Everyone stop what you’re doing right now. Just stop, and start watching “The Hour,” a six-episode miniseries on the BBC that is everything that television has the potential to be.
“The Hour,” which can be found on Netflix since unfortunately we are not in England, is about a 1950’s news show trying to make it in a media world of fluffy pieces and censorship. It tackles gender in the workplace, the Suez Canal crisis, the mysterious murder of a debutante who was involved with MI6 (the British version of the CIA), and everything in between.
The show begins with the formation of a news show entitled “The Hour,” produced by the fierce and beautiful Bel Rowley (Romola Garai). Bel recruits her old friend and former boyfriend Freddie Lyon (Ben Wishaw), who is one of those brilliant types that never quite learned social graces—which is both a blessing and a curse to his snarky reporting style. The news show stars Hector Madden (Dominic West), a man of society whose privilege bothers Freddie endlessly. A secret romance develops between Bel and Hector as Freddie becomes obsessed with investigating the death of a debutante who informed him of an intricate spy scandal.
Throughout the series, “The Hour” must cover the Suez Canal crisis and find a way to succeed amongst other news programs. Freddie is threatened during his obsessive investigation of espionage activities. Bel tries to solidify her place as producer, while she juggles relationships with her coworkers. Everyone copes with the Cold War and the potential impending censorship of their program.
“The Hour” is a bit like “Mad Men” meets an Aaron Sorkin media show meets a murder-mystery thriller. For those who miss the style and cigarettes of “Mad Men,” “The Hour” has the same quality of design. The skirts are of the pencil variety, the suits have vests, and cigarette smoke is everywhere. The dialogue also manages to capture the time period, transporting the viewer back to the day.
On top of the style, the show finds intelligent ways to address issues of the media, the Cold War, and censorship. The fictional program within the program takes on the general media standards, and attempts to break out of the confines of 1950s media. It questions the role of news in society and what journalists can do, which resonates with modern 24-hour news channels and crazy pundits.
The program also questions gender roles in a progressive and intriguing manner. The producer, Bel, is chosen over her brilliant but reckless peer Freddie for the top spot. Bel constantly must prove herself as a female producer, especially when she learns that her boss hired her because he “thought a lady would be easier to steer.” Her sexual tension with her coworkers complicates her role as a pioneer, but she manages to hold her own in the boys’ club.
“The Hour”‘s writing is quick and smart, the plot is thrilling and addictive, and the themes are provocative. The complex relationships in the show and the juxtaposition of different class worlds all add to the depth of “The Hour.”
But seriously, you should be watching it right now.