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Mad Men 

A TV show that revs up your engines with its fastidious attention to detail.

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Mad Men lavishes glorious attention on minutiae. It’s like TV foreplay. The blasé swirl of whiskey on ice. A careful smoothing of a wrinkled cocktail dress. A pensive draw on a burning cigarette.

It’s the underscoring of such mannerisms and formalities is calculated — set against the present day’s expectations of instant gratification — that makes Mad Men sensually stimulating and seductively addictive.

That charm is still there, but with considerable plot change-up. Be that as it may, transitioning from season 3 to 4 was seamless as Joan’s unwavering social propriety.

At the heart of everything, Don Draper’s multilayered persona is the catalyst for drama, still remaining (by a thread, at times) an enigma to his peers. This, above all, is the platform for Episode One: Who is Don Draper? Having severed themselves from the original branch, Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Peter Campbell and Lane Pryce are spearheading the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency, which occupies a single floor of the epic Time-Life Building in Rockefeller Center.

The stakes are higher, the budget is tighter, and Don (newly divorced; throwing himself at anything with a vagina) has forfeited the luxury of keeping a low profile. His indelible role as the agency’s public face is a sink-or-swim necessity that’s catapulted him to a place he’s always painstakingly dodged: the spotlight.

How will our antihero fare?

Aside from the fluctuating saga of Draper Drama, the vignettes and character attributes keep me intrigued. Peggy’s playful working relationship with an adorable new assistant, Joey Baird (Matt Long) is refreshing, along with her evolved survival mechanisms for coping with Don’s terse mood swings. Betty (Don’s ex, now remarried) is incapable of charming her new mother-in-law, which seems deserved, considering what a short-tempered parent she can be.

There’s still no shortage of Roger Sterling’s sharp-witted rhetoric (“You turned all the sizzle from Glo-Coat into a wet fart!”), Don has an interesting new neighbor near his bachelor pad (played by pixie-looking Dr. Reed from Grey’s Anatomy — she’s back, as a nurse!) and I’m still waiting for appearances by Sal, Kinsey and the illegitimate love child of Pete and Peggy.

Theatrical strain, the weight of dynamic tension, the silent pauses, the loaded dialogue transpiring between people who have much to say, yet divulge so little… Like a good advertisement, it leaves you wanting more.

(AMC, Sundays, 10 pm)


TIVO-WORTHY

Miss Universe
If it weren’t for beauty pageants, we wouldn’t have glisteningly sardonic spin-offs like Drop Dead Gorgeous or Miss Congeniality. I’m sure most of these girls are really nice, volunteer a lot and want to make a difference in the world. But it’s mostly wardrobe malfunctions and infamous moments — like Carrie Prejean’s awkward answer to Perez Hilton’s question about gay marriage — that keep us coming back for more. Oh, yeah — Bret Michaels and his killer weave are co-hosting. (NBC, Aug. 23, Monday, 8 pm)

Dual Survival
I love the Discovery Channel. I also love “What happens if you take this and that and squash them together?” scenarios. Two survival experts from the opposite ends of the spectrum (an ex-military man and a naturalist) combine powers in predicaments like, “Panic in the jungle!” or “Shipwrecked!” How do I get a job like this? (Discovery Channel, Fridays, 10 pm)

Melissa & Joey
This show looks terrible. Absolutely terrible. But that’s not the point. Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence are old Nickelodeon buddies from tween-bopper TV past. It’s like flipping through the yearbook: Painful, but for nostalgia’s sake, you’re compelled to revisit. (ABC Family, premieres Tuesday, Aug. 17, 8 pm)

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