August 18, 2011
"The Hour" on BBC America
The first episode of a new BBC series "The Hour" was on last night. It's pretty great! Watching something good on TV again was so gratifying that I didn't realize until now how long it's been since I got excited about a new show.
Every single review I've seen for this show has gone out of its way to stress how "The Hour" is nothing like "Mad Men", though both are set in the workplace in an era when people dressed sharply while behaving terribly, and drank whiskey and smoked, both have ambitious, compelling female characters who want more than their chosen industries are comfortable with giving them, and both are located in a mid-century period when the world is about to change forever.
But "The Hour" is about TV news. As far as I'm concerned, News > Ads, so there's pretty much no way I wouldn't be into this show.
But, OK. It's not really like "Mad Men". The mid-50's London setting is a lot darker and dingier than the bright, shiny offices of early-60's Sterling Cooper. The news rooms are small and cramped, and oppressive class distinctions are positioned front and center. Life in post-war London probably didn't feel sleek, modern, and hopeful, it probably felt stifling and hard. Rationing was in place until 1954, and the empire was disappearing.
I love this stuff, so I'm all over this show. The actors in "The Hour" are fantastic--Ben Wishaw as the scrappy, talented journalist with an investigative instinct, Romola Garai as the hot, brassy, but insecure producer (have you see this woman in other stuff? She's phenomenal) and Dominic West as the slick, charming news presenter who seems to get his way a little too easily, and is even better looking than Don Draper.
This triangle is literally exactly the same as the one in Broadcast News, the movie with Albert Brooks as the talented journalist who lacks social graces, Holly Hunter as the fiesty producer, and William Hurt as the style-over-substance ladies' man news presenter. Broadcast News is just about a perfect movie, so I have no problem with lifting the characters straight out of it and plopping them in the early days of BBC TV news.
Let's watch one of the great scenes from Broadcast News that will probably be more or less recreated in some dark, ugly bar or basement news room sometime in the next few weeks:
Even with the food rationing and all those cigarettes, everyone in "The Hour" is a whole lot handsomer than anyone was in Broadcast News. Really, how did we ever see William Hurt as a sex symbol?
The scrappy Albert Brooks-like investigative journalist basically serves as the Don Draper of the show, and watching him speak passionately about news in one great scene where he predicts the next day's headlines (accurately, we later see) is as good as Don Draper's best sentimental pitch.
In later episodes, we'll learn more about the ghoulish Peter Lorre-like figure who keeps murdering prominent people for some shadowy political reason, and watch Dominic West dashingly seduce everything in a skirt.
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