Although the regular DVD edition of Mad Men’s superb first season looks predictably terrific, it nonetheless pales next to the Blu-ray version, which offers countless vivid examples of how ultra-high-resolution imagery is adding fresh creative depth to dramatic journalism. It’s not just that we can now read all the copy in the 1960 Playboy VW ad that vexes Don Draper (Jon Hamm), creative director at the Sterling Cooper agency, on his train from Ossining. Now, every nuance of Hamm’s expressions can be seen, even in long and medium shots in which he’s the farthest actor from the camera. TV is often said to be a writer’s medium above all, and such scenes reveal how the extra picture depth can allow them to call more thoroughly on the full range of an actor’s talent, making it easier for the scribe to follow the “show, don’t tell” dictum.
Naturally, the high-res discs are also very kind to the series’s amazing production design: The colors have a sumptuous pop to them that increases the show’s resemblance to the 1950s and ’60s films that inspired creator Matthew Weiner. The audio mix, too, reveals fresh subtleties that were often imperceptible on television. The eternal conflict between Cablevision and Time Warner Cable essentially made Mad Men broadcasts unavailable in HD within the five boroughs, and the visual lushness, which makes Weiner’s world seem all the more complete, will leave even the devoted feeling like they’re watching the series for the first time.