Mad Men: Season Two [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (16th November 2009).
The Show

&LMatt Wiener’s “Mad Men” was the right show, at the right time, for AMC. As the cable network looked to launch its first original series, Wiener’s concept, which he originally created while working as a staff writer on “Becker” (1998-2004) and later polished during his time on “The Sopranos” (1999-2007), sort of fell into their lap. And its good that it did. “Mad Men” is a top rated program, which has been critically lauded as one of the greatest things on television at the moment, and it’s winning awards right and left. The praise the show has received (and is still receiving) is not misplaced, as I believe it to be a truly excellent program.

For those not familiar, “Mad Men” is a stunningly brilliant portrayal of ‘60s era ad men, particularly those at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency. The show follows Don Draper (Jon Hamm), creative director at the company, and the team of artists, copyrighters, pitchmen and executives that surround him. Season Two continues on the path of excellence laid out in the debut episodes, surpassing, in my opinion, the first outing as a whole, due to the fact that, while season one may have had a few of the stronger episodes in the series so far, the overall tone and arc of the second season, is more satisfying and all-together more polished. With a better understanding of the characters, a lot of the necessary-but-structurally-stagnant exposition that accompanied the first season is no longer needed, and with 13 previous episodes cementing the viewers understanding of the world in which the show exists, “Mad Men” was able to expand and grow as a series.

The series is well written and engaging but, it is the costuming, music, set design, and authenticity in production, that take the series to the next level; not simply placing the characters into this world, but doing so in a way that is absolutely mesmerizing. “Mad Men” is made not just believable in its depiction of the time period, but is transformed into something else entirely. “Mad Men” is not a show, which takes place in the 1960's, it simply is that time period, in every way possible, and the actors embrace it fully. Everyone smokes, constantly. Anti-feminist attitudes, latent homophobia and racial tensions exude from the workplace. The vocabulary, pop-culture references and the cultural values of the ‘60s are all part of this near-tangible, 3D world.

“Mad Men” is not a series to miss, but, as always, jumping into a show, any show, at the second season, is, in my opinion, unadvisable. Go back to the beginning and start with the first season. This is especially important with “Mad Men” as the highly complex nature of the relationships between characters, past events which remain important into the second season, and ever-essential foundations laid down in the previous 13 episodes, make viewing of the season prior ultimately mandatory.

All 13 episodes from the shows second season are included, on 3 discs. Episodes are presented in the following order:

- “For Those Who Think Young”
Valentines Day: 1962. 13 months have passed since we’ve last seen the team at Sterling Cooper, and a lot has changed. Duck Phillips (Mark Moses), now head of accounts, wants input from the younger staff members in order to make Sterling Cooper seem, “young, hip and cool.” Don and his wife Betty (January Jones) are working hard at keeping their marriage together, but after a failed attempt at romantic trip to the Savoy Hotel, the two realize that they have some deeper problems to work out. Meanwhile, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has returned to work after an extended leave of absence looking noticeably slimmer, leaving many to speculate that she was recently with child. And the women of the office have a new toy: an automated copy machine. Only, where to put it?

- “Flight 1”
March 1st, 1962. In the wake of the crash of American Airlines, Flight 1, Duck peruses an account with the troubled airline, which are in the market for a new ad agency that will reinvent the company. This causes a problem for Don, as a conflict of interest with the smaller Mohawk Company would mean that Sterling Cooper would have to drop their current costumer in order to pick up the “bigger fish.” Meanwhile, Peter Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) learns that his father was killed in the Flight 1 crash, and that the elder Campbell may have left his family penniless. Finally, Peggy visits her mother and sister who urge her to come to church with them.

- “The Benefactor”
Complications arise for Don when comedian Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler), while shooting a commercial, insults the wife of the owner of Utz Nuts, a top client for the firm. The incident forces Don into contact with Barrett’s manager and wife, Bobbie (Melinda McGraw), who is as strong-willed as Jimmy is arrogant; unfortunately their interactions may have a negative impact on Don’s commitment to his wife. Meanwhile, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) finds out how much a co-worker makes when he “accidentally” opens the envelope containing said co-workers paycheck. This new information leads Harry, soon to be a new father, to ask for a raise from this boss, Roger Sterling (John Slattery).

