Mad Men Airs Sunday Nights at 10/9c on AMC

Synopsis: Peggy and Paul are staying in the office through the weekend to work out a new campaign for Bacardi. Joan and her husband are throwing a party for her husband’s co-workers, while most of the Sterling Cooper gang is at Roger and Jane’s for a Kentucky Derby garden party. Grandpa Gene is missing $5.

Review: You can tell a great show is great by how they spend “off” episodes. Nothing that happened in last night’s “Mad Men” was Earth-shattering or really very consequential. And that’s fine. Some shows try to make drama where drama has no business. “24” is a show that always needs to be moving forward, so instead of building tighter relationships between it’s core characters, they usually throw some curveball like season one’s “Terri gets amnesia” plotline or this past season’s “the Presiden’t daughter is a schemer” situation. Some shows have been killed by trying to force the drama. “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” may have been killed by bad ratings, but the whole “Tom’s brother being held captive” plotline ON TOP of the “Amanda Peat’s character is having birth-problems” saga was just too much. Even the best under-stated show on TV, “Friday Night Lights,” almost killed itself with an uneven and overdramatic self-defense-murder-cover-up plotline between Landry and Tyra.

But “Mad Men” handled an “off” episode like no other series I’ve ever seen, safe for “The Sopranos” (see: “The Pine Barrens).

Last night’s episode was all about the characters and reconnecting us with them. We see Roger sing in blackface, Paul sings because he is dared, Joan becomes the sexiest woman to ever play the accordian, Peggy smokes a doob, Betty gets hit on by an old man, Jane gets drunk, Don does some sweet bartending, Sally and Gene’s relationship grows, and Pete and Trudy do the Charleston. Oh, and did I mention Roger sings in blackface. What the f*ck is going on?

This was hands-down one of the funniest “Mad Men” episodes I’ve ever seen. Peggy’s one-liners were hilarious, the look on Pete and Trudy’s faces while dancing was amazing (as were Harry and his wife’s reactions), and c’mon, Roger “Blackface” Sterling never disappoints.

However, the episode was also full of some very nice character moments: Joan finding out her husband had a career-altering accident during surgery; Sally stealing Gene’s money and the guilt and fear she felt afterward; Don and Roger arguing at the party; Peggy’s sensational monologue to her lonely secretary; and Don’s slooow walk and tender embrace with his wife at the end of the episode. In other words, episodes like these are what we hope for when there’s not much going on with the “plot.” Sure, we’ll get a return to conflict next week, but for right now, stop and revel in just how good this episode was.

Good TV shows thrive on being technically sound, well acted, and cleverly written. Great TV shows have all those qualities yet also know that sometimes less is everything.

What did you think of this week’s episode of Mad Men?

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