“Mad Men” cast and crew discuss the upcoming fifth season

“Mad Men” always had the feel of a show that couldn’t go on forever. It’s too smart, too ambitious, too consistent to live forever in a television world so full of subpar material. Basically, it’s too good to last.

So, it was disturbing, but not surprising to hear “Mad Men” cast and creators reveal the show is ready to retire from the advertising business after its seventh season.

For now – to celebrate the show’s fifth season – media joined fans of the show at the 2012 PaleyFest in Los Angeles to see what’s ahead for the most stylish and one of most (mad) manly shows on TV. Series stars Jon Hamm and January Jones joined John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Kiernan Shipka and creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner for a red carpet episode screening and Q&A.

It was heartbreak for many of the male fans in attendance as the voluptuous and witty Christina Hendricks was otherwise engaged and couldn’t attend. Of course, it’s also possible she was laying low following her recent Twitter picture scandal in which said voluptuousness was on display for all the world to see.

Obviously, though still a couple years away, the specter of a series conclusion dominated much of the media’s bombardment of questions.

“As I’ve said, I don’t want to overstay our welcome,” Weiner said. “When I was a writer on “Sopranos,” I thought it was difficult sometimes to come up with stories that hadn’t already been covered on previous seasons or by other productions in the genre – other mob movies or TV shows. The fifth season is finished now, and I’m planning on seven. It’s just really hard to do this show.”

Pushing the idea of a final season aside, the hundreds of fans in attendance at the Saban Theater wanted the scoop on the new season. Last season ended with Don Draper – legally free of ice queen wife Betty and seemingly emerging from the shadow of alcoholism – suddenly getting engaged to Megan. Hamm said the major season-spinning plot twist felt like a shock right up until cast and crew made it official on film.

“(Weiner) and I talked about that ending for weeks before we actually shot it,” Hamm said. “But, even after all of that time, when it came time to shoot the scene, I was left wondering if it was all a fake. Was it just going to be a dream sequence or something?”

“I was just glad to see the season end up on sort of a hopeful, upbeat note,” Hamm added, “because my character had been on such a downward spiral throughout the season.

Weiner made it clear that, on the “Mad Men” set, the talented collective cast stays in character and interacts as a family as the top secret scripts unfold.

Weiner explained, “When I directed the scene where Don told his coworkers about the engagement, we filmed the group’s reaction shots first – a reverse angle. The other actors were mostly frozen – not a lot of reaction.”

“Then, we turned the camera around to see what they were so stunned by, and it was (Hamm) smiling as broadly as he ever has playing the role. That unnerved everyone. There hasn’t been a lot of smiling in (Draper’s life) recently before that moment.”

Hamm added, “I find myself really hoping that this works out for my character – after watching him struggle through the divorce and trying to give up his drinking.”

“We had that episode earlier in the last season in which (Draper) documented his struggles to stop drinking in his own journal. I think that story offered a new glimpse into how (Draper) was examining himself and evolving.”

While Hamm’s character moved on to a new potential relationship, ex-wife Betty Draper Francis (Jones) continued struggling with life as an often stern and unforgiving mother.

“I’m looking forward to see how people react to Betty now,” Jones said. “For a while, people have run away from me on the street all the time because they see how Betty treats her children. I think they’re worried about me becoming a mother myself now because they think I’m really going to be like that.”

“In this new season, I think Betty is still evolving, and I see her improving as a person.”

As the fifth season gets ready to roll on AMC, Hamm is following up on the longtime tradition of a series’ big star taking his shot at work on the other side of the camera by taking on some directing duties. It’s up to everyone else now to catch up to the idea.

“(The rest of the cast) said they’ll never work with me again. Actually, everyone was very supportive, and I got a lot of great advice from the other cast members.”


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The Light from the TV Shows: No, seriously, “Mad Men” really IS coming back! For real, this time!

If you caught last week’s debut of Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings, then you already know that we’re so excited about the return of “Mad Men” that we put it as our #2 show despite the fact that it hasn’t aired a new episode since 2010. So what? We’re excited, you’re excited, everyone’s been chomping at the bit for the fifth season to kick off that we can barely stand it. Surely that warrants a little fudging of the numbers, no…?

