The Hour

I should be a sucker for The Hour. I'm not.

The Hour
Not much substance

To a journalist, Mad-Men-fan and anglophile like myself, you’d think a TV series about British news magazines in the mid- ’50s would be like a corned-beef, whiskey and heroin stew — thick, textured, addictive and satisfyingly British.

It certainly has a strong aroma of the period and the us-versus-them flavor that the fourth estate likes to lord over, well, everyone. But especially in the UK at that time, where journalists of the government-owned BBC are constantly told to toe the line — mind the queen, lay off the parliament and whatnot. As for addictive, though? Satisfying? Eh.

It’s 1956 and British broadcasting is still neck-deep in the journalistic trenches. Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) toils making propagandistic newsreels of debutante balls. He and friend Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), though, have aspirations toward making a programme that does hard news. But narrow-minded executives and a broad government conspiracy threaten that vision.

Lyon and Rowley share some sexual chemistry here, but not much and, when Lyon is passed over for the producer spot, it’s not a moment to explore the roles of women in ’50s Britain so much as it’s an excuse for Lyon to pout before stepping up to be a model 2011 progressive white male.

That’s the biggest problem. The Hour looks period, but it’s riddled with anachronisms of both mindset and deed. The leads refer to each other as James (for Bond) and Moneypenny, the script ignoring the fact that Bond’s famous unrequited romance was a product of the films, not the books. (The films began in 1962.)

Inaccuracy would be excusable if the show were a romp or full of suspense or managed to ask big questions. The dialogue isn’t salted with the repartee one would hope for from a top-flight British period piece, and the intrigue isn’t piquant enough by half.

It’s all a bit wet, the six-part series seemingly diluted to suit propriety and so as to not offend middle-brow palates. The Hour, in short, does, in dramatizing television journalism, everything it accuses the British government of doing to real television journalism.

There are good ideas here, but no roux to thicken it all. After sitting through four of six episodes, this reporter feels what he’s been fed was limpid, watery and something of a bore.

(Wednesdays, 10 pm, BBC America)


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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.