The Hour s2 ep 5; s2 ep 6

Broadcast on back-to-back evenings, this added up to quite a lot of The Hour when I sat down to watch it. The Two Hours, in fact. And episode 5 had that slightly dislocating feeling that shows sometimes have when you feel as if things have been happening off-camera that no-one’s told you about. There seems to have been some sort of rapprochement between Hector and Marnie, which looked less than likely after the first four episodes.

We are told about the inevitable death of Rosa, but between episodes Bel has stopped being a journalist, and for some reason the murder makes Bel less keen to run the story. But help is at hand, because all of the Castlecore baddies have arranged to meet. Not secretly, either, but at El Paradis, a nightclub frequented by journos and photographers, not to mention Hector himself. It seems to me that meeting there might not be the best way of keeping a secret. Not for the first time, it’s the details which elevate this episode: Isaac’s exquisitely sad response to Sissy’s engagement, or any scene with Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor searching for their daughter – a plot arc with no bearing whatever on the main story, but beautifully acted anyway.

Episode 6 kicks off with the media reaction to the police raid at El Paradis which ended episode 5, and it’s a little surprising: I thought everyone knew that El Paradis was a glamourous yet seedy nightclub and that Hector was a regular there, what with all the front-page photos and so on, but this seems in fact to have come as something of a shock. Admittedly the revelations about him being accused of smacking Kiki around were new, and in consequence ITV withdraws its interest, and Marnie loses her show as well. Not that this – or Marnie’s pregnancy by, one assumes, that dude who’s being hanging around her – can dent their happiness. I must have missed something.

Anyway, Bel’s determination to run the big corruption story has been refreshed, and Freddie vows to bring Kiki in to put her on The Hour; slightly incongruously, he puts himself firmly in the camp of those who believe that private behaviour has a bearing on public office: they lie to their wives, so they’ll lie to the country. And there’s some pressing business for shippers to be dealt with, as Bel and Freddie share their first kiss (squee!). Of course, kissing immediately before Freddie goes on his dangerous mission means that his fate is all but sealed.

And so it proves: the story runs, and while the glare of publicity acts as a shield for Kiki, it doesn’t so much for Freddie, who gets a serious beating from Cilenti and his thugs. Meantime, in what looks like a cheeky nod to the rise of celeb culture, Kiki is escorted from the BBC building by Angus McCain, reborn as a kind of PR man and reputation manager; famous for 10 minutes, in our decade Kiki would by now be weighing up her reality TV offers.

Whether Freddie survives depends, one assumes, on whether there’s a third season of The Hour – the BBC is silent for now – and which actors return if there is. Without ever becoming essential viewing, The Hour has been enjoyable, and has benefitted from some seriously good acting by Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor in supporting roles. I’d watch a third season, but I have a feeling we’ve seen the last of Hector and the team.

The Hour s2 ep 4

My fault, no doubt, but I just couldn’t get on with this episode at all. I could see that there were quite a few good things in it: Stern’s violence – and, to a certain extent, Hector’s barely-suppressed self-loathing – were put in context as a product of their service in World War 2, by then over for only about 12 years. And I’m still sticking to the possibility, which I floated last week, that Stern is sublimating his man-love. Camille has, at least, put some clothes on this week, but she’s still hung up on the very obvious feelings between Freddie and Bel. And Brown seems to have changed his mind about Hector, persuading the BBC board to match any ITV offer. I was pretty sure earlier in the season that Brown was trying to chase Hector out; now I’m not sure where he stands, which is perhaps the point.

Breddie, meantime, have been working out one of the season’s big conspiracies: Cilenti is blackmailing powerful men and working in partnership with an industrialist who wants to ensure that the government agrees to American nuclear weapons being sited on British soil, thus leading to the industrialist making money from providing engineering services. (I think.) Unfortunately, just as they’re about to run the story on The Hour, Hector trumps them with the news that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to resign, and he has an exclusive interview with him. Bel and Freddie stamp their feet, but Brown – correctly, if you ask me – judges that the corruption story isn’t time-sensitive in the way that the resigning Chancellor is. Of course, Hector’s been fed this story precisely because Cilenti wants the other one kept under wraps.

