Dear John and Michael,
Are you ready for some Mad Men?
Season 4 begins Sunday night, which means it's time for the members of Slate's Mad Men TV Club to take the dustcovers off our Selectrics, pour ourselves a jigger or two, and prepare to dissect what is plainly the most fascinating show on television. Last year's finale left the TV Club with high hopes. Ad man Don Draper raided the crumbling Sterling Cooper for its top talent and set out to launch Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fledgling enterprise that should be fertile ground for the show's strengths: office politics, office romance, and the socio-politico-historical hoo-hah Matthew Weiner brilliantly wrings from each Draper pitch.
Although a few spoilers have been percolating in the media, there's a lot I'm still curious about:
What will the show do with Betty Draper? At the end of last season, we saw her headed for a Nevada divorce ranch (accompanied by her paramour Henry Francis and baby Eugene) to make her split with Don official. I've always been a fan of Betty—her inexpressiveness expresses multitudes, and she's at once a representative housewife and a very particular, peculiar woman—but my opinion is not widely shared. (This video of parenting tips from Betty—a cocktail of exasperation and snittiness—has been eliciting cackles all over the Web.) Last season, Mad Men fans and commenters often chafed at the time spent on her glacial tantrums. Will they be patient with scenes that include Betty now that her ties to Don are more tenuous?
How will the show treat entrepreneurialism? "Startup" sounds so late-'90s, but that's presumably an apt description of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. For three seasons now, Weiner has been riffing on a familiar gray-flannel-suit type: the suburban man with a steady gig at an established (and large) corporation. But I can't think of any stereotypes or preconceived notions I have about smaller, more tenuous operations during that era. It'll be neat to see what Weiner, a keen observer of business culture, does with such uncharted historical territory.
Is Sal really gone? Last year, I promised you guys that Sal Romano, the unfairly fired closeted art director, would surely be joining SCDP. Since then, it's been reported that Bryan Batt's contract wasn't renewed for Season 4. Can it really be so? I'd love to keep following Sal as well as Kenny, Paul, Lois, and other Sterling Cooperites who didn't make the cut. But I'd be impressed if Weiner really let such fantastic, beloved, well-drawn characters go. The editor in me would admire him for the ruthlessness of it.
Where's the buzz? Is it just me or is the conversation surrounding the show this year totally different than the buzz in the run-up to Season 3? Last year, the media were at a fever pitch. There was a lavish Vanity Fair feature with a photo shootby Annie Leibovitz. I read at least four versions of the anecdote about Matthew Weiner asking for smaller, uglier, lumpier, more period-appropriate fruit. The tone overall was evangelical: You must watch this delightful, profound, incisive hidden gem. You're crazy if you don't. While you're at it, you should probably create a Mad Men avatar on Facebook. This year, the tone is more sedate. The vibe generally is: You probably watch this show already. Won't it be nice when it's back on the air? Is this just the natural progression of buzz? It's not as though the show's audience skyrocketed last season: Though the premiere was a ratings success, overall ratings for the series last season were volatile.
I'm eager to see what happens on these fronts and even more eager to hear what my fellow Clubbers think. This year, TV Club stalwart John Swansburg and I will be joined by Slate's own Michael Agger, who brings his keen critical eye and expertise on office culture. (The eloquent and incisive Patrick Radden Keefe sends his regrets—he has a new baby and a new job and is thus sidelined this year.) Agger, what do you make of the anticipation levels for Season 4? And what are you most looking forward to in the new season?
Pour me another,