By CAINE GARDNER
With the third season of AMC's Mad Men ready to kick off, Lionsgate delivers the second season of the critically acclaimed drama in a four-disk box set in true Don Draper fashion.
Following up the stellar Zippo lighter packaging that marked the first season, the second season is a scaled back, crisp shirt in the box looker that encases the disk set.
Mad Men is hands down the best show on television. Not the best drama, the best show -- period. Rarely can a show that graces the small screen be able to deliver so much.
A little back-story for newcomers to the series. Mad Men is set in the early 1960s in New York City at the ad agency Sterling Cooper. The agency is the true definition of a boys club. Drinks flow freely; everyone smokes at least four packs of Lucky's a day and the men are at the top of the totem.
The character spearheading the story is Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Draper is creative director for the agency and essential the big man on campus. The others take their cues from him, which has continued to boast Sterling Coopers status in the ad world.
But is he who he says he is?
Viewers learn during the course of events that Don Draper is in fact Dick Whitman, the child of a prostitute. He assumes the identity of Draper, an officer he served along side in the Korean War. Even when the fact of his true identity is revealed, Draper is as slick as ever and doesn't skip a beat.
The allure of the second season is the character development. It may sound boring, but after getting your fill of Draper in season one, it's nice to see those around him develop into full fledged characters. The transformation might have slowed the series, but the second is a solid as the first.
It's the rise of the women in season two. Betty Draper (January Jones), Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) are the powerhouses of the 13 episodes.
Betty has finally mustered the courage to not take Don's cheating ways, Joan is struggling with her place in the world and being over 30 and and Peggy is figuring out she's more than equal to the men on the ad team. It's nice to see a series that was built on the brute strength of male chauvinism in its first season switch gears and grow this much in its sophomore outing.
The ladies are not the only intriguing elements of the show. Vincent Kartheiser is splendid as Pete Campbell. The sliminess oozes from him with such brilliance it's easy to overlook this fantastic performance. Equally impressive is John Slattery's Roger Sterling. If you looked up the definition of chauvinist in the dictionary -- it's a good bet you'd see the Sterling's mug staring back at you.
The cast and crew have continued to transform their time into something special. Mad Men feels more like an episodic dramatic film than a television series and continues to push the bounds of quality programming to higher levels.
The four-disk set features 13 feature-length audio commentaries, as well as Birth of an Independent Women, An Era of Style and Time Capsule featurettes.
Final Cut: While it may take you days to come down from the nicotine high after watching the series, Mad Men is a must have. The series ranks among the best in television history.
5 out of 5 stars
Mad Men: Season 2
* 13 feature-length audio commentaries with cast and crew
* Birth of an Independent Woman: Part 1 and 2
* An Era of Style
* Time Capsule
Available now from Lionsgate