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The Hour

by on September 28, 2011
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In the opening scene of “The Player,” the camera peeks in to hear a number of asinine Hollywood pitches that combine popular films as if they were a formula for instant success. The strength of the new BBC drama “The Hour” isn’t the combination itself, but what it chooses to combine.

The easy recipe analysis is that “The Hour” is “Broadcast News” meets “Three Days of the Condor” meets “Mad Men.” Since it is a show set in late 1950s, the “Mad Men” comparisons popped up immediately, but the other two were a nice surprise. In six episodes, it tells a tight, intricate story that is always suspenseful and fun.

Ben Whishaw (“Bright Star”) is the Albert Brooks of the love triangle. He’s a brilliant journalist whose eccentric behavior often angers his superiors. His only ally is the beautiful Bel Rowley . The gender politics in England aren’t as dramatic as in America, where “Mad Men’s” Peggy Olsen shouldn’t even think about leaving her secretary desk. Romola Garai’s Bel has an uphill fight, but she is still able to secure a producer’s position of a new BBC news show.

The face of that show is Hector Madden, played by Dominic West, the star of “The Wire,” in his natural accent! Hector is not as witty as Whishaw’s Freddie, but he does has a natural charisma and class that makes him an ideal lead and love interest.

The inner workings of a British news program are fascinating by themselves, but the show added one more prominent plotline. They need the ultimate story to cover while the world is shifting during the Cold War. Most of the spy storyline is a bit familiar — crossword clues, conspiracies, code words — but it’s so much fun! The fight scenes are intense, and the entire supporting cast knows how to play the creepiness without being hammy. In particular, Julian Rhind-Tutt (“Green Wing”), Anton Lesser, Andrew Scott (“Sherlock”) and Burn Gorman (“Torchwood”) create one of the finest supporting casts on any TV show.

Most viewers of “The Hour” have complained about the unnecessary element of the spies, but it’s hard to complain about it when it’s done so well. One of the reasons why I favor the British format is that there isn’t a weak episode in the set. Every hour is a blast with how quickly the story is moving forward while allowing for some of the greatest character interactions this side of, well, “Mad Men.” Then, in its final episode, all of it pays off in a way that validates all of the characters. You can’t keep having characters say they are good at their job unless the audience is allowed to judge for itself.

These guys are great at their job.

I raced through these episodes and I can’t wait for a second series, which was recently commissioned. “The Hour” takes you back to a time when you want everyone to wear nice hats, be informed about the politics of the day and talk with the fastest dialogue imaginable. This is now on the long list of incredible BBC dramas that are the easiest shows to recommend to anyone who loves television.

The extras are unfortunately slim — only a featurette about making the design of the period and the typical behind-the-scenes bit.

Series: 4.5 Yaps
3 Yaps