The Book Club: September 2011

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

Television and pop culture go hand in hand like cheese and crackers. Sonny and Cher. Hootie and all of his Blowfish. Peanut butter and jelly. Thursday nights and “Seinfeld.” Jim and Pam. Hot sauce and chicken wings. Alcohol and, well, more alcohol. 

And that’s why the fabulous Stephanie Mlot and I have decided to team up to provide you — the six fantastically intelligent and pretty readers of our particular individual blogs — with one humble recommendation regarding television, movies, music, books or anything of the like each month to make your life just a little bit more worth living. Think of it as a pathetic attempt at cross-promotion, if you will.  

We call it “The Book Club.” Will it always feature books? Of course not, silly. But what it will feature is a commentary from the two of us — her take appearing on my “TV Without A TV” blog while my take will be shown on her “Pop Goes The Culture” space — that confronts a piece of something — anything — we think you lovely young faces may enjoy. 

The point, of course, is going to be an attempt at bringing some of the things we consider to be our favorite — things that may have slipped by your conscience in the past or things that you may be unaware of now that are completely ruling our worlds — into your own personal pop culture lexicon. Take them as recommendations, if you will, to try and show our appreciation and love for you taking the time to stop by our tiny corner of the InterWebs. 

First up is “The Hour,” a BBC series we both fell madly in love with before anyone could say “United” or “Kingdom.” As always, we welcome opinions, emails, death threats and anything of the like regarding such a thing. If you love it, we’d love to know. And if you hate it, well, we’d still love to know. Either way, we hope you can find at least something — anything — out of these monthly diatribes aimed at spreading the word about some of the things we have deep, deep affection for. 

As for now, I recommend you taking a few minutes to check out what Ms. Pop Culture herself has to say about the show below. And for the two of you (what’s up, two obligatory family members!) looking for my thoughts on the show, head over to Ms. Mlot’s blog. (See what we did there, with this whole cross-promotion thing?! Goodness, how neat!)


A journalist, a producer and an anchorman walk into a TV studio in Cold War-era England…

No, there’s no punch-line. Just the six hours of glory that follow Freddie Lyon, Bel Rowley and Hector Madden through “The Hour”‘s 1956 Suez Canal crisis and the Soviet invasion of Budapest, set against the backdrop of love affairs, scandal and murder — exactly what 1950s UK was all about.

“How do you know exactly the right question to ask?” Hector inquires of his man-behind-the-curtain co-worker.

“Because I’m not afraid of the answers,” Freddie deadpans.

Freddie Lyon is everything I wish I could be. He’s tenacious, witty, ambitious, stubborn, smart, curious, brave, daring. (Clearly something akin to a singing Disney character, in my mind.)

Enter obligatory reference to the AMC hit set in the following decade:

I’ve said it before, and I’m not afraid to shout it from the mountaintops again: I don’t like “Mad Men.” I gave it a shot. I gave it two shots. (I’d certainly like to give it two shots…) I just can’t seem to enjoy it, much to my chagrin. (A weekly dose of Jon Hamm looking stunningly debonair? Yes, please.)

But who needs Madison Avenue’s advertising gurus when you can have the unflagging journalists of “The Hour?”

(What’s the real comparison between the two shows, anyway, besides the period-stylish apparel and general feeling of an era long ago, mixed with plenty of alcohol? Two separate themes, two separate decades, two separate countries. Face it, AMC — you can’t compete with across-the-pond accents.)

I suppose Colin deserves some credit for my new love affair. Apparently more connected among the unknown-television scene than I, when he began sniffing around for a means to watch “The Hour,” I came to his rescue, and in the process fell hard for the new show. (Thank you, sir. Now if only you’d submit to watching a Pixar movie…)

With a “Frost/Nixon”-esque newsy force to the plot, the smart, sexy, stimulating writing and acting is nothing short of phenomenal. My singular complaint is that “The Hour” lasts only six episodes, typical of most British series.

I love me a good show about hard-hitting journalism and the real stars behind the camera. “The Hour,” also the title of the show-within-the-show news program, is born of Bel and Freddie’s mutual love for telling the people what they ought to know. But as the best friends try to whip the grudging Hector into a real news anchor, the world around them is falling apart.

Freddie, when not sparring with Hector or pining after Bel, chases a rogue side case of espionage that keeps the death toll piling up within the first three episodes, and which often left my heart pounding out of fear excitement for where the story would lead.

Bel, a self-assuredly powerful woman in a man’s world, continues to reject Freddie’s long-time affection, and instead falls for, well, precisely who you’d imagine. (This is my paltry attempt at avoiding spoilers.) The banter between Bel’s “Moneypenny” and Freddie’s self-imposed “James” (Bond, that is) helps move the show in a stunningly smooth way, making you believe that the two could run off to elope at any second, but will probably just continue smiling at each other before falling into bed with someone else.

Hector … Oh, Hector, and his winning smile and oozing charm, grows from an unwilling, subpar newsreader into a true newsman. The transformation is less than subtle, but beautiful nonetheless. It almost brings a tear to your eye…

And what’s a show without a little night music? The soundtrack, though used sparingly, is mostly simple jazzy interludes. But the timely melodies give an air of haunting beauty to the program.

Simply, “The Hour” is the best show not on [American] television.

Those Brits really know how to make good television. If the political news drama is too heavy for you, BBC America’s new series “Friday Night Dinner” is a raucously brilliant comedy about everyone’s favorite topic: family dysfunction.


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