Tag Archive: The Hour


Orphan Black Tatiana Maslany as everyone

Well it’s been one long year, with plenty to do and see, plenty of good and not-so-good to read and watch, and we’re certain we read more and reviewed more content this year than ever before.  And that in no less way was true for TV watching.  At the same time we waded through all that Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre films we thought were worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our 25 picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  Today we reveal the best content focusing on the moving image, and tomorrow we’ll run through our picks for the best in print and other media.  We hope you agree with many of these great creations of the entertainment industries, and wish everyone a great 2014!

Year’s Best Fantasy Fix — The Wizard of Oz in Theaters.  It’s a film that has been viewed on TV so many times you might take it for granted.  It’s historically been on many movie reviewers’ Top 20 movies of all time.  But when you watch The Wizard of Oz on the big screen in the middle of a year of modern blockbusters you realize how it can stand up against anything Hollywood has to offer today, even after 70 years.  Remastering the print for a new generation to see it in theaters was a highlight for movie watchers this year.

Almost Human partners

Year’s Best Sci-Fi Fix — Almost Human, Fox.  Like Continuum last year, the new series Almost Human created a future world that is believable and full of extraordinary technologies based in today’s science and touching on social issues of any day.  And even putting aside its buddy cop and police procedural brilliance, every episode plunged us into future police grappling with incredible technologies–DNA bombs criminals use to contaminate a crime scene, identity masking technology to avoid facial recognition video monitors–it was the best dose of sci-fi in 2013.

Best TV Series — Orphan Black, BBC America.  What rose above everything on TV or film this year was BBC America’s new series, the almost indescribable Orphan Black From its initial trailers that piqued our interest, to the surprise series consisting of one actress playing multiple roles that dazzled from out of nowhere, magical special effects, and a unique story of clones and X-Files-inspired intrigue propelled Orphan Black to be our clear winner for Best TV Series of 2013.

Sleepy Hollow

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Capaldi as the 12th Doctor

The BBC announced yesterday what every Doctor Who fan has heard by now:  The 12th Doctor will be played by 55-year-old Scottish actor Peter Capaldi.  And we think he is a brilliant actor, as we mentioned before here at borg.com, and a brilliant choice to play the next Doctor.

We couldn’t have been more disappointed earlier this year when one of the most exciting television series on the air didn’t get renewed:  BBC America’s The Hour.  Its second season was turned around and set on an exciting new course because of the new boss, Randall Brown, played by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi.  Unfortunately the BBC didn’t love what we loved about the show over here in the States.  But it’s a consolation prize to be able to see this versatile actor again in a leading role in Doctor Who.  As Brown he showed anger and sadness along with a certain cunning and wry sense of humor–all obvious needs for someone creating the next stage of the Doctor.

Capaldi with TARDIS in Doctor Who 2008

Capaldi with TARDIS in 2008 Doctor Who episode “The Fires of Pompeii.”

Capaldi was seen by a larger audience this summer as the W.H.O. doctor (feel free to insert ironic laugh here) in Brad Pitt’s zombie movie World War Z.  We were eagerly awaiting his return to the big screen opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in the 2014 WikiLeaks founder film The Fifth Estate and as the king in the live action Maleficent opposite Angelina Jolie.  Capaldi showed up previously in Torchwood and had a his own guest spot on Doctor Who opposite 10th Doctor David Tennant in “The Fires of Pompeii” (along with Karen Gillan in her first Doctor Who role before playing the companion to Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor).  Beyond that Capaldi has done a ton of British TV (including a stint as a spin-doctor on a comedy series called The Thick of It), but was only seen in small roles by American audiences in Smilla’s Sense of Snow and the Malkovich/Pfeiffer version of Dangerous Liaisons.

Peter Capaldi

As a great reminder that you can’t make a guess at everything, Capaldi wasn’t listed on any oddsmaker’s lists.  Which means only Stephen Moffat & Co. know what they want for the future of Doctor Who, heedless of focus groups or a blind desire to please fans’ expectations.  The Doctor Who creators are the kings of keeping everyone guessing.  The fact they did not select a well-known actor like Rupert Grint, David Morrissey or Benedict Cumberbatch is a good thing.  The masses didn’t know Matt Smith or David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston that well before they had their chance at it.  And the fact that they are turning the age of the Doctor around, opting for older than younger, was well-played.  Smith was brilliant as a young Doctor but if we can’t have him an older Doctor is most welcome.  About the only disappointment we have is similar to the missed opportunity of Prince William and Kate not giving us a future King Arthur last month (c’mon you know another King George is just… boring), and that is the fact that no one is gutsy enough yet to give us the first woman Doctor.  Hey–we got a male companion this past round so why not?

