April 4 (Bloomberg) -- “I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood,” reads Don Draper, the Hawaii sun reddening his hairy chest, early in the Season 6 premiere of AMC’s “Mad Men.”
What better than Dante’s “Inferno” for some light beach reading?
While this may or may not be the start of a mid-life crisis -- with Draper, who can tell for sure? -- “Mad Men” is pondering mortality even more than usual.
Series creator Matthew Weiner has again asked critics not to reveal certain details, including the year in which the new season is set. I’ll note only that carnage is in the air and Woodstock is, as yet, no more than the name of a town in the Catskills.
The suicide of Jared Harris’s Lane Pryce last season goes unmentioned, but death is on everyone’s mind, from the young Vietnam-bound soldier Don (Jon Hamm) meets in a bar to John Slattery’s dead-inside Roger Sterling, who can’t manage a tear for his just-departed mother.
Even Don’s young son Bobby (Mason Vale Cotton) is in a morbid mood.
“I like the case,” he says about a friend’s violin. “It looks like a coffin.”
Weiner, who wrote the two-hour premiere, is in peak form here, conjuring the late-’60s mojo without resorting to cliche. Even if marijuana sweetens the office air, Don himself remains stubbornly out of time -- he admonishes his copywriters for cheapening the trendy word “love.”
He isn’t the only one caught off guard by cultural changes. Protege-turned-rival Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is gob-smacked when an innocuous ad campaign takes on grisly connotations in the aftermath of a gruesome development in Vietnam.
“I want you to be yourself,” says a photographer snapping Don’s office portrait.
The ad man looks utterly baffled.
“Mad Men” airs Sunday on AMC at 9 p.m. New York time (returning to 10 p.m. April 14). Rating: *****
Two episodes into NBC’s creepy “Hannibal,” actor Hugh Dancy has, by my count, shot four people, strangled a young woman and buried a comatose diabetic alive.
And he’s the good guy.
Like Showtime’s “Dexter,” “Hannibal” demands our allegiance to a character we’ve seen commit heinous acts. In this case, though, the murders are (for the most part) in his head.
Dancy plays FBI profiler Will Graham, a crime-solving genius with a touch of Asperger’s syndrome (TV’s latest catch-all).
As Graham arrives at each blood-soaked scene, he mentally rewinds and re-enacts the crime.
At the insistence of his boss (played with major gravitas by Laurence Fishburne), Graham agrees to share his burdens with a psychiatrist.
That would be Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a forensics expert and gourmand.
Based loosely on Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels, “Hannibal” costars Mads Mikkelsen in the title role, a younger version of the liver-loving cannibal played by Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs.”
Stylish and clever, “Hannibal” is more palatable -- better get used to “tasteful” puns again -- than Fox’s sadistic “The Following,” but Hopkins casts a long shadow. Try listening to Mikkelsen’s affectless line readings without hearing the original Lecter.
“Next time,” Hannibal says to a visitor, “bring your wife. I’d love to have you both for dinner.”
“Hannibal” airs Thursday on NBC at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
Vice, the brash hipster magazine and maker of YouTube videos, expands to weekly television with “Vice,” an HBO newsmagazine of gonzo journalism and “Mondo cane”-style adventure.
This weekly half-hour program, hosted by Vice co-founder (and on-air contributor) Shane Smith and co-produced by Bill Maher, dispatches its young tattooed correspondents to far-flung hotspots.
In a segment about the use of children as suicide bombers in Afghanistan, Smith interviews senior members of the Taliban, victims of an attack and boys accused of a failed plot.
Aimed squarely at a male demographic made unshakable by the Internet, the “Vice” report includes raw footage of a suicide bombing, including a severed head and hand.
“Vice” clearly wants to show what CNN and other mainstream news outlets won’t, with Smith pledging to expose “the absurdity of the modern condition.”
But like the graphic “Mondo” travelogues of the 1960s, “Vice” too often seems content to gawk. In a weak conclusion to his report, Smith can muster little more than, “This is our modern age?”
“Vice” airs Friday on HBO at 11 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Lance Esplund on art.
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