As if the temptation last week to write snarky comments based on the title wasn’t hard enough to resist (‘The Hour? It felt more like three’), this time there was the matter of bad reviews to avoid. Not reviews for the programme itself (which, seem to have been quite universally unimpressed – it’s always slightly alarming to be on the same side as one of Peter Hitchins’ Daily Mail columns, although it’s unlikely that my review will end up descending into a crazy anti-BBC rant like his did), but for the titular show-within-a-show. Although, judging by the cool critical reponse the show has received, there was perhaps something knowing about having the BBC2 announcer introduce the show with ‘As The Hour fails to impress its audience, can the team turn things around?’
In other words, I’m sort of regretting making the commitment to review the whole of the series at the moment. It still seems like an intelligent, interesting and promising concept, but has hardly delivered on the dramatic stakes so far. Hopefully the series will soon start to follow the advice given by Bel to Hector and will ‘do better’.
That’s not to say that there weren’t a few plot developments to get stuck into. The Suez crisis reared its ugly head, and a fair chunk of the second half of the episode was devoted to trying to get an interview on the subject, which was actually pretty interesting. Elsewhere the Ruth Elms suicide case gave Freddy something to obsess over (which included sticking newspaper clippings on a wall and joining them all together with string in a seemingly arbitrary way, which is probably one of those things that we see all the time on the telly and in films, but has never actually been done in real life) as it turns out (surprise!) that she probably didn’t kill herself, and Burn Gorman’s murderer continued to look a bit weird and shifty, but was now doing so in the newsroom as he, for some nefarious purpose no doubt, got himself hired as The Hour’s Arabic translator.
The plot’s looking like it’s going to get so thick and convoluted that I didn’t even think of the Mad Men comparison this week, or the State of Play one for that matter. Instead, with much of the action revolving around miserable people standing under umbrellas spying on each other, it was quite Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy instead – the hinted at phone tapping seemed like something out of a cold war era spy drama, not to mention the hidden clues left by the murdered academic in the Evening Standard crosswords. Which was one of a few points where the scheduling seemed particularly serendipitous, recalling the supposed Rebekah Brooks slamming in the last News of the World puzzle from a couple of weeks ago, other details that now seemed quite relevant were the sniping at fat cats abusing ‘fleet street expense accounts’ and the pondering of ‘Do we live in a democracy of under the illusion of one?’ (although, admittedly both are sayings and sentiments that have been used so often that they’re verging on cliche) .
The pacing remains a problem however as there’s so much that feels unnecessary – during my first viewing of the episode, I fell asleep for ten minutes and missed practically nothing. Given that the series is set during the height of rationing, it’s somewhat ironic that any dramatic meat is surrounded by a heavy layer of fat.
To be fair, there were some flashes of humour to liven things up a bit, even if they weren’t entirely successful. I liked the rather dejected looking astronaut/nerd in a spacesuit standing ignored in the corner of the newsroom, the frantically incomprehensible hand gestures used as a method of direction during a live broadcast, and the monk walking through the studio corridor, closely followed by an extravagantly dressed showgirl. On the other hand the characters intended as light-relief – Bel’s lush of a mother and the overenthusiastic secretary – seemed a little too broad, they definitely have the potential to become irritating as the weeks go on. But, to confuse the meat metaphor further, things are definitely still a bit too dry. Perhaps that’s why they included the shot of Freddy and Bel jumping up and down on a bed during the trailer for the next episode. Unless so little happens next week that that’s one of the more dramatic moments, in which case expect a far less forgiving review than this one.