This is what passes for a crisis in the lives of TV critics: Each year about this time (well, except for the terrible “Mad Men” drought of 2011 — about which the less said the better), they’re sent a disc with the first few hours of the new “Mad Men” season.
The problem is that it invariably arrives with a note from the show’s haughty creator, Matt Weiner, spelling out the details and plot points he strongly requests not be revealed.
Personally, I’ve never been all that smitten with the Emmy darling, finding “Mad Men” over the course of its run to be pretentious and stagey. So I never chafed under Weiner’s embargos because in my opinion nothing much ever really happened in his ‘60s office pageant.
Until now, that is. Because the sumptuous two-hour opener to Season 6 is a remarkable piece of work — beautiful, provocative and deep. It’s an unexpectedly exquisite distillation of the show’s themes and aspirations.
So, what can we say about this mini-masterpiece, which plays out like the great lost work of filmmaker Paul Mazursky?
Well, certainly not the year in which the sixth season begins, because that prohibition tops Weiner’s manifest.
We do know it takes place in Olden Tymes, because mistletoe is still hanging and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is on a desperate deadline to revise a Super Bowl ad for her new agency — Cutler, Gleason, & Chaough.
The hustle to make American consumers crave what they do not need goes on. But Peggy knows the drill. “My job,” she tells her clients, “is to introduce your headphones to a huge, drunk, male audience.”
The goal is fixed, but everything else in Don Draper’s world is radically transforming: Hair is longer, skirts are shorter, and the writers’ room smells like reefer. The Generation Gap is announcing itself with brutal finality.