Since AMC let slip a few trailers this week to promote the new season of “Mad Men,” I figured this would be a good time to revisit the cocktail party thrown by the network during the January TCA Press Tour, where I was able to get a few minutes with a few of the cast members, but here’s the score, so you don’t get too excited: I got a couple of minutes one on one with John Slattery (Roger Sterling) and Rich Sommer (Harry Crane), got a single question with Jon Hamm, and was able to ask precisely nothing of Christina Hendricks. I did, however, stand next to her for an extended period of time, and just for the record, she’s just as gorgeous as in person as she is on TV and in photos…which, come to think of it, might have had something to do with why I never managed to ask a question. (Mostly, though, it was because I’m not into trying to out-talk other people, which was the modus operandi of just about everyone else surrounding her at the time.)

Oh, and speaking of not getting too excited…? Total-lack-of-spoiler alert: there ain’t a single lick of new footage in any of the below trailers. Thanks for nothing, Matthew Weiner. But, hey, at least they serve to remind you of how much you missed these characters.

Man oh man, March 25 seems like a lifetime away…

Don’s back!

One of the big pieces of news to emerge about the return of “Mad Men” was that one of the episodes in the new season – not the season premiere, although it was the first episode the cast filmed upon coming back to work – was directed by Jon Hamm. While standing in a scrum during the cocktail party, I was privy to some of Hamm’s reflections on the experience.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings

So…where were we?

Oh, fine, let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room: it’s been nine months since Bullz-Eye doled out its last TV Power Rankings. What can we say? There were a lot of good shows on the air between May 2011 and February 2012, and somewhere around late October, it just kind of reached a point where we said, “You know what? It’s way more fun to watch TV than it is to write about it.” Eventually, though, the powers that be pried us off the couch (there’s still an indentation where we were sitting), set us back in front of the computer, and said, “Look, the readers demand to know Bullz-Eye’s take on the best shows of the past year* and, frankly, they’re starting to get a little belligerent about it.”

(*Rounded up for statistical purposes.)

So here we are, ready to offer up our list of the 25 best shows on television** as well as several shows bubbling just under our list, plus a new section called “Still Too New to Call,” where we praise shows that seem pretty damned good after their first few episodes but simply haven’t been around long enough for us to feel comfortable including them in the other two lists.

(**Okay, technically, it’s the 24 best shows on television plus one show that hasn’t been on since 2010, but we’re so excited about that particular show coming back that we included it, anyway.)

All told, we hope you’ll walk away from this piece either nodding your head in agreement or wondering why you haven’t been watching some of these shows. If not, however, there’s a perfectly good Comments section that’s just waiting for your opinions about what’s good on TV.

Everybody ready? Then let’s get this thing started…

25. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

No, it’s not quite the same show it used to be, owing to the fact that the cast now consists of almost as many women as it does men, but with the series now in its fifth season, the trio of Kaley Cuouo, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik have probably infused “The Big Bang Theory” with more laughs than the it would’ve had at this point if it had stuck strictly to the original four geeks. The only question now is how much longer we’ll have to wait for Raj to come out of the closet…because, seriously, you don’t need to possess gay-dar to see that that’s what they’re leading up to.

24. Weeds (Showtime)

When we first picked back up with Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) for the seventh season of “Weeds,” she’d spent three years cooling her heels in the clink while the rest of the Botwin clan had been chillin’ in Copenhagen, but with Nancy being shifted to a halfway house in New York City, a family reunion was only inevitable. Big shock: Nancy started selling pot again. Possibly bigger shock: even going into its eighth season, “Weeds” is still reliably entertaining.

23. New Girl (Fox)

When it comes to watching “New Girl,” one’s level of appreciation is directly proportionate to how one feels about the concept of “adorkability,” which Zooey Deschanel brings to the small screen in seemingly limitless quantities as Jess, a too-cute twentysomething who moves in with a trio of guys on the heels of an excruciatingly bad breakup. As with most ensemble comedies, it’s taken time for the chemistry of the cast to find its feet, but it’s coming along nicely.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Kevin Smith and his “Comic Book Men” are coming to AMC

If you don’t know that Kevin Smith has a tendency to get a little geeky with his pop-culture pursuits, then I can only presume that the sentence you’re reading at this very moment is the first time you’ve ever heard of Kevin Smith. Seriously, the man’s all about geek culture, and he’s not afraid to liberally pepper the dialogue of his films with comic book and sci-fi references…and by “liberally pepper,” I mean that, as often as not, you’re knee deep in the stuff. As such, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that his latest endeavor finds him serving as the executive producer of a new AMC reality series – their first in the genre – called…

The series takes place in Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the comic shop Smith owns in Red Bank, NJ, and revolves around the guys who work there – Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Michael Zapcic, and Ming Chen – as they go through their daily routine, much of which…at least for the purposes of the series, anyway…will involve the people who bring items into the store in hopes of selling them.

