Mad Men

In this undated image released by AMC, the cast of "Mad Men," from left, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jared Harris, Vincent Kartheiser, Jon Hamm, Robert Morse and Elisabeth Moss are shown. The fifth season the stylized AMC drama about the men and women who work in Madison Avenue advertising in the 1960s, premieres March 25, 2012 at 9 p.m. EST on AMC. (AP Photo/AMC, Frank Ockenfels)

Frank Ockenfels

Consider it “Mad Men” lite — or as lightweight as a show like this can get.

But then, “you can’t get much darker than season four,” star Jon Hamm pointed out recently.

So “Mad Men” starts season five in a different direction.

After a year and a half away, “Mad Men” returns (with a two-hour episode beginning at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday, AMC) with a slightly lighter tone.

Don’t wander into this season thinking “Mad Men” will be a laugh riot. The show has always had a weird dark sense of the absurd. (Remember when the secretary dropped dead at her desk in season four?) But this season, the comedy is brighter and more inclusive.

This is a creative risk. The ’60s-set “Mad Men” works best in its darker hours, whether it’s about stolen identities, double lives, secret pregnancies or odd love affairs.

Even the usually somber Don Draper (Hamm) lets loose with a quip when he drops off his kids at the home of his ex-wife and her new husband. “Give Morticia and Lurch my love,” he tells the kids as they hop out of the car, which is sans seat belts, of course.

While the civil-rights movement is making itself known, the unhappy — and oblivious — campers at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency in New York are more concerned with who has the bigger office or making jokes about women and people of color.

Draper and his former secretary, Megan (Jessica Pare), are together. She’s still working at the agency but at the lowest rung of the creative ladder. She’s all about the orange-sherbet mini-dresses while he continues with the gray and black suits and skinny ties.

Meanwhile, Joan (Christina Hendricks) is struggling as the mother of a newborn. Her visiting mom is driving her up the wall with her traditionalist views that a woman needs to stay at home. Joan, however, is yearning to return to the office.

Other highlights for the week of March 25-31 (listings subject to change; check local listings):


“The Good Wife” (9 p.m., CBS). Matthew Perry (“Friends”) plays the chairman of a panel investigating a police shooting, and his motives have Alicia (Julianna Margulies) suspicious.

“Shameless” (9 p.m., Showtime). Thanksgiving has its hurdles as Frank (William H. Macy) tries to shake Monica (Chloe Webb) out of her depression.

“Leave It To Niecy” (10 p.m., TLC). Comedian Niecy Nash ventures into reality TV in this look at her new marriage and reluctant brood.


“Dancing with the Stars: The Results Show” (9 p.m., ABC). Who’ll be voted off first?

“Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan” (10 p.m., G4). A second season begins for this reality series about the work of an elite Navy platoon.

“16 and Pregnant” (10 p.m., MTV). A new season is birthed with a new set of teen girls facing pregnancies and the unexpected responsibilities of motherhood.

“Best Ink” (10 p.m., Oxygen). Ten highly skilled tattooists compete in this new contest.


“Family Feud” (7 p.m., GSN). Steve Harvey hosts this version of the family-vs.-family game show.


“The Pauly D Project” (10:30 p.m., MTV). Pauly spins off from “The Jersey Shore.”

“Mary Mary” (10 p.m., WE). A Grammy-winning gospel duo’s life is chronicled in this new reality series.


“Kids’ Choice Awards 2012” (8 p.m., Nickelodeon). The 25th annual ceremony has more slime, with Will Smith overseeing the hilarity.

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