A Smoky, Sexy Take on TV News
BBC America's The Hour premieres tonight
By Kimberley Jones,
3:49PM, Wed. Aug. 17, 2011
Despite early comparisons in the press between the two, the British miniseries The Hour, which premieres tonight on BBC America, isn't going to satisfy your hunger for Mad Men. But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to recommend it.
Sure, the two shows share a vaguely similar mid-century aesthetic – think nattily dressed men clutching a cigarette in one hand and a highball glass in the other. (Well, and iced tea and toxic rain are both wet, but that doesn't exactly make them two peas in a pod.) Actually, they share another, more tangential quality: They're both about professionals who've made a career out of appealing to – and manipulating – an audience.
The Hour is set in 1956, as a group of radio journalists makes the rocky transition into the new medium of televised news programming. Romola Garai (a hard-working actress whose never quite lucked into a breakout role) stars as the producer of a new hourlong current events program. She's one leg in a slow-simmering love triangle with Freddy Lyon (Brideshead Revisited's Ben Whishaw), her volatile but brilliant reporter – a sort-of wisecracking anti-Man Friday – and Hector Madden (Dominic West, aka McNulty on The Wire) as the pretty face delivering the news, with maybe not quite the brainpower to back it up. Their show premieres right around the time of the Suez Canal crisis, and that developing story appears to have something to do with the murder of a uni professor and the subsequent suicide of a high-society deb. Ooh, and there's Burn Gorman (Torchwood's Owen Harper) skulking around, looking creepy.
Created by Abi Morgan (who also wrote the script for the upcoming Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady), The Hour nicely nestles into the same sweet spot of so many UK miniseries exports, combining compelling human drama with a sustained thriller. And the three leads are swell, with a delectably kinky kind of charisma emerging in each leg of the triangle. The first episode's a bit of a slow starter, but keep watching: By the time I reached the end of the third episode – which was all that BBC America sent in advance – I howled out loud when I realized there were still three more episodes to go.
The Hour premieres tonight (Wednesday) on BBC America at 9pm. Don't have cable? The first episode is downloading for free right now on iTunes.