Friday, April 18, 2014

The Hour

            I never heard of this little show until I stumbled onto it while browsing through one of the DVD shops in Cambodia.  But then, after so many years abroad, there’s a lot of stuff I never hear about.  So you guys tell me—how famous is this TV show back in America?  Should I have heard of it?
            If you haven’t heard of the show, it’s an interesting concept.  It’s a British TV show about a fictional news broadcast show in Britain back in 1956.  Essentially, it’s Mad Men meets The Newsroom. With a premise like that, it certainly got my interest.  A version of the Newsroom which, instead of just recycling last year’s news, appeals directly to us history geeks? Plus all the fun of a good period piece?  Yes please!  Plus, it’s British, which appeals to the Anglophile in me.  Plus, it takes place against the backdrop of the Suez Canal Crisis, which is one of my pet historical interests.  Why have I never heard of this show before?
            It might be unfair to compare every mid-20th century period drama to Mad Men, but, let’s face it, it’s also inevitable.  And, at least on the surface, there’s a lot of similarities.  Although some anachronisms do slip in (W), there is, as with Mad Men enough attention to detail in costumes, sets and designs to create a feeling of period authenticity.
            And, as with Mad Men, the show often seems to be sending the message: In the olden times, people sure drank and smoked a lot.  But back then it was sophisticated, because they drank in their business suits and ties, and everyone was suave and good-looking.  Also, it was before the behavior became stigmatized, so you could be a respectable businessman and still get sloshed every afternoon. (Plus, the characters in The Hour are all English, which makes it even more sophisticated when they swill cocktails, talking in their crisp English accents.)

            By itself, the idea of Mad Men meets The Newsroom would have been sufficient for an interesting show.  But the funny thing about The Hour is that, after watching it for 20 minutes, it becomes apparent very quickly that the writers weren’t satisfied with their initial premise. And so all of a sudden we have a serious drama about television news in the 1950s, occurring right alongside of the second plot, a ridiculously over-the-top cloak and dagger spy story.

            And then more and more genres just keep getting thrown into the mix.  Plot lines that are ripped right out of daytime soap operas (the search for the long-lost daughter) get dropped right into the middle of the show.  Or all the characters head out to Hector’s aristocratic family’s country estate for an episode, and all of a sudden the show turns into Downton Abbey.
            As all of these different shows get thrown into the blender together (Mad Men + The Newsroom + James Bond + Downton Abbey + daytime soap opera), the question one has to ask when evaluating this show is: Is less more or is more more?

            I’m undecided.  To be honest, it actually can be kind of fun watching all these things in the blender together.  And the show does kind of act like “one-stop-shopping” for all your entertainment needs.  At least, that is, for season 1.
            (Season 1 was balanced just about right, with the serious historical stuff being given equal time to the more trashy parts of the show.  Season 2, however, got the balance wrong, and let the soap-opera-y parts of the show take over.)

            On the other hand, the constant need to keep adding disparate elements to the show does indicate the writers didn’t have enough faith in their initial concept.  And they should have had more faith.  It could have been a very interesting show just by focusing on the television news aspect alone.

            A friend of mine once observed about Newsroom that the tragedy of the show was that the premise was really promising.  It could have been a very interesting show dramatizing how the news actually gets made in real situations.  Of course Newsroom was still highly watchable for all its faults, but you lament the show that could have been.
            One feels the same way about The Hour.  It’s still watchable but you can’t help but lament for the show that could have been—the show that was right under the writers’ noses—a drama about what broadcast news was like in 1950s Britain, back when television was still in its infancy, back when people were still trying to figure out what this new medium was capable of, and back when the British Empire was crumbling all around them. 
            Although this is nominally the premise of the show, there are only small hints of it in the first season, and by the second season it is abandoned altogether.

            The Hour was cancelled after 2 seasons.  And because this is a British show, the seasons are shorter than American television—only 6 episodes each.  So the whole thing was only 12 episodes long.

            This show might be a good example of Whisky Prajer’s Kill Them Young dictum [LINK HERE].  Two short seasons allow all the faults of this show to be forgiven.  Any more seasons, and I expect it would have worn out its welcome.

Link of the Day 

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