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Published March 24 2012

Swift: ‘Mad Men’ a little like a bad boyfriend

I don’t know if I love you anymore, Don Draper. And I don’t know if your absence has made my heart grow fonder. In fact, it may have grown as icy and restless as your ex-wife, Betty Draper.

That’s right. For years I have loved the critically acclaimed “Mad Men,” the AMC series set in a ’60s ad agency.

I have reveled in the show’s retro-cool look, delighted in the sharp writing and marveled over the complex characters.

I have also winced at all the sexual harassment, the 10 a.m. whiskey-swilling and questionable parenting techniques. (I still remember when Betty chastised Sally for running around with a dry cleaning bag on her head. Betty wasn’t so much worried that Sally might suffocate as she was that her careless daughter had thrown the clean dry cleaning on the floor.)

Now, after 17 interminable months, “Mad Men” is finally back. Its fifth season kicks off at 8 tonight with a two-hour premiere.

Each season of this zesty series has seemed woefully short, so it was doubly disappointing when protracted contract negotiations meant we had to wait a year and a half for the latest one.

So part of me is excited by its return. But part of me is still a little miffed that it’s taken so long.

In a way, “Mad Men” is like that bad boyfriend you might have dated in college.

Sure, he’s charming, good-looking and amusing, and you can’t wait until he shows up. But then he mysteriously disappears for weeks at a time, leaving you to wonder if he’s lying hurt in a ditch somewhere or has simply met a leggy blonde named HBO.

My other concern is that “Mad Men” doesn’t lose its sharp writing and heart.

The show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, has expressed concern that the season’s delay may have turned off even the maddest of “Mad Men” fans.

And some fans have already complained that the show may have strayed too far from its proven formula, what with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce falling apart and Don inexplicably proposing to his secretary.

Let’s just hope the producers don’t get desperate and reach for gimmicks. Don’t pull a “Laverne and Shirley” by relocating Joan and Peggy to a California beach house. Don’t draw on “Days of Our Lives,” and have Betty be possessed by the devil. And don’t give Roger Sterling a wise-cracking, 5-year-old sidekick called Scrappy Sterling.

That would definitely qualify as jumping the shark.

Or maybe, in this context, the sharkskin suit.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com