Mad Men is set in the world of Manhattan's advertising industry of the 1960s and its ensemble cast take us through the emotional ups and downs, the pressures and self-abuses of both the ad-men and their secretaries, their wives, children, friends and neighbours. The first season is now available on a three disc Blu-Ray edition with a boat-load of extras and commentaries.

...he can sell you everything from cigarettes to slide projectors in a very unique way

The focus is on Don Draper, played with such efficient coolness, mystery and ruthlessness by the lovely Jon Hamm, who is deemed one of the advertising gods at the series' main setting of ad agency Sterling Cooper. He's on the way up, knocking aside those in his way whilst also dealing with younger colleagues out to usurp his position. And he hides plenty of secrets and isn't who he seems to be. But he can sell you everything from cigarettes to slide projectors in a very unique way. He can make anything uninteresting the most glamourous thing in the world and he can make you want it. This culminates in the the stunning episode The Wheel where Draper brilliantly pitches the idea for the Kodak Carousel slide projector whilst the episode itself uses it as a metaphor for the ideas of nostalgia, the unrecoverable past and the relentless wheel of progress. One of the first season's main plot lines was to slowly chip away at the stony exterior of this man, who frankly can be the most unpleasant and uncaring individual when he wants to be, and expose some of his inner workings.

Whilst the first season attempts this, and still keeps his enigma intact, we also get to see how he and his office colleagues manipulate each other, their secretaries and the various clients they come into contact with. Into this mix, bearing the 1960s background in mind, we also get to see the casual racism, sexism and emotional exploitation that goes with the territory. The series doesn't hide from the vices of over-drinking and chain-smoking, the disasters caused by casual sex, the flagrant acceptance of anti-Semitism, the angst of deeply closeted's all here in all the self-loathing glory and hypocrisy of the early 1960s when the world was on the cusp of massive social and cultural changes.
Peggy gets sucked into this dog eat dog world but it's her ambition to be more than a mere letter taker and phone call fielder that raises the interest...

The pilot, shot over a year apart from the actual first run of episodes, introduces and establishes this milieu and centres on Elisabeth Moss' character, the new secretary Peggy. Peggy gets sucked into this dog eat dog world but it's her ambition to be more than a mere letter taker and phone call fielder that raises the interest here and it's fascinating to see how creator Matthew Weiner uses her to depict the hideous exploitation of women in this workplace as well as illustrate the nascent feminist ambitions lurking under the surface. Moss is really superb as Peggy. She's charmed by one of the younger ad-executives, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser in a stunning role as an utter slime-ball), who has a one-night stand with her before he gets married and she emerges, emotionally battered but with a fiery gleam in her eye, to get on and beat these dysfunctional men at their own game.

Whilst this transpires, she's mentored by office manager Joan, an uber secretary who knows how to play all these games. Contrast both women with Betty, Don's wife, a repressed and brittle blonde whose ambitions and emotional life are subservient to the whims of her husband. She's not an entirely sympathetic character, even though Don is hopping into bed with the bohemian Midge and, later, Jewish store owner Rachael, because she's so distant from him and from us as an audience. Their relationship consists of stone cold psychological warfare with Don wheeling Betty out as a pretty face to impress clients, using an analyst to delve into her apparent psychosomatic ailments and Betty behaving almost like the children she's bringing up.

Throw in the two partners of Sterling Cooper - the creepy, sleazy Roger (a barnstorming performance from John Slattery) and the mad as a box of frogs Bertram, who seems to be more bothered about his devotion to Zen than the client melt-downs of the company he runs - the snobbish neighbours, various sets of parents, relatives popping out of the woodwork and you get a fascinating ensemble of wounded characters, all with their own hang-ups, glittering against the chic 1960s design of the offices, restaurants, hotels, bars that are full of wonderful detail and observation.
...writing that's witty and sharp and observes the way media impacts on our social and psychological well being
This is all delivered with a leisurely pace, allowing us to explore characters and issues with great depth and detail. This pace won't be everyone's cup of tea. If you're looking for remarkable acting, writing that's witty and sharp and observes the way media impacts on our social and psychological well being, stunning period design and slowly evolving plots and character development...then welcome aboard. If you're after explosions and car chases...try elsewhere. In this first season, I would highly recommend the following episodes: Marriage Of Figaro; where Campbell returns from honeymoon and the Drapers have a birthday party for their kids with a razor sharp observation of the class and social divide; New Amsterdam; where Campbell pitches an idea to a client and tramples all over office etiquette and Draper uses the opportunity to take him down a peg or two; 5G where Draper's past comes back to haunt him and we find out he's not who he seems; The Hobo Code where closeted designer Salvatore is given the spotlight and we delve further into Don's shady past; and Long Weekend where the excesses of an office party have serious consequences for Roger. Plus add in the aforementioned The Wheel and you've got a very consistent, high quality drama.

The season hardly puts a foot wrong and I would say there isn't one really duff or dull episode in the whole run. The drip-feed plots and sub-plots keep you watching and once you get to know the characters, even if you can't stand most of them, you actually care about what might happen to them. The entire season is stunningly presented in HD on this Blu-Ray disc and the image quality is immaculate. Lovely flesh tones, vivid colours, deep blacks and the detail in the 1080p resolution is breathtaking. This is a fine example of HD and should prove to the many nay-sayers that the format can truly deliver and make the viewing experience so pleasurable with a rich palette that echoes the period setting and captures fine detail. It really is superb. Sound quality is high too with a DTS lossless mix that provides crisp dialogue and a suitably atmospheric sound field. It isn't an action series so the field is relatively low key anyway but again the standard is very high.

Extras a plenty too. There are 23 commentaries! Pretty much all the cast members are involved, and producer/writer Matthew Weiner, the directors, designers...some episodes even feature two commentaries. I've listened to three on this set so far with the ensemble cast commentary on Marriage Of Figaro one of the best. They are a bit dry, especially the solo commentaries, and some are more successful than others but I've only scratched the surface. Featurettes Establishing Mad Men, Advertising the American Dream, Scoring Mad Men all do what they say on the tin and provide a good grounding in the making of the show and the cultural backdrop it's set against. Music Sampler is a wasted opportunity and only gives us some of the music featured in the show. I suspect a rights issue might have held them back from including the full music soundtrack. Pictures of Elegance is an HD gallery and there's a brief preview of Season Two but it doesn't feature any new footage.

If you missed this on BBC4 or BBCHD then now is the time to catch up with a truly excellent drama that was well deserving of its Emmy, Peabody and Golden Globe awards. It won't be back for Season Two on BBC4 until 2009 so you've no excuse not to get this Season One Blu-Ray DVD. This Blu-Ray release hasn't arrived in the UK yet (only a standard DVD release is available) but you can get this on import and it will play quite happily in your PS3 Blu-Ray drive because it's region-free.

(Screencaps courtesy of, Anthropomorphic Fruit and LadyBlueLake)

Mad Men - Complete Season One (Lions Gate Blu-Ray - Region Free - 3 Discs - Not Rated - 0031398240761)

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