Ellen Gray: 'Mad Men' returns, as stylish and soapy as ever

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Jon Hamm returns as the man of smoke and mirrors on "Mad Men."

MAD MEN. 10 p.m. Sunday, AMC.

NOTHING ABOUT AMC's "Mad Men" pleased me more last season than the way it ended, with the partners and employees of the newly configured firm of Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce gathering in a hotel suite to begin again.

And, OK, with Betty Draper (January Jones) on a plane to Reno, Nev., baby in her lap and Meal Ticket No. 2 beside her, off to shed her cipher of a husband, Don (Jon Hamm).

Not only did the season finale contain the single most romantic line ever uttered by Don - when protege Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) suggests he'll never speak to her again if she doesn't join the new firm, he tells her that, no, "I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you" - but it re-established him as a man in control of at least a piece of his own destiny.

Before you tune in Sunday for the premiere of Season 4, you might want to rewatch that episode, either on the DVD or Comcast On Demand, where it's available again, along with the rest of last season, if only to recapture the exhilaration of Dec. 13, 1963, when, as Roger Sterling (John Slattery) put it, "four guys shot their own legs off."

Which, while not perhaps as painful as losing a foot to a John Deere lawn tractor, is a compelling image.

Legs that have been shot off, metaphorically and otherwise, might be something to keep in mind as we rejoin "Mad Men" in November 1964, just before Thanksgiving, to find a man we've never seen before asking, "Who is Don Draper?"

Well, there's a question.

To say that, from a reporter's perspective, Don's the interviewee from hell isn't much of an answer, but it's the most you're going to get here, considering that just about any single thing about "Mad Men," including the few I've already told you, could potentially be considered a spoiler.

Matthew Weiner's stylish soap opera continues to be both stylish and sudsy in about equal parts, and, as always, I'd be happy to spend most of my time at the office with Don, learning the secrets of advertising and ignoring his mess of a personal life, if not for Don's precocious daughter, the inimitable Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka).

Little Sally doesn't get any time behind the wheel in Sunday's premiere, but continues to get enough mileage out of her absent father and her angry mother to take a show on the road about her own midlife crisis. Set, perhaps, in the early to mid-1990s.

I know I'd watch that one.

As for the show that Sally's actually growing up in, I'll continue to keep an eye on it, too.

Not because I hope to ever be able to answer the who-is-Don-Draper question - that might be like pinpointing a single image in a kaleidoscope - but because, at least so far, it's been fascinating to watch the people around Don project whatever they most need to see onto that chiseled screen of a face, only to stand back, aghast, when what comes spinning back at them is anything but pretty.

 

'Being Human' is back

 

A vampire, a ghost and a werewolf walk into a bar.

The punchline? None of them is a character on HBO's "True Blood."

The best show about vampires you're probably not watching, BBC America's "Being Human," returns for its second season at 10 p.m. Saturday, after the season finale of "Doctor Who," to find the series' three twentysomething housemates - a vampire named Mitchell (Aidan Turner), a ghost named Annie (Lenora Crichlow) and a werewolf named George (Russell Tovey) - still struggling with living with one foot each in two very different worlds.

Yes, technically, only one of them is what we might call fully alive - and he periodically turns into a ravenous predator - but that doesn't mean that this trio isn't still deeply attracted to life as the rest of us know it.

Annie, in fact, even wants a job, now that she's become visible enough to make a position as a barmaid an actual possibility.

Mitchell and George have bigger problems following the death last season of Herrick (Adrian Lester), the vampire leader who, in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" terms, had come to represent the show's "big bad."

Worry not: There'll be another enemy along in a minute.

Personally, I've had about enough of vamps, even the moody Mitchell, but George can be a sweetie and Annie's irresistible, especially when she's making tea that she can't drink for dozens of people who never stop by.

If you're already home on a Saturday night, why not spend time with a girl who probably needs to get out even more than you do? *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com or join me at noon today at go.philly.com/tvchat.