THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Mad Men seems to have started a mini-trend of television shows set during the late 1950s and early 1960s, where characters wear cool period clothing, smoke a lot of cigarettes, and do a great deal of fooling around. The BBC drama The Hour, now on DVD and Blu-Ray, seems to owe a debt to Mad Men on the surface, given that it incorporates all those same elements. However, in my opinion, this is a much better show. (I've always felt Mad Men was overrated. Please quell your outrage.) After a somewhat sluggish first hour, this six-episode series picks up considerably, eventually turning into a first-rate meditation on the role of the news media.
The show tracks the origins of an investigative news program called “The Hour.” Producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) has been put in charge of getting the show on the air. Her best friend, tenacious journalist Freddie Lyon (Ben Whitshaw), wants to host, but is deemed not air-friendly enough. Instead, the job goes to the slick, handsome Hector Madden (played by The Wire's Dominic West). As soon as the show begins to air, it finds two major stories. One involves the battle for Egypt. The other involves a childhood friend of Freddie's – a socialite who dies under strange circumstances. Although he's supposed to be concentrating on “The Hour,” Freddie spends a lot of time trying to figure out why she died, only to uncover a conspiracy that involves MI-6.
As the series goes along, the plot thickens in interesting ways. “The Hour” has to find ways of maintaining a balanced viewpoint on the Egypt situation, while also navigating around a law stating that matters of Parliament cannot be discussed on broadcast television for two weeks. (That obviously creates some real problems for a timely news program.) Freddie, meanwhile, discovers some disturbing truths about his old friend that potentially put him in real danger. Even the obligatory Bel/Hector/Freddie love triangle plays out in fresh ways.
The Hour has very adept plotting that increasingly draws you in. It is the rare show where each episode is more enticing than the one before it. I especially like how it addresses ethical and legal questions related to what news shows can/should do. The series brings up some captivating ideas on that front, especially when a government weasel tries to influence what the show airs.
Superbly acted by a great ensemble cast, The Hour succeeds as both workplace drama and as personal drama. It is a show you admittedly need to settle into, but once you give it the chance, it rewards your patience. The Blu-Ray comes with a couple of bonus features. “Creating The Hour” looks at how the period setting was established through set design. “Behind the Scenes of The Hour” is, obviously, a look at the making of the show. All told, this is a strong Blu-Ray release that fans of quality drama will want to seek out.
( 1/2 out of four)
Own it on Blu-Ray Sept. 27