12th Doctor meets 10th Doctor

Who knew? 10th Doctor meets 12th Doctor in 2008 Doctor Who episode.

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Argo film about a film wins Best Motion Picture Golden Globe 2013

It probably makes sense that the Golden Globes allows for more genre win opportunities than the more drama-oriented Academy Awards.  Still, the Globes didn’t go as far as they could with the best of what is on TV and in movies.  Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield not winning in the comedy categories for New Girl is a big miss.  Kevin Costner is a great actor but I don’t see how anyone was a better actor on TV or film this year than Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock.  Fans of genre fave show The Big Bang Theory will be bummed to see that show slighted for best comedy series.  The BBC’s drama The Hour was the best of television for the past two years so there is another miss.

So here is what they got right:

Argo as Best Film.  Check.

Ben Affleck as Best Director for Argo.  Check.

Brave as Best Animated Film.  Check.

Adele for Best Original Song for Skyfall.  Check.

Quentin Tarentino for Best Screenplay for Django Unchained.  Check.

Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor for Django Unchained.  Check.

Brave wins Best Animated Film Golden Globe 2013

Although we’re having a hard time getting excited about Homeland‘s slow building second season after its great first season (but we plan to be caught up soon), it’s great to see Homeland lead the TV awards with best drama and acting nods for the always great acting of Daniel Lewis and Claire Danes.

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The Hour cast season 2

Review by C.J. Bunce

It was a big year for Ben Whishaw.  Not only did he appear as the newest Q in the James Bond film Skyfall, a dream job and iconic role for any actor to land, Whishaw appeared as co-star in his second season of the BBC America’s The Hour offering a performance as dramatic as anything you’d find on television in 2012.  In Wednesday night’s season finale, his character Freddie Lyon took a determined, tortured soul whose new wife left him mid-season, and fulfilled a story arc begun in the backstory of The Hour, finally leaving all aspersions aside and planting a long overdue kiss on the decades-in-the-waiting eye of his affection, Romola Garai’s Bel Rowley.  In an Emmy-worthy performance he is left to single-handedly bear the burden of the underground extremes that plagued London of 1956, pummeled and left for dead by the season’s shadowy villain outside the offices of the BBC.The Hour - Vice

Vice, celebrity, corruption, murder.  It was a season that got off to a slow start, but finished like a freight train with the last two episodes leaving viewers desperate for a third season.  Early marketing tried to distance the series from its American cousin drama Mad Men, yet the glitzy, celebrity-centric early episodes seemed to scream just that But as the intrigue picked up steam with the revelation of police corruption particularly through the character of Commander Laurence Stern (played by State of Play and The Jackal’s Peter Sullivan), and the key characters’ motivations and secrets were revealed, The Hour left Mad Men in its wake.

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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.

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By C.J. Bunce

Journalists in real-life tend to get a bad rap from folks who don’t understand how critical the Fourth Estate is in keeping the masses informed, upholding the First Amendment, and ensuring and fostering an open marketplace of ideas.  Journalists in fiction have been portrayed as good or bad, reflecting the realities of any profession.  Archetypes dating back from the days of yellow journalism survive to this day, in part because of the general nature of journalism and its origins as an apprentice-learned field.  We emulate the past leaders of our professions to some extent.  Journalists are practically unregulated.  Regulations resulting from the 1934 U.S. Communications Act that protected the public and set boundaries for the profession have changed over the years, loosening restrictions on reporters (at least in the States) yet the news business draws the same personalities–driven people who get a thrill from searching for a needle in a haystack, who won’t give up until they can quote chapter and verse about that needle.

In mirroring reality over the years, Hollywood has shown us as time marches on what real journalists look like, what they do in their profession that we like and don’t like.  You can see a shift from yellow journalism’s search for the biggest headline to journalists attempting to change the world, breaking barriers, asking questions, digging deeper, and often crossing the line to get the truth behind a story.

As Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda headline The Newsroom, a new journalism-inspired TV series this airing this summer on HBO, let’s look at where Hollywood has done a good job (or not) in its depiction of newsrooms and their occupants.

