“Mad Men” anti-hero Don Draper puts it best this way: “There will be fat years, and there will be lean years, but it is going to rain.”
He’s talking about the raincoat business in the third-season opener of “Mad Men” (10 p.m. Sunday, AMC). But he could very well be addressing the state of prime-time television itself.
And during a particularly uninspired summer of programming - a drought, if you will - “Mad Men” provides relief. The third-season opener is one of this darling drama’s best episodes ever. It’s filled with the elements that have earmarked this series from the beginning - stunning characterizations, key personal moments and moral dilemmas that turn into crossroads.
A change of management at the Sterling Cooper advertising agency has heads rolling and other heads spinning. The cuts are reflective of our era - uneasiness over the future and employees fearing change.
NBC’s “The Office” typifies the modern-day workplace in comic terms through a satirical fashion, but “Mad Men,” though now set in 1963, perfectly reflects how little office politics have changed over the decades.
Outside the office, “Mad Men” is actually more interesting and involved. On a business trip, Don (Jon Hamm) and Salvatore (Bryan Batt) find different temptations. Don gives himself excuses to be a rat; Salvatore, who is married but denies his sexual urges, finally gives in.
If “Mad Men” can name its best quality, it’s the anticipation factor. In this opener, the anticipation builds, and does so masterfully.
Other highlights for the week of Aug. 16-22:
“2 Months, $2 Million” (9 p.m., G4). Online poker pros put it all out there for reality-show cameras, hoping to collectively win $2 million in eight weeks.
“Hoarders” (10 p.m., A&E). And you think you can’t throw anything away? Wait till you see this reality show.
“House of Jazmin” (10:30 p.m., MTV). The reality series chronicles the life of an up-and-coming 20-year-old designer.
“Top Chef: Las Vegas” (9 p.m., Bravo). A new season of hothead chefs, with this batch competing in Sin City.
“Project Runway” (10 p.m., Lifetime). It’s on a different channel, but retains the same cattiness.
“All Jacked Up” (8:30 p.m., CMT). Actor C. Thomas Howell hosts this look at extreme competition - from ostrich races to robot fighting.