Jon Hamm 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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