TV Review: BBC America's Dramaville - The Hour and Law & Order: UK
Wed Aug 17 2011
Tonight, BBC America premieres its new "Dramaville" block of programming, hosted by the dashing Idris Elba (whose show Luther will return for a second series in the slot on September 28). While Dramaville is scheduled to host returning shows and classics from the BBC vault like the 2003 miniseries State of Play, its maiden voyage is with the new period drama, The Hour.
Set in 1956, The Hour follows the rise of a BBC news program of the same name and its premiere episode resemble a brew of Broadcast News and Good Night, and Good Luck., with a little of the espionage of AMC's short-lived series Rubicon thrown in for spice. Ben Whishaw and Romola Garai star as best buddies Freddie Lyon and Bel Rowley, currently slaving away at a show of which neither is proud. When the pair is tapped to join "The Hour," Bel as producer and Freddie as the head of Home Affairs, the show doesn't even have a name. It does, however, have a host, in the form of the impossibly charming Hector Madden (The Wire's Dominic West).
The Hour isn't wholly focused on the goings-on of the news show, though. In the premiere episode, Freddie is approached by an old friend (Vanessa Kirby) who informs him of possible foul play involving the death of an academic, hinting at a broader conspiracy. As he begins searching into the man's death, Freddie finds himself cracking coded messages in newspaper crosswords and dodging a potential spy at work.
While the American networks attempt to replicate the success of Mad Men with their 1960's-set The Playboy Club and Pan Am this fall, the BBC has taken a step back to a different decade and done a much better job of capturing the essence of what makes that show great. The Hour weaves drama, espionage and romance together to make an incredibly compelling show that allows itself to exist in its retro era without being wholly defined by it.
The fifth series of Law & Order: UK will begin tonight, before "Dramaville" and The Hour premiere. The American version of the show encountered several cast changes throughout its 20-year run on NBC and the UK model has it's first taste of that as two new cast members join. Like its predecessor, little fanfare is made about the new team members, as if they've already been in these jobs for months. The series four finale saw the exit of Ben Daniels's James Steel and Dominic Rowan has replaced him as Jacob Thorne. Additionally, Bill Paterson is also gone, replaced by Doctor Who veteran Peter Davison as the head of the "Law" portion of the show.
As with the previous series, the episodes are still being adapted from the original hours of Law & Order. The series five premiere is actually an re-working of "Prescription for Death," the first ever episode of the Law & Order franchise. Viewed from across the pond, the investigation of a string of mysterious deaths at a hospital, seems to carry with it a bit of an indictment of the bureaucracy in Britain's National Health Service, but that's quickly dispensed with once the detectives find an actual suspect.
The Law & Order formula is tried and true and even if you've seen every episode of the original series, it can be intriguing to see those stories unfold in another country's legal system. Law & Order: UK continues to be one of the more satisfying spin-offs the franchise has spawned.
Series five of Law & Order: UK premieres on BBC America at 8pm, followed by the premiere of the The Hour at 9pm.