Classy 'Mad Men' In Town


Season Premiere Of Award-winning Drama Makes City Look Good

July 28, 2009|By DAVID ZURAWIK

Finally, Baltimore gets a chance to look good on prime time TV - and it's on the most stylish and honored drama on television no less.

It's the Baltimore of the 1960s, unfortunately, not Baltimore today. But nevertheless, Baltimore is featured prominently in the Aug. 16 premiere episode of Season 3 of AMC's Mad Men, last year's winner of the Emmy as the best drama on television.

And what viewers will see of the city - from Haussner's restaurant to the Belvedere Hotel - makes Baltimore look like a first-rate East Coast urban center with good hotels, restaurants, night life and thriving businesses.

In sending out the screener for the first episode late last week, the producers asked that plot points not be revealed. With the Web being the Web, someone is sure to violate that request. But it won't be me. This is one of the few daring and complex dramas left on TV, and I don't want to spoil one bit of pleasure for any of the show's fans.

But here's a glimpse at the role Baltimore plays in the season opener of this sexy drama set in the world of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.

At the heart of the episode is a business trip Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt) take to Baltimore to do a little hand holding with one of their agency's clients, the father and son team running the company making London Fog raincoats.

The episode is titled "Out of Town," and it is written by series creator Matthew Weiner, who was born in Baltimore and attended Park School before his family moved to Los Angeles. Robin Veith, an Emmy-nominated writer on the series, also was born and raised in Baltimore. She has been promoted to executive story editor this year.

As the title suggests, the trip to Baltimore dominates the episode with Draper and Romano eating dinner at Haussner's, spending a night at the Belvedere Hotel and the next day at the London Fog factory.

(Typical of the show's attention to detail, a researcher for the show called Sun restaurant critic Elizabeth Large in April to check on the kind of uniforms waitresses at Haussner's wore in the early 1960s. The answer was found in Sun archive photos.)

On their flight to Baltimore, Draper and Romano meet another New Yorker who is staying over in Charm City for the night and asks if they want to meet for dinner at Haussner's.

"You should have been in line two hours ago if you want to eat by 8," says Romano, suggesting the long lines and wonderful food of this late, great Highlandtown restaurant. Romano, a Baltimore native whose wife, Kitty, is also from Baltimore, offers a corrected "Bawlmer" pronunciation to the person inviting them to dinner in the city.

I will say nothing about what happens at any of the Baltimore stops made by Draper and Romano. But it is sexy, deep, complicated, and opens the door to continuing dramatic tension.

I loved this show from the first five minutes of the pilot, and I was infatuated all over again 30 seconds into the opener of Season 3. While it is absolutely steeped in authentic period detail, Weiner and his staff of writers such as Veith have managed to make Mad Men speak more eloquently than any other TV drama to America today.

Season 2 ended with the Sterling Cooper advertising agency being taken over by the British firm of Putnam, Powell and Lowe. And now, the downsizing begins.

The level of anxiety, fear and anger at Sterling Cooper will surely resonate with viewers today. For those watching in Baltimore, the memories of Haussner's and the city of the 1960s will only make the experience richer, deeper and more rewarding.

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