The Hour wears me out. In between yelling at news producer Bel Rowley, “Call yourself an investigative journalist? You couldn’t uncover a duvet,” I project my own emotions on to it, just to liven things up a bit.
It’s such an infuriating drama, a chilly and remote thing that is in love with its own reflection. The Hour (Tonight on BBC2) is a vain woman, standing in front of the mirror, preening. The first series was a yawn that audiences by and large decided they could live without. The second is a yawn that audiences by and large have already decided, judging by early viewing figures, they can live without. Why is it here? Why does The Hour exist?
Probably because The Hour is about television, and no other sector of society – with the probable exception of politicians – is as up itself as the television industry. And the TV industry loves to gaze at its own image, as has become horribly clear during the past few weeks. It’s purely coincidental, of course, that the fictional world of The Hour, about a 1950s BBC news programme, has collided with a real-life story involving a 2012 BBC news programme. Though I suppose this adds piquancy to the antiseptic world of The Hour, the real-life story is turning out to be a whole lot more interesting.
The Hour fails as a drama because it is passionless, chilly and remote. It tries so hard to be understated and stylish that it ends up as little more than a catalogue of people wearing some rather lovely vintage clothes. (The costume and production design are lushly beautiful.) Creator Abi Morgan tried in the first series and tries in the second to convince us that Bel (Romola Garai) and reporter Freddie (Ben Whishaw) burn for one another. But there’s nothing between them. They are two fan-heaters set on “cold”. Mind you, they are, in their own ways, two very annoying characters: no one in real life could possibly ever take Bel seriously as a producer, while Freddie is heroically irritating.
And why is everyone so bloody earnest? Even under the despotic boot of 1950s BBC management, surely The Hour’s journalists had a laugh? Didn’t they ever go to the pub and drown their sorrows? Do they have to be sanctimonious round the clock? Didn’t the newsroom run with hormones and adrenaline some of the time?
Arguably its biggest failing is Morgan’s insistence on trying to mend history. She clearly brought a 21st-century sensibility to a story about racism in the first episode involving the tormenting by local thugs of Freddie’s black neighbours. In a Disneyfied version of the problem the neighbour made a dignified speech on The Hour and everyone Learnt Something and Promised to Change Their Ways. If only it was that easy.