reason. Every aspect of the series is amazing and Season Three maintains the high quality set by the previous two seasons. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are contenders for Pick of the Week, but the latter is likely the better deal. Hopefully I'll get the Blu-ray to confirm that sooner rather than later.

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