Have you been keeping up with the most important news broadcast of the 50s? Nick certainly has.
Over the last few weeks, BBC Two has been ticking through the second series of The Hour, a show that combines Mad Men and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip into something uniquely British. Dominic West, Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw (now also Q in Skyfall) are the main reporters, with The Thick Of It’s Peter Capaldi joining them this year as new bigwig Randall Brown.
So, four weeks in, all plots full speed ahead, how is the latest Hour squaring up to the lovely original? Digital Fix correspondent Nick Bryan has this report. Be sure to watch the latest episode on iPlayer before reading it.
A Cerebral Orgy Of Good Acting
The debut series of The Hour had definite potential, but confused itself immensely by trying to be Mad Men, Spooks and Studio 60 all at once, unable to decide on a tone. The acting talent on display, both the already-named lead cast and support from Anna Chancellor and Julian Rhind-Tutt, was far too good for this show to be terrible, but it was also thrashing in a lot of directions, trying to be all things to all of us. By the end of the year, things had settled down, and the ending of the run was great, downright affecting in fact.
And that’s where we pick up this year: tried-and-tested second year territory of ideologically sound main character (Ben Whishaw’s Freddie Lyon) sent away, and the rest of the cast floundering without him. Until, thank the deity, Lyon returns, armed with a beard and sudden French wife, to set things right. The most impressive part about the early episodes is that they successfully create the illusion of something being missing, yet still make the narrative functional without it. Watching Bel and Hector try to muddle on with Freddie is still compelling, even as they cock it up.
And things are only slightly righted when Freddie does turn up again. One smart move this year is the back-burnering of the love triangle between the three leads. It’s still there, and up-to-date viewers will know that it’s just starting to rear its ugly head again, but letting it simmer at the very back of the story for half a series was a wise choice. It’s all too easy for these things to become annoying, but not only has The Hour beaten it back, they’ve damn near removed Hector from this cerebral fifties orgy entirely. A rare, cunning show of flexibility.
Message Of The Hour: “Don’t Hate Minorities, Don’t Put The Kettle On”
The new plot of the year involves club owner and all-round villain Mr Cilenti using his influence to mess with international diplomacy, Freddie and Bel trying to attack him using The Hour and Hector umming and erring around it, due to his own patronage of Cilenti’s club. Oh, and Hector gets arrested in episode two for not assaulting a girl – Kiki DeLane – who turns out to be at the centre of everything mentioned above. It’s complicated, in short, even more so than series one; this is an uberplot that rewards attention and viciously punishes anyone who wanders off to put the kettle on.
This can make it hard work to watch – even more so than subtitled shows like The Killing – but you feel you’ve absorbed something meaningful. Having said that, it seems determine to hit the obvious “Weren’t they uninformed in the fifties?” plots; we’ve had racism and homophobia repeatedly already in the four episodes aired. Fair enough, obviously these are meaningful issues, but it’d be nice to feel The Hour had something to say about its era beyond “Weren’t they unenlightened?” and “Look at all the crime!”. Then again, I suspect they’re more interested in making statements about their characters than the era, really.
Nonetheless, it has been a suspenseful, consistent build, the actors are really excellent, and the most recent episode really made me feel like everything was coming to a boil and it was time to duck and cover. Very excited for the remaining episodes, which seem to be airing on consecutive nights next week. Hopefully this rushing out of material doesn’t mean The Hour is doing badly, I wouldn’t mind seeing a third year. Still, there will be a review here either way, so let us know if you’re enjoying it.
Wish they’d stop jamming “Next Time…” trailers onto the end though, this type of show doesn’t suit them at all.
The Hour airs Wednesdays 9PM on BBC Two, although that changes next week. More info on the BBC official site, catch up with recent episodes on BBC iPlayer.
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