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'Mad Men': Too much pretty Betty

July 27, 2007 | 11:03 am

Mad_men_betty_300 I hate to say it, but the effervescent buzz “Mad Men” had in last week’s premiere went just a smidge flat with this second episode. Who let the fizz out? Draper’s wife. Although January Jones’ performance is appropriately muted, with hints of complexity to come, our time with Betty, a fragile, wide-eyed blond whose pretty little hands have been seizing up for no apparent reason, felt a little bit forced. Essentially, Matthew Weiner yanked us out of the Mad St. bar and pushed us onto the 5:15 back to the 'burbs before we had a chance to slurp down that third martini.

“Mad Men” really sings when it’s jaunting about the office, watching steno-pool secretaries sob in the bathroom and yet another Sterling-Cooper sleazeball try to get lucky with Peggy, the unfortunately coiffed newbie (anemic baby bangs, weird corkscrew ponytail) whose obsession with head smarm Pete Campbell has taken on worrisome dimensions. Stealing the postcard he sent to the whole office for your private ogling, Peggy? Really? But I have to say, of all of them, this storyline has me captivated. Let the ill-advised office affair begin!

The other character whose time got cheated is Draper’s mistress, the bachelorette art illustrator Midge. Now, at first glance, Rosemarie Dewitt can seem as if she borrows too much from the Mary Louise Parker school -– all inflections are bone-dry, all admissions are greeted with or accompanied by a raised eyebrow or a cocked hip. But she is growing on me. She name-dropped Jack Kerouac and threw a TV out the window. I can’t wait till she hangs out with fellow advertising illustrator Andy Warhol.

But what about Weiner’s decision to plunk us in the Draper homestead? I won’t say the Betty interlude didn’t turn over some large rocks. Draper may be the inspired ad man inside Sterling-Cooper but at home, he is confused, uninspired and not as powerful. When faced head-on with his wife’s mysterious ailment, plus her doctor’s recommendation that she see a psychiatrist, Draper clings to a maxim he was raised with: It’s a sin of pride to talk about yourself. So, maybe if we don’t talk about it, it’ll go away, isn’t that right, honey?

His other attempt to cure his wife, encouraged by his boss’s zingy platitude that “psychiatry is this year’s candy-pink stove,” doesn’t work either. His gift to Betty, a white gold bracelet watch, staves off her next freak-out for all of two minutes. So he crumbles and lets her see the shrink. Which seems the right move until we see the shrink throwing all notions of confidentiality out the window and blabbing everything to Draper. Sigh. Poor Betty.

But let’s go back for a second to Draper’s philosophies. His zip-it policy was bedrock for the '50s. As was the idea that a woman’s happiness could be bought with more appliances. And let’s admit that those ideas still have traction today. But instead of a steamer iron and a white gold watch, it’s another Louis Vuitton dog carrier and a shot of Botox. -- Margaret Wappler

(Photo courtesy AMC)

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