DVD Review: Mad Men: Season 5

STUDIO: Lionsgate | CREATOR: Matthew Weiner | CAST: Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, Jared Harris, Jessica Pare, Kiernan Shipka, Rich Sommer, January Jones
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 10/16/2012 | PRICE: DVD $49.98, Blu-ray $49.99
BONUSES: commentaries, featurettes
SPECS: NR | 611 min. | Drama | 2l.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTSD-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Four seasons of hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, client-kissing up shenanigans set the bar extremely high for Mad Men: Season 5 when the show returned in 2012, but creator Matthew Weiner and his creative team vaulted said bar with room to spare. The series explores much darker territory in this cycle, as just about all the major characters deal with more complex choices that in prior years were subjugated to simply keeping a secret or trying to win the next big account. Ah, the good old days of the early 1960s!

Set in 1966, seven months after the end of Season 4, the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce staff is forced to confront the Civil Rights Movement, the burgeoning of women’s liberation, and the strength of the youth-driven consumer marketplace. Meanwhile, the agency is looking for its next big win, in the form of Jaguar, Dow Chemical and an airline much bigger than Mohawk, as stoic ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm, Friends With Kids) settles into marriage with his former secretary Megan (Jessica Pare, Hot Tub Time Machine) and the realization that the women in his life are either less controllable than he’d hoped or much too eager to grow up.

Mad Men: Season Five movie scene

Jon Hamm is a little less mad when he's with wife Jessica Pare in the fifth season of Mad Men.

Despite its fairly regular high points, and all-around great performances, Mad Men failed to garner any Emmy love this season, even relinquishing its four-year stranglehold on Best Drama to the newcomer Homeland. Don’t take that as a sign that this show has fallen in quality or relevancy. The season’s final third, with installments like “The Other Woman,” in which office matriarch Joan is asked to prostitute herself to win a shot at Jaguar, and the actors’ Emmy-submission episode “Commissions and Fees,” which sees Don shaken to the core by a crisis at work, is an embarrassment of rich television drama. With the confidence that comes from its past Emmy success, there’s a sense of envelope-pushing by Weiner and the writers, even as the photography, musical score and individual song selections remain top-notch.

The actors deliver the goods, with Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks (Drive), Elizabeth Moss (Get Him to the Greek), Vincent Kartheiser (In Time), Jared Harris and even the teenage Kiernan Shipka all delving into uncomfortable terrain.

No season of any show is without clunkers though, and Mad Men isn’t completely immune – can you say “Fat Betty?”

The DVD and Blu-ray have identical extras, some of which, like those dealing with the dawn of Daylight Savings Time and the works of artist Giorgio de Chirico, serve only to place Season 5 contextually in its era. One of the better features is “Mad Men Say the Darndest Things,” a lengthy look back at some of the series’ most memorable dialogue that can also serve as an appetite-whetting primer for those just discovering the show (My favorite: “That’s what the money’s for!”).

But what will really occupy fans are the commentary tracks. Each of the show’s 13 episodes has two: one by Weiner and, depending on the episode, the director, writers or other crew members; and one with either a few of the actors and/or additional crew. The actor/crew commentaries are enjoyable but hit-and-miss – the costume designer can only hold my attention for so long – while the Weiner tracks are consistently engaging, as he and his cohorts poke fun at some of the lines and actors’ readings, enlighten episode- or season-long themes, highlight callbacks to earlier episodes, and share some behind the scenes tricks, discarded moments and on-set anecdotes. Creative decisions, like why they actually showed Sally’s first menstruation, are defended, and hypotheticals, like whether or not Don would’ve let Lane’s embezzlement slide had the Brit been more remorseful, are debated. There’s no shortage of interesting material.

There’s always a lot to talk about when it comes to Mad Men. And the best thing I can say about Season 5 is that it raises the bar once again for Season 6, which is due sometime in 2013.

 

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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.