- “Three Sundays”
Draper and the rest of Sterling Cooper are forced into the office on Sunday when they learn that American Airlines has moved up the date for their meeting with the ad agency. Disaster strikes when they learn, the day of the presentation, that Duck Phillips’ contact at American was fired that morning, likely killing all chances of a deal between SC and AA. Meanwhile, Roger Sterling is back to his womanizing ways, as he steps out on his wife with a prostitute. Betty questions Don’s parenting skills, particularly concerning discipline, when their son begins acting out. And, Peggy takes a liking to the visiting minister (Colin Hanks), who asks for her advice on his speech for Palm Sunday.

- “The New Girl”
Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) is getting married and, in order to devote more time to the planning of her wedding, she hires a new girl (Peyton List) to be Don’s secretary. Meanwhile, Bobbie Barrett is increasingly pursuing Don for a romantic relationship. The ultimate culmination of this mutual attraction leads to a car accident in which both Bobbie and Don are injured. While Don shrugs off his sling and bruises as a car accident due to the mixing of blood pressure medicine and alcohol, Bobbie hides out in Peggy’s Brooklyn apartment until her bruises can be covered up by a careful application of makeup. Finally, Peter and his wife Trudy (Alison Brie) visit a doctor to find out why they cannot conceive.

- “Maidenform”
Memorial Day Weekend: 1962. Roger forces Duck and Don into a truce over the American Airlines debacle, which eases some of Duck’s apprehension about work. However, his business life is again complicated when Playtex, a customer who has so far been happy with Sterling Cooper, comes knocking, looking for edgier, more provocative advertising that mirrors that of their main competitor. Don is meanwhile continuing his affair with Bobbie, but has second thoughts when she reveals that he has a reputation for sleeping around. And Peggy may be moving up in the company when she pitches two successful campaigns: one to Clearasil and another to Playtex.

- “The Gold Violin”
At the suggestion of Roger, and because his other car was totaled in the crash, Don looks to buy a new car, more specifically, a Cadillac Coupe Deville, signaling that he has finally “arrived.” At the office, Don’s new secretary Jane has attracted the attention of the boys, convincing them to sneak into Mr. Cooper’s (Robert Morse) office after hours; this has ramifications for Joan, as she, being head secretary, could have to answer the trespassing. Harry is summoned to Cooper’s office for a meeting of on known circumstance. And, a dialog about art and literature with Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton) ignites more than a passing interest in the former for Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt).

- “A Night to Remember”
After a disastrous television ad for a Maytag product airs, Sterling Cooper, in particular, new head of Television Advertising, Harry Crane, is put in the hot seat. Meanwhile, a dinner party at the Drapers leads to a confrontation between Betty and Don, where she accuses him of not only manipulating her as a “target market,” but of also having an affair with Bobbie Barrett. And finally, Peggy lands another job, albeit a pro-bono one, with Father Gill, promoting an upcoming church-sponsored event.

- “Six Month Leave”
August 5th, 1962. Marilyn Monroe is dead. Betty and the women of the office grieve the loss of the icon, but Betty is depressed for other reasons as well. After asking Don to move out (which he does), she spends her days drunk and/or passed out from too much drinking. Meanwhile, another drunk, Fred Rumsen (Joel Murray) pisses himself and passes out in his office just minutes before a presentation that he was supposed to give to a few key clients. In his absence, Peggy Olson steps in and saves the day, not only landing the client but impressing a few of her coworkers. Rumsen’s actions lead to his sacking, but not before Don and Roger take him out for one last night on the town. After informing Fred of his forced “six month leave,” Roger and Don bond over their failing marriages.

- “The Inheritance”
A business trip to California has Peter Campbell and Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis) apprehensive but excited in anticipation, but both men are also troubled by situations outside the workplace. Campbell, still dealing with the loss of his father, is even more distressed when his brother reveals that the family may be in even worse financial trouble than originally thought. Kinsey, on the other hand, is battling with how to tell his girlfriend that his trip to LA will force him to be unable to attend a Civil Rights rally in Mississippi. Meanwhile, the Drapers put on a happy face when they are forced to visit Betty’s family after her father has a stroke. Tensions are high when Betty realizes that he father will only get worse, and die, in the coming months, and that her step-mother has been giving away heirlooms, promised to Betty, to Betty’s brother and his wife. Don is getting mixed signals from his wife, who initiates sex during the visit, but tells him to leave once they get home. Infuriated, the next day at work Draper announces that he will be going to California with Peter, in Paul’s place.

