The Hour – Season Two
You’ll have to pardon the pun – hard when it is one lame enough to live in the script for Skyfall alongside lead Bew Whishaw- but every time the closing credits for this show start to roll I can’t help but think to myself that this is one of the only shows screening that still feels full-length; The Hour is the last true hourlong drama, it makes you feel everyone of its sixty minutes ( yes, there are technically only fifty-odd to each episode but try telling me that when it’s running). This isn’t because the show is supremely dense, dark or demanding, in fact the reason rather derives from the opposite; it lingers loosely on the details of what little drama it has and this approach can seem laborious to the Ritalin riddled mind of a member of MTV’s ADD-ridden, acronym addicts that I call a generation.
Abi Morgan, the writer-creator of the series, is well aware of this fact and quite simply doesn’t care; though nor should she. She is not just delivering a show about another era but one that feels like it came from the very same time in which it is set and unlike some other recent examples she isn’t simply scripting speeches in which characters speak about the importance of integrity in television but delivering a living example of it. It’s a brave, bold and oft brilliant move that won me over to the show’s side during its debut season last year, but now that the novelty of its approach has worn off do I still feel the same about this slowest of shows?
No, I don’t but the thing is Abi Morgan doesn’t seem to feel the same way about her show either. The smartest thing about the UK model is its short seasons: US cable stations radical listed the medium when they started ordering thirteen episode batches instead of the usual twenty-two, a trend that networks have only just now jumped on but back in the Motherland they’ve taken things even further, ordering only a finite amount of short and sweet six-episode seasons. This brevity is what differentiated the debut seasons of The Hour and say, The Newsroom: where one was forced to stretch out subplots from cameo’s to core stories the other was able to focus only on the features that it found important, telling only the stories that it wanted and needed to tell.
The other important difference between the two is that while The Newsroom‘s attempt at incorporating political intrigue into the tale of an idealized TV news program was an alien and altogether disposable thread The Hour‘s was arguably of equal importance to that of the titular TV program, thou no less perplexing at times. For every conflict with a studio head there was another with a spy, for every on-air mangling there was a murder and so the line between constructing a story and deconstructing a conspiracy grew faint and hard to find. Though it didn’t always work for me in action this too was an approach that I admired in theory.
The one downside to the small and self-contained stories of the US is that second seasons tend to be more of a sequel than a continuation and the stories can sometimes require some stretching to fit this structure; this is where a british series can stumble. So as The Hour wrapped it’s spy story up during the final episode of its first season I was interested to see how the show would resurrect it this year, what lengths it would have to go to in order to limbo back into that genre fare. It turns out though that they just don’t bother to at all ( at least not yet) and this is perhaps the bravest thing that the show has done yet; imagine if Homeland had returned to show Carrie and Brody simply settling into suburban life, their connection severed and the conflict behind them.
There is a new plot that takes that now vacated second place – something to do with bud, strippers and photography – but it is secondary in nature as well as name; the show instead spending more time in the offices of the studio and the streets of sixties London. The strange relationships between the three leads are thus given more time to stretch, skirt and subvert, the stories covered ( including the Space Race, The Arms Race, Race Relations, The Soho sex trade and others – are more plentiful but no less potent and the introduction of the new head of news, Malcolm Tucker himself, Peter Capaldi, is actually allowed to be important.
There is a conversation in the premiere between Capaldi and Romola Garai’s lead character about ‘Uncovered’ a new news program that has recently launched on a competing network which emulates the harrowing honesty and incorruptibility of ‘The Hour’ with some success. Capaldi raises its critical and commercial success to her and she retorts by saying that yes, it may be more popular now but that is only because it is newer and flashier, two traits that attract the impatient eye of the general public, but so long as they remain better they will outlast it in the end. To me this is Morgan commenting on the success of her own show, which she has actually actively made less flashy; she is saying that so long as it is so classy in its construction, so purposeful in its pacing and so brave in its broadcast then people will continue to watch it. In my case she seems to be right, for while there are some flaws in the show I for one will be sticking with it through this long-seeming short season and any more that may come after it.