As our own Judy Berman noted earlier today, we’ve recently reached a bit of a dead zone in the world of TV, with no Mad Men to help get us through the lull until the fall premiere season. But apparently all is not lost. Tonight, a new show called The Hour makes its stateside debut on BBC America, and according to every review that we’ve come across, this six-part series is definitely required viewing — especially if you’re looking to satisfy a period-piece fix (cough, cough). Check out the trailer here if you haven’t seen it already, and click through for a quick roundup of what the critics are saying about the ’50s spy thriller.
You’ll be immediately (and consistently!) sucked in. “The Hour is an absorbing series that makes you want the next installment immediately even as it takes its time (in that British way) telling the story,” writes Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter. “Having seen the first three (of six) episodes, the series has very few missteps.”
It’s not just a Mad Men wannabe. “Any period piece set in the 1950s is bound to look a lot like Mad Men, and this narrative also unfolds through an amber haze of cigarette smoke, whiskey and social taboos,” concedes New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley. “Yet unlike the many sterile Mad Men knockoffs that American networks are bringing out in the fall, like The Playboy Club and Pan Am, this BBC series isn’t a pale imitation of anything else on television.”
It’s familiar — in a good way. “What makes it so engaging is not that the series finds anything new to twist, but that it works so well with and within the strictures of the well-thumbed genres it combines in equal parts: spy thriller, murder mystery, backstage drama, triangular romance,” explains LA Times critic Robert Lloyd. “It is fresh and yet immediately familiar, cut new to classic lines, like a Savile Row suit or a little black dress. [Creator Abi] Morgan does not shy from the obvious; rather, she makes a playground there. There are characters whose fate you know within 10 seconds, though you like them, and fear for them, no less for it.”
The cast is solid. According to the San Francisco Gate‘s David Wiegand: “…The Hour is graced by superb performances, not only by the actors in the three central roles, but also Anna Chancellor as Lix Storm, a hard-bitten former war correspondent; Julian Rhind-Tutt as the oleaginous government factotum Angus McCain; Anton Lesser as the network’s news chief, whose allegiances are not always clear; Juliet Stevenson as Lady Elms, the mother of Freddie’s childhood friend; and Oona Chaplin (daughter of Geraldine, granddaughter of Charlie) as Dominic’s perfect 1950s stay-at-home wife.”
It will leave you wanting more. “The problem here, typical of so much British TV, is there just aren’t enough of these hours — though each one counts,” says TV Guide‘s Matt Roush. “And by the end of the twisty sixth hour, you’ll be satisfied, if still craving more.”