The Hour isn't quite as obscure as other shows covered by this column, but it is certainly less appreciated than it should be. The series is rarely mentioned in conversations that include current British television greats like Sherlock or Downton Abbey, and really, it should.
For the uninitiated, The Hour is perhaps best seen as what a mash-up of HBO's The Newsroom and AMC's Mad Men would look like: a team of British journalists attempt to revolutionize the television news landscape while dealing with personal drama of their own. But unlike The Newsroom, The Hour doesn't stew on self-righteousness and indignation. After all, what is there to be gained by shaking your head in frustrated indignation at the backwards politics of the 1960s? The series is much more a study of the lives of journalists than it is an attempt to retcon history; it just so happens that the lives of the journalists on The Hour often become intwined with the stories they are covering.
Much of The Hour's strengths don't lie with the storyline, though -- it's the fantastic cast that really seals the deal. The arguable star of the show is Ben Whishaw (I'm Not There, Cloud Atlas), who many might remember from this year's Skyfall as the nerdy, youthful Q. Whishaw plays the enthusiastic Freddie Lyon, who, despite his brilliant journalistic talents, is often the biggest obstacle to his own success. Whishaw shares the spotlight (and considerable chemistry) with Romola Garai, who plays The Hour's producer, Bel Rowley. It's fun to note that Freddie's nickname for Bel is "Moneypenny," after the Bond character.
Rounding out the leading trio is Dominic West, who most American television fans will at least recognize as Jimmy McNulty, The Wire's de facto lead character. He plays the womanizing, boozing face of The Hour here -- the show's equivalent of a Don Draper, with less self-control. While he's not the standout of the three leads, he nonetheless delivers a solid performance.
The supporting cast includes some rather familiar faces -- Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock), Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It), and Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones) all have supporting roles throughout the show's two seasons.
So while The Hour is really a wealth of great performances, it does feature some rather compelling storytelling. The last episode of the first series features a gratifying twist at the end, while the entire second series has proven to be a compelling story of exposed corruption. And, as fans of Mad Men can attest, you can't deny the charms of a 1960s-set period drama.
All in all, The Hour isn't perfect, but it's definitely underappreciated by American audiences. Those looking to catch up on the show (only six episodes per series) can do so through iTunes or DVD; the final episode of the sixth series will air next Wednesday on BBC America.