It was an easy, efficient bit of shorthand calling the UK drama The Hour “an English Mad Men” when the 50s-era series set behind the scenes of a fictional BBC news program premiered on ABC1 back in 2011.
The trappings of the period, the old-style gender stereotypes and sexual politics, the deft combination of nostalgia and hindsight – the Brits proved pretty skilled at framing all of these in an involving set of storylines spanning six episodes.
It also helped that stars such as Dominic West and Romola Garai gave the likes of Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks a run for their money when it came to looking sharp while smartly, sensitively exposing the flaws and virtues of their characters.
Despite these surface similarities, however, The Hour certainly had its own identity. And it continues to carve out its own niche as a compelling piece of work as it returns to ABC1 for a second season.
One year has passed since the events of the first season of the show, which concluded with conspiracies uncovered and journalistic integrity emerging triumphant, even though Garai’s principled producer Bel Rowley and Ben Whishaw’s firebrand reporter Freddie Lyon lost their jobs in the process.
Bel is back overseeing The Hour as these new episodes kick off but her news program is facing some trouble.
Sure, its presenter Hector Madden (West, in a role ideally suited to his talents) is a bit of a star – and he’s certainly taking advantage of his celebrity status, enjoying the nightlife perhaps a little too much – but the show itself has lost some of its edge, something new head honcho Randall Brown (Peter Capaldi, less colourful than in The Thick of It but just as intimidating) wants to remedy.
The return of Freddie from the US just might do the trick – he comes back from his international sojourn well-read, well-dressed (with a very natty beard) and noticeably more self-assured thanks to a stint as a political journalist in New York City.
And before too long he’s upsetting the apple cart by publicly claiming the powers that be are ignoring the rising crime rate in certain areas of London – areas that the increasingly night-owlish Hector can frequently be found, sometimes in the company of shady individuals.
Add to this a rival network’s bid to snatch both the news program’s audience and presenter, not to mention a handful of other intriguing plot developments, and The Hour is once again set to ensnare its audience in a web that’s gripping from beginning to end.
As ever, The Hour’s scripting is tight and sophisticated, thanks to top-shelf writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady), and its performances are excellent.
Skyfall scene-stealer Whishaw is perfectly cast as the sharp, nervy Freddie, and West subtly displays some interesting shades of Hector’s multi-faceted character. For mine, though, the lovely, whip-smart Garai remains the heart and soul of The Hour.
A stroll down memory lane in some ways, a terrific parallel of modern ways in others, The Hour continues to impress in its second season. Keep it coming, I say.
- Season Two of The Hour premieres on ABC1 on Wednesday, January 3 at 9pm.