Review: BBC America's 'The Hour' heads back to the '50s in style

Imitation is the sincerest form of television, but usually the shows being imitated are the biggest of hits. The thinking, after all, is that your clone won't get ratings as high as "Friends" or "CSI" or "Lost," but if you copy a show with a big enough base, the fall-off will lead to acceptable ratings. For some reason, though, this season ABC and NBC  - two broadcast networks who are still, in theory, in the business of trying to get the biggest audiences possible for their shows - have scheduled a pair of new dramas ("Pan Am" for ABC, "The Playboy Club" for NBC) both very reminiscent of AMC's "Mad Men,"whose ratings would nonetheless have gotten it canceled by week 3 on a network. 

"Mad Men" is an incredible show, and it's easy to understand why the big broadcasters might have some cable envy. But even if "Pan Am" has some promise ("The Playboy Club," much less so), it's hard to imagine either rookie succeeding commercially when they debut next month. If anyone should be trying out a drama set close to the "Mad Men" era, it should be a cable network even lower on the food chain than AMC, and/or the British. 

And BBC America is about to prove this point with tomorrow's 10 p.m. debut of "The Hour," a winning new drama set only a few years before Don Draper would get a new secretary named Peggy Olsen. 

Now, "Mad Men" is only one of the many influences on "The Hour," which also mashes up heavy elements of Ian Fleming, "Broadcast News" and even another (even lower-rated) AMC series, "Rubicon."

The year is 1956, and the BBC is preparing to launch a new TV newsmagazine called "The Hour," one that all involved hope will go deeper and leave more of an impression than the staid, tedious shows where brilliant, cocky producer Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw, from the 2008 "Brideshead Revisited") feels he's wasting his abundant talents. Freddie expects to be put in charge of "The Hour," but the job instead goes to his best friend (and unrequited crush), the equally brilliant (and far more politically savvy) Bel Rowley (Romola Garai from "Atonement") while he has to take a junior position. Worse, the show's anchorman is Hector Madden (Dominic West from "The Wire"), a pretty face with the proper bloodlines, who seems to be in way over his head - and yet still draws Bel's eye in a way that gawky, pugnacious Freddie never has. Read More...


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