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Mad About AMC's "Mad Men" -- In a Good Way

Emmy nominations. Television Critics Association Awards. Magazine covers. The way AMC’s Mad Men is racking up the praise and demanding attention, you’d almost think it was overexposed. But averaging just over 1.1 million viewers for its first season, Matthew Weiner’s period drama about Madison Avenue ad agency guys and gals in the early 1960s actually is underexposed.

That’s probably about to change. Season two, which begins Sunday night at 10 ET on AMC, relaunches the show with a vengeance – and with a lurch, which adds a sense of mystery and intrigue from the start. Season one ended in 1960, but season two begins in 1962, on Valentine’s Day. We’ve gone from the Nixon-Kennedy campaign to the era of Camelot – and looming on the horizon, perhaps before season’s end, is the world-shattering JFK assassination of November 1963.

Jon Hamm, as agency creative director Don Draper, continues to exude both cool calmness and deep restlessness. Most of the characters in Mad Men, in fact, are skittish about something, like animals just before a big storm. Don’s wife, January Jones, learns an old friend has become a “party girl,” a realization she finds more intriguing than shocking. Don’s former secretary, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), revels in her promotion at work, but hides her secret life – make that lives, plural – at home. And office manager Joan (Christina Hendricks), the redhead with the perfect appearance, shows in these first two new episodes that appearances can be deceiving.

A year after it was launched, Mad Men comes back focusing intently on character, and leaving us to wonder, and slowly piece together, what’s happened in the interim. It’s not an original move – the jump-forward time frame also has been employed recently by Lost and Desperate Housewives – but in this case, too, it’s a good one.  Welcome back, Mad Men.