I know a lot of journalism educators have their students watch some of these shows as part of understanding the history and nature of the craft of investigative reporting (mine did) and I often wonder just how much that has served to get students and future professionals in the mindset of the classic feet-on-the-street reporters.  Case in point: It Happened One Night (1934)  Clark Gable plays a reporter, cocky and sure-footed, yet a bit of a slacker who is not making the cut with his editor.  He pursues a spoiled heiress who runs away from home, played by Claudette Colbert, to get a big headline for his paper, and becomes romantically involved with her by picture’s end.  His reporter is the type depicted in film for the next several decades.  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 film State Fair starred Dana Andrews as a reporter covering the Iowa State Fair for The Des Moines Register.  Andrews’ confident character showed reporters as people to admire, and also illustrated that reporters are people, too, as he becomes involved with someone he meets (Jeanne Crain) while covering his story (like Gable’s character in It Happened One Night).  Even Dustin Hoffman’s take on Carl Bernstein in 1976’s All the President’s Men seems to emulate this strident reporter attitude, adding a bit of renegade to the mix.  Randy Quaid in the Ron Howard newspaper film The Paper is another variant on this guy–sleeping in the newsroom, seemingly some kind of drifter yet street smart, knows all the right people especially if part of the city’s underbelly, and just the guy you want when you need a partner on a big story.  Although The Paper seemed more of a caricature of journalism–complete with Michael Keaton shouting “Stop the presses!”–it definitely is a lighter entry in the catalog of journalism films.

The newsroom is the center of the biggest film ever made, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1939).  Charles Foster Kane’s classic line:  “I think it’d be fun to run a newspaper” connects with anyone running a journal, newspaper, or magazine.  And as loud and off-the-wall as journalists are depicted here, Welles got the film absolutely right, basing the entire story on the life and times of media baron William Randolph Hearst.  In pursuing the mysterious “Rosebud,” the journalist who bookends the story adds a double layer of truth with reporter as storyteller.  The excesses of yellow journalism and the abuse of the medium permeated many mainstream movies of that era, including Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941). Not entirely a newspaper movie, it does focus on an over-eager reporter played by Barbara Stanwyck who, like Kane, creates news where there is none for the sake of headlines.

Reporters as valuable, even crucial and noble members of society elevated the Fourth Estate to something of a venerable realm with movies like Call Northside 777 (1948).  There Jimmy Stewart picks up a dead case of a man convicted of a crime that only his mother believes he didn’t commit.  Based on a true story, Stewart’s reporter leaves no stone unturned in early Chicago, ultimately risking his own life to get the man out of jail (the film also reveals the first use of the lie detector machine as an investigative tool).  The height of the importance of newspapermen, of course, came with the Washington Post bringing down a presidency, as documented perfectly in All the President’s Men (1976), a film whose newsroom could not better reflect a real-life, working newspaper office.  Jason Robards, Jr. played Ben Bradlee as only a real editor could be played and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played young aspiring journalists Woodward and Bernstein in a mystery movie that could prompt anyone to enter the field.

The year 1976 also highlighted the more modern arm of journalism, broadcast journalism, in the popular film Network, which caused  viewers to repeat forever the phrase “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  But here, it seems dated now, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, and Peter Finch just seem to have shed a light on the problems of any business in crisis, and despite its focus it does not make my recommendation list that well-document the journalist experience.  However, where Network shone a dark light on broadcast journalism, the timely China Syndrome reflected the value of reporters in society.  Jane Fonda’s bright and cheery fluff reporter who wants to report hard news is as real and inspiring as it gets, and Michael Douglas’s role as photographer who pushes the envelope to get a story rounds out a great reporting team.

Genre movies based on comic books have revealed to most of us our view of the editor and reporter in a big city newsroom, and the result doesn’t miss the mark so much.  Jackie Cooper as The Daily Planet’s Perry White in Superman (1978) and later, Lane Smith’s work in the same role in the Lois & Clark (1993) TV series revealed a tough-as-nails editor every bit as real as Ben Bradlee at the real Washington Post, although Smith’s take brought Cooper’s 1950s-1970s era version into a version more familiar to 1990s newsrooms.  A more cartoonish but similar role was played well by J.K Simmons as Peter Parker’s editor J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-man (2002).

