January Jones in Mad Men courtesy AMC
Favorite line on any show I've seen all week: "Peggy, this isn't China. There's no money in virginity." That's Joan talking, the sexiest secretary in all of '60s New York advertising, once again stealing a scene in AMC's dazzling Mad Men with aplomb. Christina Hendricks, I salute you.

It was another intensely enjoyable episode this week, which also grew my estimation for the performance of January Jones (what a name) as Don Draper's quietly simmering, drop-dead-gorgeous Grace Kelly look-alike wife, Betty. How happy was she when, at intermission at Broadway's Fiorello!, the ad guy wooing Don to jump agencies to the big time offered her a chance to get back into modeling (with the pause that refreshes). How fooled were we that this was just another ploy to lure Don away from "the tiny store" of Sterling Cooper? Not very. And neither was Don fooled. Betty, however? Very fooled. And very crushed when the opportunity vanishes once Don turns them down.

Who can blame her for taking it out on her neighbor's homing pigeons? Someone on Mad Men's writing staff must hate pigeons almost as much as I do. Loved that surreal final image of Betty in sunglasses, blithely aiming a gun at the birds as she smoked (this after the neighbor had threatened to kill the Draper family dog after it bloodied one of the birds in its jaws).

But before that, I was impressed by the scene in which Don empathizes with his dejected domestic goddess, who feigns happiness at returning to the daily "job" of tending her perfect family and preparing the nightly meal. "It's my job to give you what you want," he tells her, adding quite poignantly, "I would have given anything to have had a mother like you." (Recent flashbacks bear that out.) Don idealizes Betty, but as we've seen, he doesn't exactly honor her.

The disturbing, unsettling undercurrents are what make Mad Men so hypnotizing and a must-see experience.

The other high points involved Peter's bright idea to shut out JFK (their client Nixon's presidential rival) from advertising spots in swing states by "clogging" the available openings with laxative ads. Genius. But what a weird duck Peter is: so protective of his office squeeze Peggy (another still-waters-run-deep performance by Elisabeth Moss) that when the guys start ragging about Peggy's ample figure - the men on this show are such pigs - Pete hauls off and slugs the creep who likened Peggy's rump to lobster tail. (This discussion was prompted by a hilarious scene where Peggy is forced to borrow one of Joan's slinky dresses, and to say it isn't flattering on her frame is an understatement.) I keep expecting Peter to show up with his shotgun and begin firing potshots at unsuspecting bystanders from his office window.

But back to this week's running theme of women and weight issues: on the shrink's couch, Betty had earlier been heard lamenting the way her own mother pressured her to mind her slim figure. Working girls didn't have it easy back then, not even models who looked like Grace Kelly.

Mad Men is a terrific cultural snapshot, as provocative as it is fun to watch. AMC has such a winner here.

Meanwhile, on the downside of this week's TV, I'm weighing in on Fox's new docu-soap Nashville (premieres Friday night at 9 pm/ET), because a full preview screener wasn't available at the time we were putting together our Fall Preview issue.

Ironically, this show takes the form of MTV's glossy Laguna Beach/The Hills real-life serials and adds music to the mix, something MTV appears loathe to do with most of its programming these days. The notion of spinning a story around Music City hopefuls at least gives Nashville more of a narrative hook than watching MTV's spoiled brats cavort, an apparent guilty pleasure to which I've never been able to succumb. I've pretty much hated this genre since the invention of The Real World, with all its preening exhibitionism, and it has only mutated into a more reprehensible form with this type of show, shot like a movie while acting like a documentary. Given the way these seemingly intimate moments are filmed and lit, there's no way any of this contrived nonsense is spontaneous. As on the MTV shows, just about everything in Nashville looks about as genuine as a feminine-hygiene commercial.

When Mika, an actual coal miner's daughter freshly arrived from Kentucky, walks onto an empty Grand Ole Opry stage with been-there, lost-that Matt (who's angling to restart his stalled career), you can only wonder what it took to pull off the shot at the Opry. It looks beautiful (and by the way, so do most of the participants in this show), but it's groaningly fake.

Nashville is most like The Hills when it follows playboy Clint as he breaks a number of girls' hearts in the pilot episode alone. He urges Terry Bradshaw's daughter Rachel (a real MTV character) to dump her boyfriend back home, and when she does, he promptly begins to ignore her, and then sets his sights on naive Mika, who's about to break Matt's heart.

And so on. You probably already know if this is up your tin pan alley. I'm merely curious to see the fallout when the sort of show that looks like a hit on MTV goes the network route and looks more like a bust. Nashville airs on Fridays, historically a disastrous night for Fox. Going low-budget reality this season is at least a financially responsible choice, and pairing it next month with the American Idol clone The Search for the Next Great American Band makes sense.

Personally, sitting through this tepid, uninspired hour gave me the itch to take one of my favorite movies of all time off my DVD shelf: Robert Altman's 1975 classic Nashville, which truly had something profound (and profoundly entertaining) to say about music, fame, politics, America and the human condition.