And so the unnecessarily long goodbye begins for AMC's breakout, breakthrough signature series Mad Men, its final 14 hours being unconscionably broken into two halves over two years, starting Sunday at 10/9c. (Yes, it worked for Breaking Bad, but this isn't that kind of show.) While prolonging the inevitable, and potentially blunting whatever narrative momentum still exists in a most inelegant and desperate-seeming way, it's no wonder the often dazzling opening episode — titled "Time Zones," in a nod to the firm's now-bicoastal focus — is so preoccupied with time.
Time and cultural change have long been Mad Men's preoccupations, and time does in fact move on at SC&P as the '60s eke to a turbulent close, reflected in the shifting hierarchies at the ad agency, still reeling from the suspension of alpha leader Don Draper (Jon Hamm, iconic as ever). As we reconnect with Peggy Olson (wondrously prickly Elisabeth Moss), the would-be female Don, she's overseeing an account for a luxury time piece, and the pitch she hears in the opening moments includes these weighted-with-meaning words: "This is the beginning of something. ... Do you have time to improve your life?" The screen might as well flash METAPHOR ALERT, but it's still not as heavy-handed as last season's insufferably pretentious opener with Don reading Dante's Inferno on the beach.
"How much time do we have?" ominously wonders Don's toothsome actress wife Megan (Jessica Paré) during his visit to her rustic and remote new digs in the Hollywood Hills, which he likens to "Dracula's castle" — sending shivers to anyone who might already be wondering if Sharon Tate's compound is within screaming distance. And while we wonder if Don indeed has time to improve his life and/or mend his career before the show's over — "Have I broken the vessel?" he actually wonders aloud — I find myself more fixated on the entertaining trajectories of Peggy and Joan (the fabulous Christina Hendricks), who continue to struggle against patronizing sexist workplace condescension. In the often bleak world of Mad Men, the women are stealing the spotlight, and that's not such a bad thing.
I'd go on, but I tossed out the sheet of instructions that came with the season-premiere screener outlining all of the spoiler no-nos — a yearly ritual that has become a subject of parody among TV critics, not unlike the inscrutable coming-attractions teasers that The Simpsons just skewered so brilliantly. I actually agree with series creator Matthew Weiner that the pleasures of Mad Men (and most other shows) should be experienced without anyone spoiling the big, and even small, moments. It's hardly a spoiler, though, to acknowledge that I'm glad Mad Men will end before the '70s (which I remember far more vividly than the '60s), because if you think the men's hair and wardrobe are hideous now, just wait. It really is time to move on. I just wish AMC were letting Mad Men go with a bit more dignity.
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GOODNIGHT, NURSE: And then there's Showtime, which should have learned not to milk a show past its expiration date with the lamentable final season(s) of Dexter. But as Californication limps to a smarmy close as its seventh and final season commences Sunday (9:30/8:30c), the network has already renewed Nurse Jackie for a seventh year before its sixth even begins (also Sunday, at 9/8c). The All Saints Hospital staff led by the remarkable Edie Falco is still one of my favorite ensembles, and I can understand why Showtime would be reluctant to shut them down. But watching Jackie go back on the drugs, lying to her support group as well as her current better-than-she-deserves cop boyfriend Frank (Adam Ferrara), you can't help but get a dispiriting feeling of been-there, snorted-that.
Bright spots include Emmy winner Merritt Wever as the irrepressible nurse Zoey, distraught at the thought that her affair with ER chief Prentiss (Morris Chestnut) may be the hospital's worst-kept secret, and the arrival of the terrific Julie White (Go On) as Jackie's caustic new sponsor, who readily admits, "I am so not a role model." Which means she'll be right at home on Nurse Jackie.
THE SNOOP SISTERHOOD: Fans of PBS's long-running Foyle's War should become acquainted with The Bletchley Circle, a scrappy foursome of female crime-solvers who sharpened their skills during World War II as clandestine code-breakers working in Bletchley Park. Now a decade later, they find themselves embroiled in new intrigues, some of which reach back into the past. Such is the case as a second season begins Sunday (10/9c, check tvguide.com listings), with the first of two engrossing two-part mysteries. The team reunites by coming to the rescue of a former colleague, who's in jail and on trial for the murder of a scientist with whom she had a wartime affair. Not all of the women are gung-ho about putting their necks back on the line for justice. "What have you got us into?" frets the restlessly domestic Alice (Anna Maxwell Martin) as they spy a military conspiracy behind the killing. It's like watching Nancy Drew grow up into Wonder Woman.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: Now that this week's fan-as-guest-programmer week (in which I participated) is winding down on Turner Classic Movies, the channel devotes all of Sunday to the films of Mickey Rooney, including his first two Andy Hardy movies (A Family Affair, You're Only Young Once), a Judy Garland musical (Babes on Broadway) and in prime time, Boys Town and its sequel Men of Boys Town, capped off at midnight/11c with National Velvet. ... Celebrities and investigative reporters traverse the globe to spread the alarming word about climate change in Showtime's cautionary docu-series Years of Living Dangerously (Sunday, 10/9c). The very earnest premiere episode sends Harrison Ford to explore the perils of deforestation in the Indonesian jungle, while in the most provocative segment, Don Cheadle studies the economic impact of the drought in Texas, spotlighting a climate scientist who's also an evangelical Christian, putting a new twist on the faith-vs-science debate. ... Still reeling from Will's death on CBS's The Good Wife (Sunday, 9/8c), Alicia and Diane mull the option of merging their rival firms. Stranger things have happened. ... National Geographic Channel goes Inside the Hunt for the Boston Bombers in a two-hour special (Sunday, 9/8c) that relives the manhunt in the wake of last year's Boston Marathon attack. ... If CBS's coverage of the Masters tournament this weekend only leaves you wanting more, Golf Channel complies with Arnie (Sunday, 10/9c), a three-part documentary profile of the great Arnold Palmer that continues in the same time period through Tuesday. ... Conan O'Brien hosts Sunday's always-irreverent 2014 MTV Movie Awards (9/8c) from L.A.'s Nokia Theatre, where the Entourage cast will present that show's producer, Mark Wahlberg, with the MTV Generation Award, while Channing Tatum gets the MTV Trailblazer Award. What, nothing to remember Mickey Rooney by?