- “The Jet Set”
While in California, Don abandon’s Peter for a beautiful woman and her band of rich, jet-setting socialites, who do nothing but party, relax and have sex all day, in favor of working at a 9-5 day job. Meanwhile, at the office, recently divorced Roger purposes to his 20-year-old secretary, Jane, Duck pursues other job opportunities after learning that his chances of becoming a partner at the firm are not as good as he’d hoped, and Peggy asks Kurt (Edin Gali) on a date. When the European-born Kurt announces to the office that he is gay, most of the staff let their homophobic feelings known, which pushes Salvatore deeper into the closet.

- “The Mountain King”
Everyone wants to know: where the hell is Don Draper? Apparently, still in California, although he’s ditched the socialites, and is reconnecting with a long lost confidant, while pondering whether or not he should stay in California forever. Meanwhile, after single-handedly landing the Popsicle account, Peggy asks for a “real” office, Peter and his wife are at odds concerning the topic of adoption, and the partners of Sterling Cooper, including Bert Cooper’s sister Alice (Mary Anne McGarry), contemplate a possible merger with the London-based advertising firm Putnam, Powell & Lowe. The only drawback? The man who brought the offer to them, Duck Phillips, would be installed as President of this new American arm of PP.

- “Meditations in an Emergency”
October: 1962. Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Sterling Cooper sees the triumphant return of Mr. Donald Draper, who is more than surprised by the significant changes that have occurred at the company, during his 3-week absence. Meanwhile, the boys look to find out what all the meetings behind closed doors are about, and Peter is shocked when Duck approaches him with the real info. Meanwhile, Betty goes out for a night on the town, leaving the kids with Don at his hotel, and does the unthinkable, Peggy and Father Gill engage in a debate about accepting God and the staff do nothing all day, but listen to the radio as reporters countdown to doomsday. The finale comes to a shocking conclusion as the meeting between the partners, Duck Phillips and the new owners doesn’t go exactly as planned, thanks largely to the reappearance of Don, Peggy reveals the true father of her baby and Betty confronts Don with a secret of her own.

Video

Lush. Inviting. Rich. The AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p 24/fps transfers on these second season episodes are about as close to perfection as one can get with television. Framed in their native 1.78:1 widescreen, each one of the 13 episodes from “Mad Men: Season Two” is full of intricate details that pop off the screen in high-definition. From start to finish, the show is full of lavish period-correct clothes, made up of pinstripes and patterns, thoroughly elaborate sets, which abound with objects to render cleanly, and attractively lit scenes, which add atmosphere. The show features a warm color palette that is appealing, with bold, deep primaries. Although each disc houses numerous episodes and special features, I spotted no irritating macro blocking or compression related artifacts. Shot on 35mm film, the series has a nice, natural quality about it, with finely rendered grain that is never intrusive. Contrast is controlled and neutral, neither overdone or undercooked. All around this is very, very impressive stuff and it looks rather excellent.

I did notice a minor bit of aliasing in the opening titles, but I think that’s inherent to the original animation and not a flaw of the transfer to Blu-ray. I’m not going to say this is absolutely perfect, but it’s as near as good as. I’m sure there are a few moments of noise here and there, maybe a handful of shots that are softer than others, and a few odd scenes scattered throughout, but looking back, nothing stands out as overly problematic. If these issues are present, they’re extremely minimal and not worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning is that, once again Lionsgate provides a considerable improvement with this Blu-ray release, compared to the overly blocky HDTV airings on AMC HD. Simply put, these discs are a revelation compared to the televised versions and remain, for me, the only way to watch the show.

Audio

First things first, did anyone really expect a television drama depicting the lives of well-to-do socialites in the early 1960's to feature a bombastic soundtrack? I would hope that the answer is a resounding no, but just incase it isn’t, realize this: “Mad Men” is not going to blow your socks off, and rattle your walls. It’s just not. But, as long as you don’t expect it to shake your fillings loose with earth-splitting bass or an immersive wall-of-sound that rivals the latest “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (2009) film, I think most will be pleasantly surprised by the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit/3.2 Mbps average bitrate) tracks that Lionsgate has outfitted this 3-disc Blu-ray release with.

