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After Draper delay, ‘Mad Men’ returns

What’s next for DDraper (JHamm) after his binges booze bad decisions last season? Viewers find out Sunday AMC.

What’s next for Don Draper (Jon Hamm) after his binges of booze and bad decisions last season? Viewers find out Sunday on AMC.

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‘MAD MEN’ ★★★★

Season premiere 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday on AMC

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Updated: April 26, 2012 8:09AM



Seventeen long months. Practically enough time for January Jones to have had two babies.

That’s how long AMC’s hit show, “Mad Men,” has been off the air — something fans of the four-time Emmy Award winner for best drama are acutely aware of.

Plenty of factors reportedly contributed to the program’s Grand Canyon-sized gap between seasons four and five: Proposals to cut the show’s budget and pare back the running time to squeeze in more commercials. Scheduling issues at the basic cable network. Contract negotiations with “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, who admitted to briefly quitting the show last year when talks hit their nadir.

The break “went on longer than anybody wanted it to,” said John Slattery, who plays the silver-haired king of one-liners, Roger Sterling. “But Matt has come back with I think the best season yet, which is a pretty good antidote to a 17-month hiatus.”

A two-hour episode on Sunday kicks off the much-anticipated fifth season of this ad agency drama set in the ’60s. But before we get to that, a brief refresher is in order on where we left things back in October 2010.

The year was 1965, and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was reeling from the loss of its cash-cow tobacco client, Lucky Strike.

Betty’s (January Jones) new marriage was showing signs of strain and daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) continued to struggle with her parents’ divorce.

Buxom Joan (Christina Hendricks) backed out of an abortion and decided to keep Roger’s baby, hoping to pass it off as her Vietnam-bound husband Greg’s.

After spending much of the season hovering around rock bottom in a boozy stupor, the series’ secretive, self-destructive central character, Don Draper (Jon Hamm), surprised everyone when he popped the question to his sexy young secretary, Megan (Jessica Pare).

So what happens next? I can’t say without revealing some spoilers, which I won’t. (And not just because Weiner sent a letter to TV critics asking them to keep quiet about virtually everything, including the year season five takes place.) After all, one of the biggest joys of “Mad Men” is watching the story zig when you expect it to zag.

“There are a couple of surprises this season that I wish I could watch people watch,” said Slattery, adding that after five years, he’s grown used to “talking about a show we can’t talk about.”

“It’s a very interesting season, tone wise,” he said. “It echoes the first season. There’s some taking stock of the characters and the point to which they’ve come, and then a sort of surprising departure from there.”

Another joy of “Mad Men” is its impeccable attention to period detail, from the clothing to the lingo and the music.

A few critics recently called it to Weiner’s attention that a Dusty Springfield song played during a party scene in the season premiere was released six months after the episode was supposed to take place.

“Because of this we have replaced this song with one more suited to the time period,” Weiner said last week in a statement. “Although we take license for artistic purposes with the end-title music, we never want the source music to break from the time period we are trying to re-create.”

Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that as “Mad Men” starts its fifth season, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce isn’t the only place suffering from instability. The nation’s civil unrest is shifting from simmer to boil; both race relations and, to a lesser extent, the Vietnam War play into the premiere.

“We’re in this period of time where things are changing all around them,” said Slattery, whose character remains rudderless without his prized Lucky Strike account.

Drumming up new business to fill that void is key to Sterling Cooper’s survival, but put-upon Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) feels like he’s the only one in the company who’s doing anything about it.

“What are you suggesting?” Roger asks Pete in the premiere, after Pete has summoned the four partners into his cramped office, where they’re forced to squeeze together on one couch.

“He’s suggesting that you give him his office,” Bert Cooper replies.

“Well, forget it,” Roger says.

“Where am I supposed to conduct business?” Pete protests.

“In the crapper for all I care,” Roger retorts with his trademark candor. “I’m a full partner and you’re a junior. So sorry, Charlie. Them’s the breaks.”

One thing I can say about the episode is that it’s damn funny. After a dark and often depressing season four, it’s refreshing to start things off on a more jovial, lighter note.

That’s not to say the premiere is devoid of angst, disappointment and drama. It’s just buoyed by an unusually high amount of humor, which might be Weiner’s way of rewarding the show’s nearly 4 million viewers for sticking around the past 17 months.

Said Slattery: “This season will have been worth the wait.”



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