Mad Men Returns! Season 5 Premiere Recap and Reviews

Was Mad Men’s long-anticipated return to TV worth the wait?

It’s been 17 months (God, has it really been that long?) but, like a friend who’s stateside again after a year studying abroad, Mad Men has returned. Sure, we’re still interested, but so much has happened in the intervening months — The Hunger Games making $155 million over the weekend, for example, gave it the third-biggest opening weekend ever — that it’s a little strange to have Mad Men back, and we need to figure out how it fits in with our newer, cooler friends on the DVR. So, the big question: Was the wait worth it?

Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t even get a glimpse of Betty and her digs in Rye. But that complaint might be construed as petty. Here’s what the real pros had to say:

“Well, that was fun! …the Mad Men season premiere wasn’t a thrilling, plot-driven potboiler. But it was a joyful revue featuring the gang at its finest, with each character making us laugh by being so delightfully him- or herself.” — Julia Turner, Slate

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“If most installments of the show play like short stories, this one is more of a novella — as well it should be, considering the elapsed time between this chapter and the last one. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do: Series creator Matthew Weiner (who scripted this episode) and director Jennifer Getzinger glide right into it, delivering an episode that would play like a tedious info-dump — practically a second pilot, or stealth reboot — if the information weren’t conveyed with such relaxed confidence and wit.” — Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture

“[There weren’t real plot bombshells in the episode.] Because there aren’t in a Mad Men season premiere. A typical amount of time passes for a cable drama. (We left in 1965. We’re back in 1966. Gasp!) The things that the finale gave you every reason to believe would happen, have happened — just as Peggy really did give away her baby and Don and Betty really did divorce. Mad Men does not throw sudden curveballs at the season return just to shock you — it would be a different, probably worse show if it did — which is why the proscription against ‘spoilers’ especially amuses me with this show.” — James Poniewozik, Time

“We know where all of this is going, but part of the fun is seeing the characters utterly ignore that which is going on around them until they blunder into the middle of it anyway. Put another way: Megan’s party feels like the stereotypical ‘swingin’ ’60s affair,’ of the sort you might expect to see parodied in an Austin Powers movie, but our main characters feel awkward and out of place while attending. Yet there they are, the doors shutting on their era, even as they refuse to leave.” — Todd VanDerWerff, The A.V. Club

Mad Men got off to a very slow start on Sunday night, as though daring you to become absorbed in it again, but as the two hours proceeded, the show launched at least four rather magnificent set-piece scenes that remind you not just how good the series can be, but also how different it is from anything else TV has seen. The themes of the evening could not have been more simple and direct: Everyone is insecure; everyone wants to find his or her place in the world.” — Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly

We’ll leave this one with a song:

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