Lix (Anna Chancellor) continues to walk away with every scene she’s in, often by doing not very much at all – lighting a gasper for a shaken Bel, or observing en passant that ITV man Bill is “divine” – but sometimes she gets to stretch out, as in her scenes with Peter Capaldi as Brown, in which they tentatively share thoughts about the daughter they gave up for adoption.

As I say, lots to like, but for some reason I felt detached from this episode. My fault. Viewers might like to note that there will be two episodes of The Hour this week, on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Hour s2 ep 3

Last week I complained that there was, perhaps, a little too much going on. Well, they certainly avoided that trap this week. I normally like The Hour, but the first half at least of this episode was a lavishly mounted exercise in saying not very much at all. These damned photos continue to crop up, despite being of no obvious relevance to anything, apart from the director’s desire to shoot a scene or two in the Soho-in-the-50s theme park, with seedy little pornographers behind every door. Freddie’s new wife is still Frenchly wandering around in her knickers. And this week’s newsroom reminder of the period setting is the publication of the Wolfenden report, recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality, which is at least more interesting than that NATO summit. (Is it just me, or did that rampant heterosexual Commander Stern come across as a little light in his loafers when he was helping the drunken Hector to bed? Just me, then? OK.) The only real development was the discovery that Lix and Randall’s Secret Past involved a child, conceived and born during the Spanish Civil War, given up for adoption.

The last twenty minutes or so were a little better, with Bel starting the inevitable processes of sleeping with Bill from ITV while at the same time wrecking Freddie’s marriage, Hector using a live televised debate about Wolfenden to turn the screws on Stern, and Lix and Randall joining forces to track their daughter down. Freddie, meantime, is determined to single-handedly bring down both sleazy nightclub proprietor Cilenti and Rachmanesque landlord Pike, who turn out to be linked. Not a bad third act, but not a great episode.

The Hour s2 ep 2

The problem with aiming for some sort of historical verisimilitude – the clothes, the smoking, the uncomfortably-crowbarred-in references to some obscure NATO summit or other – is that you’re left open to scepticism with scenes such as the one in this week’s episode, in which Bel went looking for under-the-counter porn in Soho (I think ?), complete with tarts on pavements and grubby shopkeepers in seedy shops. It looked like a theme park. Not a theme park for children, of course.

The Hour, in short, in common with many British dramas, continues to try a little too hard. There was plenty going on this week, perhaps too much. Freddie decides to run an item on the rise of British fascism in The Hour, roping in Sey, the immigrant doctor, to square up against a louche young Mosleyite who’s actually assaulted Camille, his French wife. The BBC board is horrified because, to a man, they’re all virulently anti-fascist and pro-immigrant. Proper historians will know better than I do whether such impeccably liberal views were indeed held with such force and unanimity by those in senior positions at the time. Apart from being a victim of racial violence, Camille’s main role seems to be to walk about in her knickers, because she’s French. Oh, and really get on the tits of Bel, who could have had Freddie every which way in season 1, but has now decided to behave like a petulant toddler because he got fed up with waiting for her. He’s an idiot, though. Romola Garai in that green cocktail dress? Man.

Hector seems to be off the hook for assaulting Kiki, although I think we’re being invited to suspect that there might yet be a darkness about him. Marnie, meantime, has made it clear that she and Hector are now married in name only, as she starts to pursue her own TV presenting career. If that means fewer shots of her at home cooking for no-one, it would at least represent character development. And if it means more Oona Chaplin, who is rivalled only by Anna Chancellor for Hour scene-stealing, it’s good news. Bel’s still flirting with her frenemy at ITV’s Uncovered, and Lix and Mr Brown are skating around their shared past. The Hour continues to engage, although by stripping out some of the clutter – and perhaps shortening the episodes a little – it could be better yet.

