I read about The Hour awhile ago in some publications but last night, I finally got to see the first episode - it's the benefit of staying with friends who have BBC series readily available. It's been hailed as the next Mad Men but I'm not quite sure I would go that far.
The scene is set in London in 1956 and if you're a Mad Men watcher, it takes some time - the entire episode in fact - to get used to the much slower pace of action but higher rate of mumbling. Granted I'm listening with the ear of a Yankee but still. Also, I can't tell if the pace was slow in order to set up the arc of the story and now that it's set, things will pick up in future episodes or if this was the pace car and the rest of the season only follows.
The other big thing to get used to is the time and context. Even though only four years apart (Mad Men started in 1960) these two shows are - no pun intended - oceans away. Whereas Mad Men is at what seems firmly in the beginning of an era - American growth, the arrival of mass air travel, women's lib, social change, advent of suburbia...you name it, it's changing, The Hour is changing because it's right at the end but not quite at the beginning. Set only 10 years after the war, 1956 London seems grubby, recovering, covered in remnants of tougher times compared with sleek, fast-paced New York, and this permeates the set design - dark corners, single lightbulbs, London's infamous rain... Since the news show that will be the focus of the series marks the change of news reels to news reporting, you can't help but wonder whether the characters are pioneers or just a bit early to the party.
Finally, there is the costuming - Mad Men is known for its meticulous attention to detail yet The Hour seems a bit improvisational. There are some glaring things - for example, a lot of bare arm, exposed shoulders, rather flimsy silk blouses, long hair on the protagonist, that seem just too early for their time and I can't tell if it's an accidental anachronism or an intended post-war "make do with what you have" kind of look. That being said, is that necessarily a deal breaker? The important thing is that even with the inconsistencies in details, there is a consistent look to the cast. It's moodier, more texture, more shadows - and maybe that will be consistent with the plot twists of the show. There is definitely a reoccuring dark man lurking in the corner. In any case, I'm hoping to pick up the DVD's at the airport to give the rest of the season a chance so that I can find out.