By Paula Hendrickson
Thanks to shows like Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and Sherlock, British dramas are extremely popular these days.
Some people assume most British series are PBS period pieces like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and the newest incarnation of Upstairs, Downstairs. The fact is, no one does great period dramas better than the Brits — except perhaps the cast and crew of AMC’s Mad Men — but they can do other genres well, too. Sherlock and Luther are set in contemporary London, and Doctor Who is one of the most iconic sci-fi series ever. (Of course, as a Time Lord, The Doctor often finds himself in historic settings.)
But the most popular British imports still tend to be dramas set in the past. One of the best is The Hour — returning Nov. 28 for its second season as part of BBC America’s Wednesday night 9 p.m. (Central) Dramaville programming block — a highly acclaimed British espionage thriller revolving around reporters working on a 1950s live news magazine program also called The Hour.
Dominic West (The Wire) stars as Hector, the show-within-the-show’s anchor, while Romola Garai (Emma) and Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) play the young, smart journalists Bel and Freddie, close friends who thrive on uncovering political scandals and corruption.
The new season picks up about a year after the first ended. Thanks to the show, Hector is now a household name, but he’s unhappy with his and Bel’s new bosses. Freddie, who had been fired from the show, is brought back as a co-host.
With just six episodes per season, The Hour is a taut series packed with big twists and revelations in every episode. Season two is supposed to involve a little more of the characters’ personal lives, but the focus still remains on exposing cover-ups, scandals and corruption wherever the intrepid reporters may find it — even in their own back yard, like a certain issue threatening Hector’s daily life and public image.
Like Mad Men, The Hour pays close attention to those little details that make a period piece believable. Clothes, sets, even the way characters speak, help lure viewers back in time to when the Cold War was looming and women — other than the secretaries or receptionists — were rarities in the workplace. The Hour fits in well with Dramaville, and its rotating mix of period and modern-day British dramas like Luther, Whitechapel and White Heat.
Two more period dramas are coming to Dramaville this winter: Ripper Street, set in 1889 and starring Matthew Macfayden (MI-5), and the pre-World War II Spies of Warsaw, starring David Tennant (Doctor Who).
No matter which series is airing on any given Wednesday night, Dramaville is well worth checking out.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Nov. 14-20, 2012, issue