When "Mad Men" first made its splash last summer - on AMC, of all unlikely places - there was no doubt that it was going to look as sharp and shiny as a classic Cadillac tailfin. Set in 1960 amidst the hustle and bustle of Madison Avenue ad agencies (hence the title), "Mad Men" was an art director's fever dream, full of smart suits, cool cars and cumulus clouds of cigarette smoke.
If "Mad Men" were only about style, it would be a mildly intriguing curio, an eye-catching set piece with about as much relevance as a used tube of Brylcreem. Instead, it uses 1960 as a prism through which the last 48 years of cultural convulsions come into sharp relief.
Just in time for the second season, which starts July 27, Lionsgate will issue the 13 episodes of season one on Tuesday in a four-disc DVD set that looks like a Zippo cigarette lighter. (The shape works better in concept than execution. It can be hard to lift the lid without one or more of the discs coming with it.)
But what's on the discs is what matters, and that's the story of Don Draper, a man whose very name bears the easy alliteration of a successful ad campaign. Played with a moody grace by Jon Hamm, Draper is an ad exec who would seem to have it all: beautiful wife (January Jones), suburban dream home, two apple-cheeked children, grateful clients.
Yet Draper is stalked by fear. It's not because of his bohemian, Greenwich Village mistress. It's not grasping, office backstabbers like Pete Campbell, given odious charm by actor Vincent Kartheiser. And it's not just that Draper's hiding a deep personal secret, though that's part of it.
Instead, he knows he's sitting gingerly on the bull's horns of change, riding into a decade in which the roles of masculinity, women, sexuality, race, religion and advertising itself will be upended.
"Mad Men" isn't all about Don, though. From ambitious secretary Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and bosomy office manager Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks), who cruises through the workplace like a cutty sark on the high seas, to sexually conflicted designer Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt) and booze-hound boss Roger Sterling (John Slattery), "Mad Men" makes for smart, sophisticated soap opera.
The set's extras are worth noting, as well. Two of the best are "Establishing Mad Men," an hour-long feature on how the series came about, and "Advertising the American Dream," a half-hour doc on changes in the ad game since the '50s.