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'The Hour': Five Reasons To Catch Up With The BBC Drama

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BBC America premiered the handsome retro drama "The Hour" in August 2011, but you may not have noticed.

It's hard for programs that debut in the dog days of summer to get traction in the media, and when "The Hour" arrived, a lot of TV writers had just dragged themselves from San Diego Comic-Con to the Television Critics Association press tour, a brain-consuming beast that lasts for weeks. I must confess I was one of those people who never got around to writing about the British import, though Ryan McGee and I did devote a Talking TV podcast to the show.

In any event, if you missed this worthy drama the first time around, the good news is that BBC America is re-running "The Hour" in its entirety starting 9 p.m. E.T. Wednesday.

Why should you watch it? Thanks for asking, I happen to have some reasons prepared!

  1. It's a smart, well-acted and well-crafted slice of British drama. The show tells the story of a BBC news program that breaks all the rules of the conservative '50s. The fictional show-within-the-show doesn't merely parrot government-approved spin and promote stories about mundane society news, and its abrasive lead reporter, Freddie Lyons (Ben Whishaw) doesn't care about assuaging the egos of those above him in the rigid post-war class structure. When the broadcast strays too close to big secrets and lies, "The Hour" makes powerful people in the government very uncomfortable, and the consequences for everyone connected to "The Hour" could be severe. There's a subplot about espionage that isn't integrated particularly well into the overall story, but generally speaking, "The Hour" is one of those nicely calibrated UK dramas that has an alluring atmosphere and is bursting at the seams with great character actors.
  2. It has McNulty talking posh and wearing a suit. Dominic West, who played hard-living Baltimore cop Jimmy McNulty on "The Wire," employs his real accent here to play married, upper-crust news anchor Hector Madden, whose roving eye has landed on his ambitious young producer, Bel Rowley (Romola Garai). Creator Abi Morgan has said that the similarities to "Broadcast News" are entirely intentional, and the chemistry between West and Garai -- both of whom are very skilled at playing both restraint and occasional abandon -- is palpable. (In this interview, West talks about playing Hector.)
  3. You will soon be experiencing "Downton Abbey" withdrawal. "The Hour" features swanky accents, star-crossed lovers, a debutante gone wrong and visits to an aristocrat's country house. Sound familiar? All right, it must be said that "The Hour" doesn't feature a lot of drama among servants, and very few of the characters in the BBC America show have fancy titles. But if it's a well-made British costume drama you want, you can't go wrong with this show, which will be a useful substitute once "Downton Abbey" wraps up its second season on Sun., Feb. 19.
  4. "Mad Men" isn't back yet and you want to see good-looking people drinking excessively. Don't think of "The Hour" as just another would-be "Mad Men" (which was more or less the case with last fall's '60s dramas, "Playboy Club" and "Pan Am"). As I mentioned above, "The Hour" is more a retro "Broadcast News" than a clone of that AMC drama, which returns Mar. 25, but "The Hour" does have a lot of characters who drink, smoke and fool around to their hearts' content. With both shows, the saturated colors, retro fashions and terrific period details are as big a draw as the social commentary.
  5. It's only six hours of your life. One of the selling points of the new horror-mystery "The River" is that it airs for only seven weeks. "The Hour" has that show beat in a couple of regards: It asks for a mere six-week commitment, and it also delivers more consistently on the satisfaction front (though I must warn you that there are no possessed dolls on "The Hour").
More good news: A second season of "The Hour," which adds the wonderful Peter Capaldi as the program's new BBC overlord, has already been commissioned. It will arrive on BBC America later this year. Why not catch up now?