Jon Hamm

It's about time that AMC got the '60s party started again, so it's only fitting that Mad Men's excruciatingly long-awaited two-hour season opener (Sunday, 9/8c), a clever and often bitterly witty piece of writing by series creator Matthew Weiner, is built around a memorable party.

Memorable as in awkward, as most surprise parties tend to be, and this event (capped by a shockingly sexy show-stopper) plays like a Blake Edwards period classic. Not so much Breakfast at Tiffany's as cocktails at Draper's. When told sex, politics and religion aren't appropriate party topics, ahead-of-her-time career woman Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) wonders what's left: "Alcohol and work?" That's Mad Men in a woozy nutshell: intoxicating, sophisticated, demanding, uncompromising and always seductively satisfying. Even after a stupefying 17-month absence that somehow hasn't dampened our ardor for this one-of-a-kind series.

"Something always happens. Things are different," cries a major character who, like us, has been pining to return to this workplace, where money is tight but egos are large. Change is a constant in the turbulent 1960s world within Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce and beyond — the civil rights movement provides ironic bookends for the episode, reflecting how insular the universe is for these smug but deeply flawed purveyors of the American dream, none more memorable and maddening than Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the alpha hunk who appears to have it all. But some things never change in the world of Mad Men: the high quality of acting, writing, production design and detail.

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How great to have it back — even if the scheduling gods have sadistically decreed that its premiere will go head-to-head against a truly sensational episode of CBS' The Good Wife (9/8c), which soars above all network dramas the way that Mad Men raises the bar for cable. Mad Men, for all of its scintillating virtues, isn't particularly plot-driven as the new season begins — the tone is often more comedic than dramatic, perhaps fitting given the bleak nature of the last season (for those with long memories). Whereas The Good Wife is on fire with its smart story-driven twists and turns. If you love great TV, you can't afford to miss either of them.

"Nothing is simple, is it?" laments The Good Wife's harried heroine Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), as multiple subplots come crashing down around her. While chaos continues to reign at Lockhart Gardner in the wake of Will's suspension, Alicia takes her boss Diane's seat as the token female on a blue-ribbon panel investigating a police-involved shooting, presided over by guest star Matthew Perry (a very sharp, smartly guarded performance). Rubbing shoulders with some very powerful players (including several judges we've met before) in this assignment, Alicia typically can't leave well enough alone and begins to rock the boat. "Can they hurt your career? Yes," warns Diane. "You have to weigh that."

It's not like her plate isn't already full, including representing the inscrutable Kalinda at an IRS hearing and trying desperately to seal the deal on buying back the family home, which dredges up memories both pleasant and painful in evocative flashbacks reminding us how far Alicia has come over the course of this series.

Where all of these stories lead is delightfully unexpected, which is something of a Good Wife hallmark. TV doesn't come much smarter than this, unless you're talking Mad Men. To have both shows airing the same night, in the same time period, is an embarrassment of entertaining riches.

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