The Hour s2 ep 1

This, I think, was supposed to be The Hour swaggering back onto our screens, having eradicated the season 1 problems. And while it didn’t quite manage to do that, it wasn’t bad at all. Hector’s hanging around in louche Soho nightclubs, and dallying with a dancer called Kiki Delaine. (I hope that whoever came up with that name got the rest of the week off as a reward.) Freddie’s back from wherever he was, with a surprise. And Bel’s running the show and, once again, being all grown up at the expense of her personal life.

Peter Capaldi has joined the cast as Brown, the new Head of News; it’s strongly implied that Lix (the scene-stealing Anna Chancellor) has been involved with him in the past. Capaldi is, of course, terrific: taciturn with a suggestion of hinterland, and he looks authentically non-anachronistic. (I’m not sure that “anachronistic” has an opposite. “Chronistic”?) The ITV newcomers have put together Uncovered, a rival to The Hour, and are trying to tempt Hector away to work for them. This is a situation Brown seems to be keen to encourage, as he rehires Freddie to be Hector’s co-host; Freddie wastes little time in stealing Hector’s scoop about rising crime figures, and using it to ambush a Minister at a press conference. And in the background of the newsroom intrigue, the seasons’s plot arcs are starting to come into focus: something about crime, Soho, Hector’s bit-on-the-side Kiki being beaten up, and miscegenation.

The Hour continues to score very heavily with the quality of its actors: the leads Dominic West, Ben Whishaw, and Romola Garai are reliably excellent, and there are welcome signs that last season’s underused bench (Chancellor, Oona Chaplin, and Julian Rhind-Tutt) will be getting a bit more to do this year. All very promising.

Public Service Announcement 52 of 2012: The Hour, Southland, The Killing (Forbrydelsen) III, The Big Bang Theory

Some very heavy hitters back on British TV this week.

The second season of BBC drama The Hour, that watchable but slightly strange 50s set drama about a TV newsroom, starts tonight. Although it undoubtedly had its merits season 1 never quite decided what it wanted to be, but on balance I’m pleased that everyone’s back to have another try. All concerned are talking season 2 up, so let’s hope that the occasionally clunky dialogue and plotting have settled down. In the event that they haven’t, of course, there’s plenty to look at as well: on top of the immaculately-observed period trappings, Ben Whishaw and Romola Garai return, as do Dominic West and Anna Chancellor (who was grievously under-used first time out). And Peter Capaldi joins the cast as the new Head of News, in what now looks like a timely nod to the BBC’s present troubles. Week-by-week reviews as soon as we can (tonight, BBC2, 9pm).

From America, Southland returns for its fourth season. Much to my shame I gave up on this show round about season 2, but CJ’s still a fan, as I’m sure I would be if I’d stuck around. Lucy Liu’s in for this season, which seemed like an odd casting decision but was, apparently, vindicated by some excellent work on her part. I doubt I’ll be going back – I never quite managed to work out who everyone was first time around – but it’s undoubtedly an excellent show, for those with more staying power than me (Thursday 15 November, More4, 10pm).

And from Denmark, it’s the third and, apparently, final outing for Sarah Lund, with the return of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) to British screens. We don’t need to say more about Unpopcult’s devotion to season 1; season 2, meantime, in common with others, I regarded as falling a little short of the standards of its predecessor. Which means that the Forbrydelsen team, perhaps, has something to prove. The advance word from Alison Graham of the Radio Times, who did so much to popularise season 1 in the UK, is that season 3 is “exhaustingly exciting”, which sounds like my sort of thing. Brix is back, and Lund’s sidekick the time will be played by Nikolaj Lie Kass, described by Sofie Grabøl herself as “the best actor of our generation in Denmark”. Yeah, well, whatevs: I’m sure he’s no Troels Hartmann.

The Killing is, of course, being shown in those effing double-bills again, but for once I’m not going there, except to recall that the BBC’s quoted justification for this idiocy is that “foreign dramas tend to have more episodes” and “the gripping nature of the storylines also lend themselves to playing more than one episode, with fans eager to find out how the plots will develop”, and to remind you that the latter excuse seems to carry with it an admission about home-grown drama. So block off two hours, folks, and settle in (Saturday 17 November, BBC 4, 9pm).