A dialogue heavy program, the mix is front focused but crisp, stable and well separated between score, effects and speech. There’s a nice clarity to the whole package, with wide, supportive range noticeably present whenever the show works in a musical underscore, no matter if it’s period music or David Carbonara’s original soundtrack. “Mad Men” is clean sounding, with sharp, undistorted dialog, and nicely balanced levels, with whispers, as well as shouting, coming through just fine. Undoubtedly, it’s a show with an understated soundtrack but this Blu-ray does certifiable justice to the material, and is the best “Mad Men” has ever, and will ever, sound.
Subtitles are offered in English, English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Lionsgate has packed “Mad Men: Season Two” with days worth of material. Offering over 20 hours of audio commentaries, a multi-part documentary, a featurette and an interactive historical database, a music sampler, and a few TV spots, fans should be more than happy with this overstuffed extras package. Even better, every single feature is encoded in high-definition, so the material is not only worth watching (or listen to), but it looks nice while you do so too:

DISC ONE:

“Mad Men” continues to offer some of the most informative, well done, if admittedly exhaustive, audio commentaries on the market. Like the season previous, all of season two’s episodes feature not just one, but, yes, two, completely satisfying commentaries. When you do the math, these supplement tracks amount to over 1000 minutes of material, more than any fan could ever hope for. If you can imagine that the cast and crew discussing it, they probably do. There is just so much, really interesting, material offered in this set via these tracks, it’s frankly rather impressive. Perhaps the idea of 26 individual commentaries seems daunting to casual fans, but fanatics will surely relish in the humorous, inviting and fact-packed supplements. Disc One contains the following commentaries:

“For Those Who Think Young”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener.
- With audio commentary by cast members Jon Hamm and January Jones.

“Flight 1”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener and cast member Jon Hamm.
- With audio commentary by writer Lisa Albert and actor Vincent Kartheiser.

“The Benefactor”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener.
- With audio commentary by director Lesli Linka Glatter, cast members Melinda McGraw, and Rich Sommer.

“Three Sundays”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener, and writers Maria Jacquemetton and André Jacquemetton.
- With audio commentary by cast members Elisabeth Moss and Colin Hanks.

“The New Girl”
- With audio commentary by director Jennifer Getzinger and writer Robin Veith.
- With audio commentary by cast members John Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, and Melinda McGraw.

Lionsgate includes another “Mad Men Music Sampler” which, like the one included in the season one set, contains 30-second music sample clips of songs featured in the season. Audio is offered in plain 192 kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. 8 tracks are included, running against a static high definition background. Tracks offered:

- “Lollipops and Roses” by Jack Jones.
- “The Infanta” by The Decemberists.
- “Blue Room” by Perry Como.
- “Break it to Me Gently” by Brenda Lee.
- “Telstar” by The Tornadoes.
- “Pot Can’t Talk About the Kettle” by Helene Smith.
- “Crooked Woman” by Edd Henry.
- “A Beautiful Mine” (retro remix) by Jim Jacobsen.

Pre-menu bonus trailers:
- "Clorox Bleach" spot. 20 seconds. 1080i high-definition.
- “Mad Men: Season Three” on AMC, 30 seconds. 1080i high-definition.

Like most other Lionsgate releases of late, “Mad Men: Season Two” comes equipped with a bookmarking feature.

DISC TWO:

“Mad Men” continues to offer some of the most informative, well done, if admittedly exhaustive, audio commentaries on the market. Like the season previous, all of season two’s episodes feature not just one, but, yes, two, completely satisfying commentaries. When you do the math, these supplement tracks amount to over 1000 minutes of material, more than any fan could ever hope for. If you can imagine that the cast and crew discussing it, they probably do. There is just so much, really interesting, material offered in this set via these tracks, it’s frankly rather impressive. Perhaps the idea of 26 individual commentaries seems daunting to casual fans, but fanatics will surely relish in the humorous, inviting and fact-packed supplements. Disc Two contains the following commentaries:

“Maidenform”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener and costume designer Janie Bryant.
- With audio commentary by director Phil Abraham and cast member Mark Moses.

“The Gold Violin”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener and cast member January Jones
- With audio commentary by advertising consultant Bob Levinson and cast member Bryan Batt.

