Mad Men Season 4 Blu-ray

Monday, 04 April 2011 00:00

Being a refugee from the worlds of marketing and advertising myself, and one of the last of the baby boomer generation, I should have instantly been drawn to Mad Men, set in the early to mid 1960s and concerning the world of a Madison Avenue advertising bureau. Although the show has gone on for four seasons, and the fifth is coming later in the year, it was only a few months ago when we started a catch-up via Blu-ray releases.

And so we come to season four, just out for purchase, and we are into the world of 1964-65. The focus is still on Jon Hamm’s character, the high-flying Don Draper, with a dark past that keeps challenging to surface in his manufactured new life. Mind you, this ‘new life’ by this time has him divorced from his petulant spoilt wife, and turning increasingly to ‘Canadian Club’ as a prop to help him get through the day.

Mad Men season four comes to Blu-rayMad Men has been the winner of four Golden Globes, and more than thirteen Emmys, plus countless nominations and other trinkets. In this recent run of episodes we find the core of the ad agency of Sterling Cooper having to walk away from another takeover, and set up under their own steam, with all the uncertainty that will bring with it.

The creator of the show is Matt Weiner, who has protected the integrity of the series in a running battle with the studio over the forthcoming fifth season. He served various production roles and was a writer on The Sopranos, but had really made his name on the excellent Ted Danson sit-com vehicle Becker, as a producer and writer. The Mad Men format was turned down by Showtime and HBO before he took it to AMC – a bold move as they had never previously produced an original TV drama.

Jon Hamm, already being tipped by many to be the next James Bond (provided he can pull off a convincing British accent), has been gradually building up to playing Don Draper. He played Burt Ridley in Providence, Nate Basso in The Division, Wilson James in The Unit, and Dr Drew Baird in 30 Rock, fitting in guest shots on the likes of Numb3rs, CSI Miami, Point Pleasant, Charmed and Gilmore Girls.

As the curtain raises on season four, Don Draper is still the lynchpin for the success he creates, as well as steering those around him. His home life threatens his creativity, as his spoilt wife Betty (January Jones) has now married political wheeler dealer Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). However, like many women she thinks where she plants her flag will always be home, so is perturbed that Don is making a fist of survival without her.

Don’s daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) is becoming trouble, and comment is made on the effect on young girls of David McCallum’s Ilya Kuryakin character in The Man from UNCLE – even with a clip from a monochrome episode on the telly.

There’s also the brooding relationship between Don and his protégé Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss – formerly Zoey Bartlet in The West Wing), as their roles begin to swap over, with Peggy providing counsel for Don, when previously it had always been the other way around.

The new company is called Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – with token Brit and bean counter Lane Price (Jared Harris – son of Richard Harris, and once married to Emilia Fox) proving that English pedantry can be a little grating to our American cousins.

The pneumatic Christina Hendricks, who has rewritten the rule book of the sort of shape women should now aspire to in the 21st century, continues to bring new layers to her office matriarch role of Joan. She’s now married to Dr Greg Harris (Sam Page – recognisable from the role of Sam Allen in Desperate Housewives, Casey Woodland in Shark, and Jesse Parker in Point Pleasant), who feels pressured into making a regrettable carer decision. Joan proves she’s only happy when she is effectively the Queen Bee, but many people cannot relate to her way of working.

John Slattery’s character of Roger Sterling, meanwhile, is trying to show a brave face after being caught having an affair, but that doesn’t stop him chasing even more women. The reliable Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse – Chap Starfall in Wild Palms) meanwhile continues to shake a wizened old head at all the events around him

Watch out for a scene-stealing role within this fourth season of Miss Blankenship, an elderly secretary brought in by Joan to keep Don in line, who struggles with the phone system and taking messages of any sort.  Performed by Randee Heller (who played Alice in Soap, and was Lucille Larusso in the original “The Karate Kid” movies), she has some of the most offensive - but guiltily hilarious - lines probably ever uttered in the series.

It’s also good to see W Morgan Shepherd make a cameo appearance as Lane Price’s father, Robert, in the episode “Hands and Knees”. You know him from such roles as Blank Reg in Max Headroom, The Professor in SeaQuest 2032, and Warleader G'Sten in Babylon 5. He’ll soon be seen as the Older Canton Everett Delaware III in the Matt Smith Doctor Who episodes “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”.

It’s a rich tapestry of narrative styles and twists within this season. At one point the show even suggests there is a spirit world which people pass over to, in one of the most touching episodes of the season. Was Don dreaming, or did he really see a ghost? It’s up to the viewer to decide.

So, what is the secret of Mad Men, and is it for you? In terms of cinematography this is a lush series, really using the high definition of Blu-ray to all its glory.  The pace is casual, although it has to be said this fourth season has definitely introduced a little more urgency into the show than we have seen in previous years.

Although characters don’t necessarily react as you would expect, their behaviour in the grand scheme of things is entirely understandable. Some of the dialogue will give many who understand the politics of the 21st century a remarkable sense of déjà vu. Different racial groups may be blamed now for all society’s woes than were in the 1960s, but it just shows that scapegoats are always with us, regardless of the setting. And in the Mad Men era we had the first stirrings of realisation that corporations and government itself do not have our best interests at heart.

For those who like their pedantry, the eighth episode of the season, “The Summer Man”, has no music playing over the end credits.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions are packed with original special features, with audio commentaries on every episode from key cast and creator, Matthew Weiner. These offer extensive insights into the world of the production and its setting.

You also get the following:

  • “How To Succeed In Business - Draper Style”;
  • “Divorce: Circa 1960s” (three featurettes);
  • “Marketing The Mustang: An American Classic”;
  • “1964 Presidential Campaign”.

There’s also a Premium Edition Mad Men Complete Collection box set, which contains every episode to date, as well as over 100 audio commentaries and 13 featurettes.

Mad Men – Season Four has three discs, a ‘15’ certificate, a running time of 600 minutes approx, and a RRP of £39.99 for the Blu-ray and £29.99 for the DVD set, or get either for less at www.culttvstore.com

Mad Men Complete Collection consists of 12 discs, has a ’15’ certificate, a running time of 2,400 minutes approx, and a RRP of £99.99 for the Blu-ray and £99.99 for the DVD set, and again both are available for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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