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'Mad Men' Pushes Decency Boundaries

Alessandra Stanley's New York Times review of the “Mad Men” season premiere carried the headline, “'Mad Men' Strains to Stay as Button-Down as Ever.”

A reader and viewer of “Mad Men” has to wonder, did she watch the same episode that aired Sunday night?

Audiences saw lead character Don Draper's latest conquest drop her shirt and barely cover her chest before pouncing on him, saw a bellhop slide his hand down the boxer shorts of closeted character Salvatore Romano, and heard a prostitute crudely threaten a john's manhood.

If this is “straining to stay buttoned down,” what would “completely unleashed” look like?

Sex between men and women and even vulgar language aren't anything new on television, least of all “Mad Men,” but MSNBC's Joe Scarborough thinks the gay sex scene “crossed a cultural threshold.”

Scarborough noted during the Aug. 17 edition of “Morning Joe,” that the episode “had the most graphic gay scene I think I've ever seen on TV, really. You always talk about it, the door is closed, but it's never there.”

Later, Scarborough backed away from stating whether “Mad Men's” depiction was good or bad, culturally speaking. “You know dude, it's whatever gets you through the night. It's all right. All I'm saying, it is, in our culture today in 2009, it is still really shocking, even to a lot of people that are very progressive. They don't want to see men kissing.”

And the show's producers could be out to deliberately change that.

Brian Batt, the gay actor who plays Sal, told CNN last fall that television “viewers are more accepting of gay characters.” He continued, “There is, I think , a little bit of homophobia. I do believe that through education and seeing good honest, positive gay role models, it will just educate. I think we are producing generations now of youth that do not judge people; they don't judge people on their race or their religion or their sexuality.”

The Parents Television Council noted that the episode, aired on AMC at 10:00 at night, carried a TV-14 rating, which means the corporation believed it was appropriate for 14-year-olds.

 “It's unconscionable that AMC would rate programming like this as being appropriate for 14-year-old children,” said PTC president Tim Winter in a statement. “The graphic sexual content on this episode demands a TV-MA rating, yet broadcasters and cable networks like AMC fear that such a rating would make the program unattractive or untenable.”

Michael Jensen, a blogger for the gay Web site, praised the show for the scene. “Even though Sal didn't consummate the act, the show really didn't shy away from what was going on. Along with a number of passionate kisses, at one point we see the bellhop slip his hand inside Sal's boxers. I doubt we'll see that on network television anytime soon,” he wrote.

Over at Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker opined that Sal's sexuality will play a big role in “Mad Men's” third season. “But for Sal's repressed sexuality,” he noted, “something we've known about since the first 'Mad Men' season, to be brought to the fore on premiere night suggests how important this element is to series creator Matthew Weiner.”