Modern Hollywood, and perhaps modern audiences, latch onto the journalists as sleuths.  That thrill and danger that may not be the stuff of daily working journalists certainly happens in real life from time to time and more modern films exemplify that.  In Pelican Brief (1993) Denzel Washington gives a textbook performance as an investigative reporter.  In The Insider (1999) Russell Crowe and Al Pacino reveal journalists as watchdogs, taking on big tobacco and the media themselves as politics prevents the long-time respected TV news show 60 Minutes from telling the story the reporters want to tell.  Good Night and Good Luck took us back to the same CBS newsroom 40 years prior, as Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his team (including a memorable performance by Robert Downey, Jr.) take on McCarthyism in the 1950s.  Veronica Guerin (2003) revealed the true story of a reporter played by Cate Blanchett whose pursuit of the story shows the extent reporters will go through for their cause–the pursuit of truth.  There is simply no more exciting and gritty film about newspaper reporting than David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), following Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in pursuit of the Zodiac killer in 1970s San Francisco.

Most recently British television has reminded us that classic news stories still make compelling entertainment.  You can probably ignore the U.S. remake of the same name starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, but the British original TV series State of Play (2003) follows newshounds John Simm and Kelly MacDonald as they work for a brilliant newsroom manager played by genre actor Bill Nighy in their pursuit of the truth behind the death of a young political worker who may or may not have gotten too close to an up-and-coming politician.  Like Robards, Cooper, and Smith mentioned above, Nighy crystallizes for us the role of the newsroom editor/manager.  Then last year the BBC’s The Hour (2011) took us back to 1950s fledgeling broadcast journalism, including the pressures of England’s complex government and politics and the impact of censorship laws on the media.  Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw star not as news anchors but producers behind the scenes in a refreshing new look at the business of news.

As media evolve into multimedia, Hollywood will no doubt keep pace with more fascinating storytelling, and we’ll be on the lookout for the next great journalism films.

Review by C.J. Bunce

Thursday evening brought in the newest national movie theater marathon, this time for Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.  Starting at six p.m. with Batman Begins, followed by The Dark Knight and culminating with a midnight showing of the new feature film, fans of Nolan’s vision of Batman surely got their fix.  Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is as it’s described–dark.  But none as dark and bleak as the third and final installment.

Can you have fun at a movie that is so dark?  The “dark” I am referring to in the context of Nolan’s film is “the bleak future ahead.”  Batman films before Nolan also were dark, but in a fantasy, comic book way.  I miss the sleek Batmobiles of earlier films.  To be fair, the current various DC Comics Batman series are pretty dark–gruesome at times–so maybe movies are just mirroring the evolution of the comic stories.  There’s a bit of a battle between making your story seem real and still have the rules of comic books apply.  Battle scenes in the current franchise, with Tumbler tanks that could be right out of an Iraq army base, take away some of the fun, the fantasy, of watching superhero films.  I want my Batman movies to be not only dark but also fun, and I am looking for escapism, not realism.  If you have the same mindset, can you still have fun watching the new Batman movie?  Sure.  What I am not sure of is whether you may like The Dark Knight Rises more were you to see it without the benefit of the Dark Knight Marathon.

   

I attended last night’s screening of the full marathon with borg.com writer Art Schmidt.  And we had fun.  Crowds at these big screenings really want to be there, and really want to like the new movie.  But where I had the most fun was re-watching Nolan’s second installment–The Dark Knight–on the big IMAX screen.  And I think the crowd simply responded, audibly, better to The Dark Knight than The Dark Knight Rises.  Would I have liked The Dark Knight Rises more had it not been viewed at the end of such a solid film as The Dark Knight?  That’s the question I am left pondering.

I’d seen both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the theater when first released.  I was not a fan of Batman Begins, other than I liked Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox.  I will acknowledge in the first two films the nods to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as a positive thing.  I should have liked Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul, but didn’t.  Last night, in the right mindset for a fun evening of movie watching, I was pleasantly surprised that I found Batman Begins to be better than I had remembered from viewing it in its initial release.

But it was installment two, The Dark Knight, that proved to be the highlight of the entire night.  It cemented the reasoning for Heath Ledger being awarded an Academy Award for his performance as the Joker.  His performance was both creepy and comical, despite his grim, psychotic nature.  But Aaron Eckhart’s brilliant performance as Harvey Dent was not far behind.  The writers of this “trilogy” seem to me to have screwed up somehow.  Why?  After watching all three films the real hero of the trilogy is unquestionably Harvey Dent.  Despite him turning criminal after going through the murder of his fiance and the destruction of his face, he is entirely a sympathetic victim who acted heroically until his world was devastated.  But this is all wrong–the hero of a Batman trilogy should be Batman, plain and simple.  After watching the newest film, The Dark Knight Rises, we are left with a vision of Batman as a whiny adult who could not get beyond early tragedy in his life.  Sure, he had it tough, and yes, he is a sympathetic character, but the character never really moves beyond the mindset of the young Bruce Wayne sitting in a cave.  Classic Batman stories do not rely on Bruce Wayne moping around about his problems–he is able to push them aside and help other people.  For me, the fatal flaw in Nolan’s trilogy is this basic thread at the core of Bruce Wayne’s character.  What Batman fans want is a movie where Batman gets to be the hero, where he saves the day, and leaves a better world behind.

