'Mad Men': 8 things you should know about season three

Januaryjones_jonhamm_madmens3_290 "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner doesn't like spoilers, and we're with him on that. You won't find anything in the upcoming post that reveals major plot points about Sunday's third-season premiere.

On the other hand, we don't want you to go into the season premiere unarmed. So here are eight things that you ought to know about the upcoming season, based on my viewing of Sunday's premiere and interviews with Weiner and series star Jon Hamm at the TV critics press tour in late July.

(And yes, there are some minor spoilers below. If you want to go in absolutely clean, click away now, but I believe what's presented below is either a logical progression from last season or something Weiner and Co. have already let go in other interviews.)

Cool? Cool. Let's get to it:

It starts fast, at least by "Mad Men" standards. Last season started with a moody, subtext-heavy episode that answered none of the big questions posed by the season one finale's ending and the subsequent leap 15 months into the future. Sunday's episode doesn't exactly announce itself with trumpets, but it has a somewhat quicker pace and does a very efficient job at resetting the scene. And speaking of time jumps:

We're in the future. Weiner has asked that we not reveal how much time has passed for the characters, so I'm not going to. There are enough clues early in the episode to give a fairly good sense of where we are, though.

Change is in the air. Both Weiner and Hamm say that one of the season's primary themes is change. We know that the Kennedy assassination, major events in the civil rights movement and the Beatles are just around the corner, but Weiner is less interested in those events than he is in smaller things that aren't in history books: "Where you are in life is a big part of it. How history intrudes on that is very minor."

The British have come. As a result of Sterling Cooper's merger with British ad agency PP&L -- which was just about to go through in the season two finale -- there are now a couple of Brits in the New York office. Jared Harris ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") has a prominent role as the agency's new money man (he's not especially popular with the rank and file). Ryan Cartwright (Vincent Nigel-Murray on "Bones") has a smallish but rather amusing part too.

Competition is fierce. The Brits have a different way of doing things, and it ruffles some feathers in the office. To say more wouldn't be fair, but you'll know it when you see it.

Don is still Don. At press tour, someone asked Hamm whether Don's season two trip to California had changed him. Hamm thinks the trip "hit him a little harder than he thought, and he realized he had to take advantage of now and realized what he has right now, what's important to his life right now." So does that mean Don will be a faithful husband? Hamm paused, then said with a smile, "Well, people change and people stay the same."

The details are right. Weiner got very excited discussing the detailing in the flight attendants' uniforms seen in the season premiere (Don and Salvatore (Bryan Batt) take a business trip). When a show is that invested in getting its costuming details right, it's generally an indication that it's concerned with doing well by its characters, story -- and viewers -- too. Which brings me to the last thing you should know about "Mad Men" season three.

It's still great. Over its first two seasons, "Mad Men" was one of the most engrossing dramas on television, and also one of the most consistent. I'm hard-pressed to think of even a few weak subplots, let alone subpar episodes. The first hour of season three lives up to the high standards the show has set.

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