IF you want to feel good about being alive on the planet in 2007, watch the premiere of "Mad Men" on AMC Thursday at 10 p.m. For one thing, "Mad Men" is yet another great original series from a cable station previously not known for such (see also "Army Wives" on Lifetime).
But more important, it is a dark, often sexy, often comedic reminder of how far we've come, at least socially, as a nation. Set in 1960 Manhattan, "Mad Men" follows the exploits of a Madison Avenue ad agency as it, at least in the premiere, attempts to spin the then-recent revelation that linked smoking with cancer into something that will work for client Lucky Strike cigarettes. Or at least that's what the execs are doing when they're not sexually harassing secretaries, making racial and religious slurs, sucking down highballs and generally behaving like the Rat Pack crossed with the cast of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" -- outrageous yet somehow totally cool.
For boomers, the series is a glimpse into the storied past; for anyone younger, it might as well be another world, in which everyone dresses like grown-ups and behaves like wayward children. The birth-control pill has just been made available, the women's movement is but a gleam in Betty Friedan's eye, gays are still "homos," and no one thinks twice about a good Polish joke. "Mad Men" manages to gleam with the forbidden while turning the idea of the staid '50s precisely on its head.