Most of The Dark Knight Rises does not even feature Christian Bale in the Batsuit.  I’ve always thought a detective story focusing solely on Bruce Wayne and his analytical skills would be a great idea.  For a book, yes.  But now I know it doesn’t work for a movie.  Fans want to see Batman being Batman.  And not being beaten to a pulp by an ugly thug who has little motivation or character development.  Tom Hardy’s Bane is just bad for the sake of being bad.  Without revealing details, I think a plot twist at the end is predictable, and a last-minute attempt to make us feel sorry for Bane is too little, too late.  You cannot really even tell what actor is playing Bane.  The marquis credits say it is Tom Hardy, a solid young character actor who has been in Star Trek Nemesis, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Blackhawk Down and Inception, but how would any of us know who he was with that face-covering breathing apparatus?   What does that thing even do?  He acts like Darth Vader, even holding someone up by his neck.  He sounds like Ian McKellan’s Gandalf.  His dialogue is muffled.  He speaks in loud shouts like the ringmaster at a circus.

Marion Cotillard’s character Miranda seemed to be an afterthought in the script, a character whose actions would have insulted the intelligence of the Wayne and Fox characters from prior films.  There is no chemistry between Wayne and Miranda, yet out of nowhere they are a couple—right after Wayne speaks longingly of Rachel (who was killed by the Joker in the last film), and while we movie goers see him developing some attraction to Anne Hathaway’s Salina Kyle.  (Seeing Batman Begins back to back with The Dark Knight also showed why Katie Holmes was better cast as Rachel than Maggie Gyllenhaal).

Caine, Bale, Freeman, and Oldman all were underused in The Dark Knight Rises, and when used they play caricatures of their roles from past films, even repeating scenes from the past two films, often doing things that seem out of character, like Caine turning his back on Bruce, like Gordon turning his back on Batman.  Matthew Modine added to his list of drab roles by playing a police officer who came off as annoying and irrelevant.  There are points where you don’t know whether to cheer the street mob or the police, the bad guys or the good.  Ultimately everything becomes a free-for-all and Nolan tries to make Gotham a cross between the Holocaust and New York City in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a nice opportunity to shine in the film, but too much time is spent on his character, and not enough on Bruce Wayne or Batman, where the focus should have been.  Throughout the movie you can’t help but look for how Gordon-Levitt will fill Batman’s shoes one day–like Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt in the last Indiana Jones movie.  Note to Hollywood producers: if you are going to reboot your franchises every five years you don’t need to worry about taking valuable screen time to build up having younger characters pick up the reins for the title roles in future movies.

The best part of the movie was without a doubt Anne Hathaway as Salina Kyle.  Although there were a few directing decisions that seemed like missed opportunities—like what could have been a more overt and less subtle switch from innocent maid to deceitful thief in a key early scene—her dialogue was the best of anyone’s in the film and her performance was also spot on.  Her character had chemistry with Wayne, and if there was a saving grace to the movie it was the scenes of Batman and Catwoman together.  Hathaway seemed literally to bring out better acting by Bale.

One good scene had Fox introduce Wayne to some new gadgetry, straight out of any Q scene in a 007 movie.  Cameos from actors in past movies were also a nice addition, added some fun to the film, and the story at least made an effort to try to tie up storylines from early films.

Despair and hopelessness accounted for a long film that I thought would never end.  Once it got to an ending, the creators could not decide which ending to use, so they used them all.  The sound was loud throughout without letting up, lots of thumps and bass notes to tell you when you’re supposed to feel angst or fear.  I know operatically the third scene of a three-part work often can have a large gothic, epic feel winding up to a conclusion, but the film did not feel like an ending, more like another installment in a continuing franchise.  But the foundation of this third installment rests on the proposition that Harvey Dent was a bad guy in installment two.  Harvey Dent was a victim who turned bad in the end.  Gordon and Wayne do the right thing by not revealing the criminal acts he committed after his life was ruined.  After all, Harvey Dent was dead.  Yet so much of The Dark Knight Rises hinges on Gordon’s conflicts with this decision to keep this quiet.  In the big scheme of things it’s not the gravity needed to support a film.  It’s not enough to support a story and what happens to cause Gotham to fall apart.

