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Scott D. Pierce: 'Mad Men' is back in more ways than one

Published: Thursday, July 22 2010 5:12 p.m. MDT

Jon Hamm as Don Draper

AMC

What was lost on "Mad Men" last season appears to have been found once again.

Its center of gravity.

And that center of gravity is right there in the title of the show. "Mad Men" is a term Madison Avenue ad men used to describe themselves. And the best part of the show has always been the business.

As intriguing as the personal life of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) has been over the first 39 episodes, it was how that personal life related to his job that made the show work. And far too often last season, the personal life overwhelmed the series.

Granted, the toughest part of creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner's job in Season 3 was living up to the quality of seasons 1 and 2. And that job will be easier in Season 4, because Season 3 wasn't all that great.

It had great moments. But, overall, it was more than a bit of a disappointment.

"Mad Men" had astonishingly little plot in many episodes, leaving fans to expect a big payoff in the season finale. And that episode seemed rushed and forced.

However, the events of that Season 3 finale have rebounded to the good of the Season 4 premiere. And Season 4 gets off to a very promising start on Sunday.

When last we saw Don Draper, he and his colleagues at the Sterling Cooper agency have been fired by the representative of the British owners — at their own request, so that they could then open a new ad agency.

His wife, Betty (January Jones), was flying to Reno to get a quickie divorce.

In other words, Don's world had pretty much collapsed, leaving him to rebuild his personal and professional lives from the ground up.

Season 4 picks up almost a year later in the fall of 1964. And Don isn't making great progress on either front.

The new agency — Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce — has moved into offices in the Time-Life Building. But business isn't all that great.

They've got one big account but not a whole lot of other business. In the season premiere, Don & Co. are trying to land Jantzen bathing suit account. And Don is trying to drag the Jantzens into the 1960s to help them battle the business they're losing to bikinis.

The Jantzens are being sort of foolish, and Don doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Moreover, Don remains mysterious. He can't bring himself to talk about himself in an interview with Advertising Age and blows a big chance to help the agency as a result

At this point, he's got no one to hide from. The people at work who know he's not who he says he is don't care.

And his marriage is over, so he's got nothing left to lose there, either. Betty has already remarried.

Don't get me wrong. The family drama is great stuff. But it's better in small doses.

If there's criticism to be made, it's that Betty is the stereotypical bitter ex-wife. Don was clearly not a good husband, and his credentials as a father are also highly questionablye, but she's a vindictive witch and lousy mother.

On the other hand, building a new advertising agency looks like pure genius. It's injected new life into the show.

And we've got Joan (Christina Hendricks) back in the fold, along with Roger (John Slattery), Bert (Robert Morse) Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Harry (Rich Sommer) and Lane (Jared Harris).

Sunday's episode makes it hard to remain cautiously optimistic about the show and not just start waving the "Mad Men" banner again.

It's a very good episode and a very promising restart.

If you watch…

What: "Mad Men"

When: Sunday at 8, 9:02 and 11 p.m.

Channel: AMC

The bottom line: After an iffy third season, the fourth season of this award-winning show gets off to a very promising start.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com

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