Yes, that’s right, go ahead and figure on every review of “Comic Book Men” featuring some reference to the series being like “Pawn Stars,” except geekier. This is in no way an inaccurate comparison. In fact, to hear Smith tell it, his pitch for the series actually involved the words, “Let’s do ‘Pawn Stars’ in a comic book store.” But, look, I’m just gonna tell you outright: that sentence alone would’ve been enough to get me to sign up for a season pass on TiVo, and having now actually watched a rough cut of the first episode, I see no reason to backpedal on that theory. Not only do we see some pretty cool shit coming into the store – like, say, a still-boxed Six Million Dollar Man figure with bionic “scope” eye – but there’s a lot of incredibly geeky conversation, too, like the guys’ deepest superhero crushes. (For the record, mine was always Tigra. Just sayin’.)

By the way, speaking of Smith, you probably noticed that I didn’t mention his name as one of the guys who works at the Secret Stash. This, of course, is because he’s got better things (relatively speaking) to do with his time. Don’t worry, though: he’s still in every episode, since the goings-on in the store end up being discussed on the group’s podcast, of which Smith is a part, and the recording sessions have been filmed and are spliced into the proceedings.

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Spotlight on Booze: Gin

It’s lost some commercial ground to vodka over the decades, but the revival of interest in classic cocktails has given gin a boost lately. In any case, this venerable liquor remains the standard clear alcohol among serious cocktail aficionados, who strongly prefer its more complex flavor and swear it’s the only true main ingredient in a martini.

Gin is distilled from grain, usually wheat or rye, and starts out as a fairly plain spirit probably not so different from vodka. After that, “distilled gins” are then distilled a second time with various flavorings. The most prominent being juniper berries. That’s only for starters, as gin manufacturers use a pretty vast assortment of herbs and other botanicals ranging from licorice root to grapefruit peels to the perfumey bergamot we associate with Earl Grey tea. Some ultra-cheap brands are “compound gins.” These gins are not redistilled, but simply have tiny infusions added — they’re basically gin-flavored alcohol.

Most modern gins are “dry” and manufactured in England; these gins legally may not contain any added sugar and that aids in the liquor’s superb mixability. As far as we can tell, however, there isn’t much predictable difference between “London dry, “extra dry,” and other similar designations. “Plymouth” gins technically only have to come from the coastal town, but they tend to have a somewhat more complex, pungent, and slightly sweeter flavor profile. Largely produced in Holland and Belgium, genever is a less strong gin variant popular in central Europe. With plenty of added sugar, you can still find very sweet “old Tom” gin if you look hard. Speaking of sweet, you’ve likely had a slurp or two or of “sloe gin,” actually a liqueur made with gin or cheaper neutral spirits mixed with sloe berries. Most brands of gin are between 84 and 92 proof (42-46 percent alcohol), but a number of less upscale mass market brands are available at 80 proof or even less.

Like all types of booze, gin is available in a number of price levels, but there’s not really any such thing as a super premium gin. While you can easily spend $150.00 or much more on a bottle of small batch bourbon or single malt Scotch, if you find a bottle of regular size bottle of gin selling for more than $50.00, you’re probably paying mostly for ultra-fancy packaging. Some of the best and/or most popular premium gins include Tanqueray Ten, Plymouth (a brand as well as style of gin), and Bombay Sapphire. Just as good or better, in our opinion, are the mid-priced premiums, available in some states at discounters like Costco, Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s. These include Tanqueray, Bombay Dry Gin (less heavy on the perfumey juniper berries than Sapphire), and Hendricks, an increasingly popular Scottish gin we like quite a bit. A bit cheaper, still quite good, and very rich in “Mad Men”-style classic street cred, is Beefeater.

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