The Hour, Series 1

It pleases me greatly to write “Series 1” above. Because that means there will be a Series 2. It’s true. Wikipedia said so.

The Hour was even better than I expected it to be. The perfect amount of television, a very British 6-episodes-of-55-minutes-ish season, beautiful costumes, intriguing drama, tangled love, mysterious murder, meticulous sets, clean dialogue, witty banter… practically perfect in every way, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s probably easiest to describe this show as the British version of Mad Men, though that’s selling it very short. The Hour has a similar grainy, smoky feel to it, to be sure, as well as incredibly posh style and admirable attention to period detail. But watching The Hour made me realize how short Mad Men falls very often. First of all, despite its “abbreviated” season–by American standards, 13 episodes is short and sweet–Mad Men is a very slow show. Nothing really happens until the season finale. The Hour, on the other hand, moves at just the right pace throughout its six episodes. Each is action-packed without feeling rushed, a balance that’s rare and difficult to strike. And while Mad Men flourishes in ambiguity and silence, it sometimes drowns in it, too. Characters reflect and ponder and dwell too much on that show, leaving viewers frustrated and hanging in the Sterling Cooper balance. Maybe it’s because they’re all in advertising, so they speak in code. All I know is that I prefer the direct, puzzle-free speech of the journalist characters on The Hour. They say what they feel, they solve problems actively, and they vocalize conflicts. I think it makes for much more exciting television.

And furthermore, the characters all seem like more complex, more deeply layered hybrids of Mad Men‘s cast of selfish pricks. That may be an unfair comparison, too, but it’s one worth mentioning. Series creator Abi Morgan has done something truly special with these characters–they’re real and rich and confused, but they’re very easy to root for because of all of those things. They’re good people and even better at their jobs, which isn’t often portrayed consistently on television. Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) has Joan’s sexual confidence and Peggy’s sexless ambition, except over the course of the six episodes, we learn more about her personal moral struggles than we did for Joan or Peggy during the first two seasons of Mad Men. Plus, Garai plays Bel so likably and sympathetically; I wish Bel, the producer of the news program The Hour, were a real person so I could feel less awkward about idolizing her. Onto Hector Madden, played by the perpetually sexy Dominic West. He’s got the womanizing streak of Don Draper crossed with the entitled confidence of Roger Sterling, minus all the crippling, annoying health problems those two bring on themselves. Hector is the anchor of The Hour, sometimes aloof as a journalist but always confident as a leading man. West is so subtle and fragile in this role; Hector is torn between his new, rebellious life with this bunch of misfit journalists (and his affair with Bel), and his old, establishment life with his cookie-cutter wife Marnie (Ooma Castilla Chaplin, whose British accent was noticeably fake. Called it.), and West plays it gracefully. And then there’s Freddy Lyon. I didn’t think I could like anyone more than Dominic West, but Ben Whishaw pretty much steals the show with his performance. Freddy, the brilliant, scrappy journalist who’s not yet anchor material, is who basically ties everything together. He’s got Don’s talent and Pete’s blind ambition, but he’s so much more than either of them because he has passion. Between a long-standing friendship with and unrequited love for Bel, a rapidly-moving reporter’s mind, and an unfortunate, not-so-accidental involvement in a murder that eventually connects directly to the Suez canal story that The Hour works on throughout the series, he is crucial to every aspect of the show.

Obviously, The Hour was directly influenced by Mad Men, as were a bunch of other crappy shows that have aired with about the ’50s and ’60s since Mad Men premiered in 2007. But The Hour is different because it’s actually good, and because it might be better than its inspiration. It’s not often that a show can combine so many disparate, standard elements of a television drama–history, murder, romance, workplace, social hierarchy, the list goes on–and pull off even half of them well. The Hour does it all flawlessly. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take nearly as long a hiatus as its New York counterpart.