Mad Men Wins Raves, Not Ratings

AMC's original series Mad Men only has a single season under its belt, but it's already become a staple of nearly every television critic's "Best of" list.

Maybe it's the cigarette smoke getting in their eyes. The flawed but fascinating series just picked up 16 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series.

Being beloved by the critical masses hasn't inspired an equal sized ratings boost, and it's hard to see that changing any time soon. No one gets whacked on the show, and lead actor Jon Hamm remains such an inscrutable sort it's hard to rally to his cause.

To the show's credit, it's not acting like the new king of cable television. The first episode of the show's second season, which lights 'em up at 10 p.m. EST Sunday night (July 27), is in no hurry to reveal just where it will tread this summer.

In that way, it mirrors the uneven greatness of HBO's The Sopranos, which never tied any single story thread into a bow for the audience's sake. It's no accident that Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner once wrote for the HBO mob drama. Mad Men expects viewers to patiently follow along, but the primal juices flowing through The Sopranos were far more engaging than anything on display here.

Mad Men snuck onto the scene last July, born on a channel not known for original fare. It won't catch viewers off guard again, but if it doesn't offer a little more potent storytelling, or characters to which viewers can relate, it may not rally enough of an audience to matter.

It remains a show more to be admired than cherished. It's got all the earmarks of appointment television, but viewers keep forgetting to put it on their calendar.

It's now 1962, and Sterling Cooper's ad agency guru Don Draper (Hamm) is a man at a personal crossroads. His doctor informs him his drinking, smoking, and hard-charging career are starting to take their toll, and he's still a few years shy of his 40th birthday. It's just one of several new story lines teased in the opening hour that will likely play out, slowly, over time.

Draper's latest account, a coffee company, is demanding younger ad executives have a say in its campaign. The proclamation puts the existing ad men on edge, and also bridges the gap between the show's '60s era commercialism and today's Miley Cyrus Nation.