Meantime, on the comedy side, The Big Bang Theory is back for season 6. The last couple of seasons have shown signs of creative fatigue, not entirely alleviated by the way in which the writers have developed a female ensemble to match and, in some cases, surpass the men; it feels to me as if the writers are reaching for the easy gag rather than looking for the better one, and the character developments aren’t always helpful either.  For all that, though, it’s still arguably the best multi-camera sitcom on TV, with standout performances from Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Mayim Bialik (Thursday 15 November, E4, 8pm). And season 2 of 2 Broke Girls starts immediately afterwards.

The Hour ep 6

So the final episode of The Hour concentrated on what they thought might be the final episode of “The Hour”, the show-within-the-show.

The team bustled about, ignoring pressure from the secret service, the bosses and Marnie’s dad, and put in as much government-baiting controversy into that final show as they could.  The pace and the atmosphere was good, and the episode might have worked, but for the problem that too often crops up in shows about broadcasting – the show-within-the-show never seems to be worth the aggravation.

In 30 Rock, it doesn’t matter that TGS is ridiculous, it’s part of the joke, but in Studio 60 it mattered a lot that the fictional “Studio 60” didn’t seem at all funny or clever, and it mattered in The Hour that “The Hour” seemed stilted, amateur and muddled – especially given the characters carrying on like it was be-all and end-all of integrity, truth and journalistic achievement, and, most importantly, that the country hung on its every word.  Really?!?

The truncated “interview” with Admiral Green I guess we can excuse, but Isaac’s much-vaunted and, to me anyway, slightly obscure sketch went on forever, and Freddie’s interview with Lord Elms made no sense at all.  Unless of course you happened to have watched the past 5 episodes.  But as an item on a “news” show?  Come on, now.  The viewers would have been sitting there wondering what on earth he was talking about.  Reveal or no reveal, I found myself agreeing with Clarence – “If you were planning to expose us, me, at least make it worth it.”  And if you were planning to make a 6-part series about the beginnings of tv news and the relationship between the BBC and Government….

The main characters didn’t help of course.  Freddie’s hissyfits, Bel’s combination of drippiness and shoutiness – all “righteous enthusiasm disguised as integrity”, much like the rest of the show.  Which is harsh, I know, as there was a fair amount to like about this episode and the series as a whole.  This week in particular, was a lot punchier and more exciting than last week’s.  But the series as a whole tried to throw in too many things – just how many layers did the Ruth Elms story have in the end? – and ended up short-changing all of them as a result.  A second season might turn out to be better, the writing might be more relaxed and less anxious to be all things to all men but if there isn’t one, and they really do “Shut down The Hour!”, I’m fine with that.

The Hour ep 5

So. Now we know what Bright Stone means. Bel and Hector’s affair’s out in the open. Russia’s taken Budapest. And everybody’s very unhappy about “Eden’s war.”

The parallels to modern issues and conflicts that are compulsory for the earnest period piece make The Hour relevant tv, and I thought the political and protest stuff – where the journalists were actually investigating and reporting the NEWS – was very well done. The rest of this episode was a bit of a slog, though.

The spy story slowed down to a crawl, with developments taking ages, but the main problems for me were, as usual, Bel and Freddie. They have always been the most unconvincing characters but, this week, everyone (writer, director, cast) obviously decided there was no point pretending otherwise and they suddenly turned into teenagers.

Bel got the worst of it, no doubt; in the obligatory period drama comment on attitudes to women, she was ticked off by Clarence (Head Teacher), endured a “quietly humiliating” visit from Marnie (Captain of the Prefects), and turned all googly-eyed and dreamy over Freddie (Class Troublemaker), before having a good old cry over how it’s just not fair! Sob! She had a point and I should have had some sympathy for her, but the scene where Lix, an honest-to-goodness grown-up, reduced her to awkward adolescent stammering with a silent, appraising glance encapsulated why I didn’t. Grow up a little, Bel, then we’ll talk.