The crowd had a good time but there sure was a lot to discuss afterward.  Ultimately disappointment was what I walked away with for the new film, happy that I got to see The Dark Knight movie in the theater again, and it really left me looking forward to a new director and a new vision for future Batman films.

The Dark Knight Rises at our theater included a great, extended trailer for the next James Bond 007 film, Skyfall, including revealing the new Q actor as the young Ben Whishaw from The Hour—a very cool switch-up from the older characters playing Q in the past.  We also saw a previously released trailer for The Hobbit, which looked great, and a fun preview for Expendables 2.  The big reveal we were waiting for was the teaser trailer for DC Comics’ coming Superman reboot Man of Steel, and it was disappointing–very bland and unremarkable for what we heard was to be an exciting new preview.

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

BBC America’s answer to the sexy retro workplace drama turned in a solid, if all-too-brief, freshman season, leaving this viewer tantalized by the last-minute revelations and dearly hoping for more.  Soon.  The fact that I watched all six episodes in a single week (thanks to Entertainment on Demand’s lineup of primetime BBC America) should tell you something.

Set in turbulent, Cold War 1956, The Hour centers on the eponymous, 60 Minutes-style news program in its fledgling days.  Helmed by young producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai, I Capture the Castle, Amazing Grace) and fronted by dashing pretty boy Hector Madden (Dominic West, The Wire, 300), the program and its staff of ambitious journalists face world-changing foreign crises, censorship laws that hamstring their ability to report on current events, MI6 secret service oversight, and rumors of a Soviet mole on their staff.  Subplots involve the suspicious death of a debutante, investigated by frenetic and brilliant head writer/reporter Freddy Lyon, played with earnest intensity by Ben Whishaw (Bright Star, Layer Cake); as well as the obligatory love affair–this one between Rowley and Madden.  It’s a heady time for young TV news, and The Hour captures it beautifully, from the mixture of cutting edge and slightly dingy art direction of their Lime Street studio, to the adrenaline-fueled performances of all the leads, as they chase down stories and rush to meet deadlines while pushing the boundaries of their new profession.

The fictional storylines are compelling, but it’s in dramatizing the real historical news that The Hour really shines.  Season One is brilliantly set during what must have been one of the most dramatic weeks in post-war history, late October 1956, when the Hungarian uprising and the Suez Crisis occurred back to back.  The Hour does a splendid job of dramatizing the counterpoint of those events, as well as the concurrent American presidential election (I suppose it won’t spoil anything to say that Eisenhower wins), to capture a moment in history with both endless depths to mine for story ideas, as well as casting an intriguing mirror on our evolving notion of the news media.

In a TV season that also includes embarrassing Mad Men lookalikes Pan Am and The House Bunny, what The Hour delivers best might be its focus on strong female characters.  From successful professionals Rowley and Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor, Law & Order: UK, MI-5) to doomed socialite Ruth Elms (newcomer Vanessa Kirby), the women of The Hour are complex, talented, and hold their own in the macho world of foreign correspondents and British political posturing.  But the standout performance for me was actually by Oona Chaplin (yes, that Chaplin), in the role of Marnie Madden, Hector’s long-suffering wife.  Marnie’s cool determination to maintain her upbeat composure in the face of tense international drama and humiliating personal scandal proves that her sweet mask is anything but naiveté.  Her composure wavers only once, in a deliberate confrontation with Bel, and perhaps only Bel is surprised when Marnie calmly walks out the victor.  Awards committees, take note.

I have more I’d like to say–like how nice it was to see original Torchwood co-star Burn Gorman in another role (even disappointingly cut short in episode 3 as it was!), or how the last 30 minutes of the finale took everything we thought we knew and added breathtaking layers of complexity to key characters Hector, Freddy, and… well, I won’t say.  If I have one major complaint, it’s that the season was so short!  I’m afraid it will get lost among its main competition, and that is a real shame.  Happily, it’s been reported a Series Two is on the way, though no word yet on the air date.

Catch this On Demand while it lasts, download episodes from I Tunes, or order the DVD from BBC America.