When smart meets soapy, the results can be delicious and addictive television – as long as the show proudly owns its soap opera qualities (that’s one of the secrets of Downton Abbey) and integrates them into the drama (the gap between soap and preaching is what dooms The Newsroom.) The Hour, beginning its second season on BBC America, gets that formula, and if anything tips toward the lurid with its new episodes.
The cast is as impeccable as ever: Romola Garai as Bel, the producer of an hour-long BBC news program, who ended last season bereft of both her best friend Freddie (a disarmingly smooth Ben Whishaw) a reporter who was fired, and the married lover she dumped, her show’s anchor, Hector (Dominic West in dashing 50’s mode).
But she’s not alone for long. Freddie is rehired, arriving back from a world-wide trip with a secret that will not please Bel. Hector, hanging out in a nightclub owned by a thug, is soon in more serious trouble than we could see coming. And it turns out the mysterious, acerbic new head of news (Peter Capaldi from The Thick of It) has a romantic history with Lix – played by Anna Chancellor, who redeems the cliche of the hard-drinking foreign correspondent with her ease in the role.
It is 1957 and news is happening: the threat of nuclear war (every politician’s scary bogeyman), racism, gentrification, crime. Written by Abi Morgan, at its best The Hour succeeds far better than her more pretentious screenplays for Iron Lady or Shame. But we follow The Hour for the way its sharper-than–life characters carry on -- in every sense.
Ignore the puffy pull-quotes on screen in this trailer and you’ll get an enticing glimpse of season 2, with its ultra-Mad Men ambience.
If you want to catch up on season 1, here’s a 90-second recap.