Freddie meanwhile continued to grate. Like a wee boy constantly asking “But WHY?”, crashing into public protests and private grief with the same magnificent disregard for anything but his own curiosity… Again, I suppose I should admire him, but I get the feeling he’s only interested in the truth because other people don’t want him to find it. In which case, as I’ve said before, McCain and Co are going about the business of controlling him all wrong.

It’s a shame, because as the weeks go on, Lix, Hector and Clarence and McCain are becoming quite compelling – they’re so much more interesting and watchable now they’ve been given time to develop. The Hour could be great if it focused on them, but instead, we’re doomed to follow the kids Bel and Freddie about instead. Sigh.

The Hour ep 4

Another solid, reasonably entertaining episode, and it looks like The Hour has hit its stride.

Interestingly, this one at last managed to do what the show has been struggling with from the start by combining the news backdrop and the conspiracy story successfully, without either suffering. Perhaps it’s because the characters and the ’50s setting are established now so everyone doesn’t have to waft around, wallowing in the period detail, willing us to recognise how lovingly recreated and stylish it all wants to be. (Unless they’re in a cringe-worthy nightclub scene or two, that is – then they have to waft and wallow away.)

The Suez and Budapest background was woven in quite nicely, then, even if Hector’s transformation to super-smooth, super-journalist seemed a bit quick, and even if everyone bar Lix seemed to have other priorities; Bel and Hector snogging in corners (Marnie’s passive-aggressive perkiness and platitudes not having the desired effect, as yet), Isaac repeatedly filming a lightbulb, and Sissy pointing out that the phones are bugged.  Finally

As usual, it was the grating Freddie (happy birthday, Freddie) who hogged most of the attention though.  His gradual unravelling and guilt over Kish’s death did nothing for his manners; dodging work, interrogating a dead man’s wife, wearing a dead man’s raincoat, turning up unannounced at a dead girl’s country house. Yes, yes, he’s the hero.  I know.  He’s the hotshot investigative journalist. I know.  It’s a big, terrible, murderous conspiracy, and he must find out the truth.  I KNOW.  I’d like to know what all this “Revert to Brightstone” business is about as much as the next person, but is there any way our man could be less annoying about it?

The Hour ep 3

Much better than the previous two instalments, I thought – and it’s no coincidence that this is the episode which concentrated mainly on one big storyline, and suddenly picked up the pace on it, as opposed to trying to do several at once with very little development of any of them.

Although I wouldn’t have picked the conspiracy/spies/murder/oooh! business as the plot to go with, and I wouldn’t have moved most of the action to a country house shooting-party with the attendant variety of clichés they gave us, once things got going, there was a lot to enjoy.  Plenty of action, and some character development at last too, as, after a spectacularly obnoxious start, hanging out with Hector made Freddie a lot more bearable; there was something quite sweet about the dinner jacket scene and they worked well together when dealing with Adam.  Yes, as Jed noted, Bel is still far too wet and wimpy to convince as someone who has made it as far as she has in a man’s world, but since very little of the story this week depended on her achieving anything other than following Hector’s lead, it didn’t matter too much.   

Much as I enjoyed the action suddenly kicking off and the show becoming quite exciting, though, the thing that did bother me was how little finesse any of these people have.  They’re all so obvious. Ok, that’s only to be expected of Freddie, whose entire character is dependent on him being unable to say anything other than the most uncivil thing that he’s thinking at all times.  But for so many of the other characters, artifice should be second nature and yet they’re absolutely rubbish at it.  McCain is supposed to be some master manipulator politico, yet everyone is so riled by his smarmy efforts to influence them that they do the exact opposite of what he wants them to do.  Kish is supposed to be some top-secret spy or assassin or who knows what, but he doesn’t manage to fool a single person at the studio; they’re all on to him almost immediately.  And as for the big reveal about Adam – well, duh.  It was obvious from the moment Hector said “you’ll see”.  How any of these people ever managed to keep any sort of secret, let alone one of the magnitude hinted at since episode 1…now that’s a mystery worth investigating, Freddie.