“A Night to Remember”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener and writer Robin Veith.
- With audio commentary by director Lesli Linka Glatter and cast member January Jones.

“Six Month Leave”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener and director Michael Uppendahl.
- With audio commentary by cast members John Slattery and Joel Murray.

“Birth of an Independent Woman, Part I.” Part one of the two-part documentary on this disc, has sociologists, college professors, journalists, authors and various modern feminists discussing the transition back to domesticity for many women, following the conclusion of WWII and the gradual rebirth of feminism in the early 1960's. Although clips from the show are included, it’s done rather tastefully and the documentary is really interesting. Runs 19 minutes 50 seconds.

“Birth of an Independent Woman, Part II.” The conclusion of this documentary runs a bit longer than the part one, at 23 minutes 19 seconds. This is literally just the second part of the documentary and continues on in the exact fashion as part one, making the full transition into discussing the changing attitudes and cultural values of the 1960's, and the intersection of race, class and gender, which played a big part in uniting the feminist and civil rights movement. Why the disc authors and producers decided to split the documentary into two parts is beyond me. In my opinion “Birth of an Independent Woman” would have been more effective as one solid piece.

Like most other Lionsgate releases of late, “Mad Men: Season Two” comes equipped with a bookmarking feature.

DISC THREE:

“Mad Men” continues to offer some of the most informative, well done, if admittedly exhaustive, audio commentaries on the market. Like the season previous, all of season two’s episodes feature not just one, but, yes, two, completely satisfying commentaries. When you do the math, these supplement tracks amount to over 1000 minutes of material, more than any fan could ever hope for. If you can imagine that the cast and crew discussing it, they probably do. There is just so much, really interesting, material offered in this set via these tracks, it’s frankly rather impressive. Perhaps the idea of 26 individual commentaries seems daunting to casual fans, but fanatics will surely relish in the humorous, inviting and fact-packed supplements. Disc Three contains the following commentaries:

“The Inheritance”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener and writer Lisa Albert.
- With audio commentary by cast members Jon Hamm, January Jones, and Vincent Kartheiser.

“The Jet Set”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener, director Phil Abraham, and composer David Carbonara.
- With audio commentary by executive producer Scott Hornbacher, production designer Dan Bishop, and set decorator Amy Wells.

“The Mountain King”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener, post-production supervisor Blake McCormick, and sound effects supervisor Jason George.
- With audio commentary by cast members Christina Hendricks and Robert Morse.

“Meditations in an Emergency”
- With audio commentary by series creator Matt Wiener and cast member Elisabeth Moss.
- With audio commentary by writing assistant Kater Gordon, cast members Elisabeth Moss, and Vincent Kartheiser.

“An Era of Style” is a featurette that looks at the series’ costume design, and the general fashion of the 1960's. Costume Designer Janie Bryant narrates the piece and we get a glimpse at what are, presumably, her sketches. The piece then continues on to discuss, generally, the style of the 1960's, most notably the “Classic Era” which ran from 1960 to 1963, or, in the context of the series, the first two seasons. Runs 21 minutes 44 seconds.

“Time Capsule: Historical Events of the 1960’s” is a massive, enthralling interactive feature that features a database of photos, video clips, timelines and information about the era in which “Mad Men” takes place. This Blu-ray exclusive is exhaustive with each episode featuring two to three topics that one can select to learn more about. An example; episode one, “For Those Who Think Young” offers an interactive guide of the White House remodel spearheaded by Jackie Kennedy, featuring additional text and photos of the changes, a timeline of the Savoy Hotel, and an except from the poem “Meditations in an Emergency,” narrated by some dry, monotone man. The database includes facts such as these for each of the 13 episodes, which helps add context to the historical time period in which the series takes place.

Like most other Lionsgate releases of late, “Mad Men: Season Two” comes equipped with a bookmarking feature.

Packaging

A thicker 3-disc Elite case houses 3 Dual Layered BD-50's. Discs one and two are placed on a flipper, with the 3rd platter on the right side of the actual case. Lionsgate also includes a 4-page “Episode Guide” detailing disc contents.

“Mad Men: Season Two” is verified to be region free.

Overall

The Show: A+ Video: A Audio: B Extras: A Overall: A

 


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