The Highball-o-Meter: Grading 'The Hour' and Other 'Mad Men' Lookalikes

by Maureen Ryan, posted Aug 17th 2011 3:45PM
Mad MenBetween BBC America's British import 'The Hour' (premieres Wed., Aug. 17 at 10PM ET), NBC's 'The Playboy Club' and ABC's 'Pan Am,' several dramas in coming weeks attempt to ride the coattails of awards darling 'Mad Men.'

The important question: Are any of them worthy of comparisons to the iconic AMC drama? I've seen them all, and here are my assessments:

'MAD MEN'
Season 5 went in to production Aug. 8; the show isn't rumored to return on AMC until March 2012
The Year/The Setting: First season began in 1960, most recent season took place in 1965.
The Handsome Man at the Center of It All: Don Draper (Jon Hamm).
The Ambitious Young Woman: Copy writer Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss).
The Witty Other Guy: Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
The General Vibe: Existential angst and dry humor filtered through a haze of cigarette smoke.
Liquor consumption level: Fairly epic.
Highball-o-meter: Four out of four. We really have to wait until next year for this show to return? Sigh.

The Hour'THE HOUR'
Premieres Wed., Aug. 17 at 10PM ET on BBC America
The Year/The Setting: 1956, among news staffers at the BBC.
The Handsome Man at the Center of It All: Hector Madden (Dominic West)
The Ambitious Young Woman: Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), the head of a new BBC news program.
The Resentful Other Guy: Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw)
The General Vibe: John Le Carre meets 'Broadcast News'
Liquor Consumption Level: Constant, verging on life-threatening.
What Does It Have That 'Mad Men' Doesn't? The journalism setting, of course, as well as a conspiracy/thriller plot that features spies, censorship and government.
Highball-o-Meter: Three highballs. Sure, it's not particularly deep and has some pacing issues, but it's a generally watchable, well-acted effort.

'PAN AM'
Premieres Sept. 25 at 10PM ET on ABC
The Year/The Setting: 1963, among the pilots and stewardesses of Pan Am
The Handsome Man at the Center of It All: A pilot named Dean (he was played by Jonah Lotan, whom I'd never heard of, in the show's original pilot, but he's been replaced by Mike Vogel, another actor I've never heard of).
Pan AmThe Ambitious Young Woman: Maggie (Christina Ricci), "a rebellious bohemian [who] turns into a buttoned up professional for work in order to see the world, trying to balance her hunger for life with her undefined ambition," according to ABC's press site. The Other Women: Bridget (Annabelle Wallis), Colette (Karine Vanasse), Kate (Kelli Garner) and Laura (Margot Robbie), other flight attendants with various secrets.
The General Vibe: A shiny, hopeful version of the mid-'60s.
Liquor Consumption Level: Pretty tame.
What Does It Have That 'Mad Men' Doesn't: The airline setting, of course, as well as an espionage plot centered on the Cold War.
Highball-o-Meter: Two highballs. It's not nearly as complex or compelling as 'Mad Men,' but as broadcast network pilots go, it's all right and Ricci's very good (not surprisingly).

'THE PLAYBOY CLUB'
Premieres Sept. 19 at 10PM on NBC
The Handsome Man at the Center of It All: Nick Dalton (Eddie Cibrian), a Chicago attorney.
The Playboy ClubThe Ambitious Young Woman: Playboy Bunny Maureen (Amber Heard).
The Resentful Other Woman: Carol-Lynne (Laura Benanti), an established Bunny at the Chicago club.
The General Vibe: A shiny, uncomplicated version of what life was probably really like at the Playboy Club.
Liquor Consumption Level: Average at best.
What Does It Have That 'Mad Men' Doesn't: A murder mystery plot that feels as though it was borrowed from an episode of 'Perry Mason.'
Highball-o-Meter: Half a highball. I'm not buying NBC's "it's about female empowerment!" spin campaign and the murder mystery awkwardly crammed in the plot is painful. Gloria Steinem (who famously wrote about working undercover at a Playboy Club back in the day) has called for a boycott, and we can't exactly see a reason to disagree.

Are you excited for these throwback shows?

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David Humphrey

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