Still Sexy, Stylish, and Smart: “The Hour” returns to BBC America

The Hour banner season 2

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Last fall we raved about BBC’s 1950s workplace drama, The Hour, about a fledgling news program of the same name.  At long last, Season Two is finally here, and it’s shaping up to be just as smart, stylish, and sexy as the first season.

Plunging viewers directly into the action, Episode 1 (of a presumed 6) picks up nine months from the end of Season One, finding producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai, Emma, Amazing Grace) struggling to keep her now-established evening news programme fresh and relevant, in the face of a star presenter enjoying his newfound celebrity a little too much (Dominic West, The Wire, 300); a missing “right-hand man” (Ben Whishaw, Skyfall); the machinations of a new boss (Peter Capaldi, Torchwood, Sea of Souls); and competition from a newer, “bitier” rival news show.  Series newcomer Capaldi is a lively addition as new head of the news department Randall Brown–a man with a plan and a past, clearly intending to keep all The Hour’s staff on their toes.

The Hour new cast member

Last season The Hour excelled at integrating intelligent historical fiction with intense personal drama, and this season looks to continue that balance.  As revealed by stars West and Garai in interviews, the overarching plotline for Season Two will follow a sexual assault accusation leveled against anchor Madden, interwoven with the increase in violent organized crime in London and the rise of the United Kingdom as a nuclear power.  Whishaw continues to turn in an intense and energetic performance as ambitious journalist Freddy Lyon, and we look forward to seeing the continued development of his working relationship with now co-anchor Madden (unless, as is hinted, rival show Uncovered succeeds in poaching the star presenter).

The Hour Lix and Randall

One of the most impressive features of The Hour has been its strong cast of powerful women, and this season two of our favorites look to get larger roles.  Oona Chaplin has played Hector’s long-suffering wife Marnie with breathtaking class and poise, and the pilot hinted that her forbearance may at last be wearing thin–unless she and Hector can succeed in starting a family (which may be difficult if Hector never comes home to bed).  And hotshot foreign affairs correspondent Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor, MI-5, Pride and Prejudice 1995) has been given an intriguing past with new boss Randall Brown; she was such fun to watch last season, even in one of the smaller roles in the show, that this expansion of her character’s storyline is a welcome addition and we’re looking forward to seeing that play out.

The Hour co-anchor this round

It may be too soon to decide if there are faults to be found–although with only five episodes left in the season, perhaps not.  But I am hoping there are more interesting plans afoot for producer Bel Rowley, whose Episode 1 storyline centered primarily on her disappointing personal life and inability to maintain control of her newsroom. Lix Storm described her as “a genius producer,” which is how we’d like to see her. Too much of Season One was given over to her affair with Madden; if they’ve moved past that, let’s move past it entirely and perhaps focus a little more on Rowley’s professional strengths.

Previews hint at greater mystery to come, although Episode 1 didn’t quite get off to as swift a start in that direction as Season 1.  All in all, however, we are delighted by the long-awaited return of one of the smartest dramas on TV–on either side of the pond.

The Hour airs at 8 Central/9 Eastern on Wednesdays on BBC America.

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