The Hour (BBC Two)
The Hour was so heavily promoted that it almost feels as if the series has been with us since the '50s. In the thousands of words expended on Abi Morgan's drama before broadcast, two seemed to crop up with annoying frequency: "Mad" and "Men". As a period drama stuffed stuffed with vintage clothes and boasting more fags on the go than a Dot Cotton impersonators convention, the comparison was inevitable.
But The Hour is a very different beast to Mad Men. Set a decade earlier, in the far more drab and austere surroundings of postwar London, its plot attempts to cross-pollinate a workplace drama about the birth of the BBC's current affairs department with a conspiracy thriller.
It's that second strand of the plot that makes The Hour seem so pertinent today. Despite taking place in 1956, just on the cusp of Suez, the series has fortuitously arrived as the country is gripped by another crisis of government - the Hackgate scandal.
Switching over from the news to watch the start of a story that looks set to consider the way the police, the media and the government interact feels right. That said, seeing righteous reporter, Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), slipping a police sergeant a fiver to get a look at the murdered man's body and swiping a photo from his office, helped to muddy the waters somewhat.
The first episode introduced the conspiracy element of the plot in an intriguing if confusing way with an eminent Egyptologist bumped off in a Tube station by a spook who looks set to ingratiate himself in the heart of the new TV show's production team. When Tim Pigott-Smith, playing a peer caught up in the brouhaha, asked "Do we live in a democracy or under the illusion of one?", it felt as if he could be cribbing a line from one of the participants in today's scandals rather than reading his script.
The other half of The Hour's storyline, centred around the creation of the identically-titled show within a show, is promising but was hampered in the first episode by ham-fisted dialogue.
Freddie is idealistic but incredibly irritating, rushing about the place shouting phrases that sound like they come from The Day Today ("We're calcifying in news!). He's in love with hard-working, no-nonsense Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), who's landed the role of producer on the new programme. Completing the love-triangle is part-charming/part-slimy presenter Hector Madden, played by Dominic West in a move that will please his admirers a lot more than his future role as serial killer Fred West.
The biggest problem with episode one of The Hour was Morgan's tendency to have characters deliver monologues on the injustice of the times. While Freddie's speechifying arguably fits with his character as a chippy, rebellious type, Bel's lectures on chauvinism felt a stilted: "Beyond that door, women are not allowed. What is it about you men? You always need a tiny corner where we can't reach you."
To really get the message across, the director should have created an animated Andrea Dworkin to pop up and shout whenever some of that nasty fifties sexism was taking place, just to make sure we really got the point: "For shame! That man just commented on that woman's blouse!"
Ultimately, the opening of The Hour managed to feel both rushed in places and lacking in momentum in others but I suspect we'll warm to the characters as they bed in across the six episodes. While pedants are bound to spot historical inaccuracies and anachronisms in the script, The Hour looks gorgeous and has a stellar supporting cast to back up the main trio. Burn Gorman as the murderous spook has already been cast as the protagonist in my nightmares and Julian Rhind-Tutt is brilliant as a creepy government advisor with more than a hint of Peter Mandelson about him.
On the basis of one 53-inute episode, its hard to tell whether Morgan will be able to make The Hour more than an exercise in 1950s dress up. With any luck, subsequent episodes will rely less on sermons and more on the writer's proven ability to power forward a plot, bringing both the love triangle and the conspiracy to to a satisfying conclusion.
The Glee Project (Sky 1)
Satisfying my shameful addiction to talent contests during the summer lull between the end of Britain's Got Talent and the schedule-swallowing juggernaut that is The X-Factor is always a challenge. This year I've reached rock bottom by watching The Glee Project, a scary collision of stage school egos and artificial exuberance that has crashed landed on Sky 1 ahead of Glee Series 3.
Featuring a collection of 'misfits' who would, like the current cast of Glee, easily rule any normal high school with their bright white smiles and perky charm, The Glee Project is frighteningly positive with only the choreographer getting anywhere near the harshness we expect from British TV talent judges. While the criticisms are slight, someone still gets canned each week. This is the Animal Farm of reality TV: everyone is brilliant but some are more brilliant than others.
Among the remaining 10 contestants, the most unsettling is Lindsey, a young woman so confident that I fear she would slice off her own hand in the sincere belief that her body is talented enough to spontaneously grow a new one. Ultimately though, the humans are secondary. The real star on The Glee Project is AutoTune, which is slapped onto the contestants' vocals before they lip-sync in the week's video challenge.
Everything about The Glee Project feels as unreal as the sound stage where it's filmed but there's still something oddly compelling about it, like watching Frankenstein creating his monster with only Lady Gaga records and glitter to hand.
Watch this weekend
Lemmy: The Movie (BBC 4), Friday, 9.40pm
With a face so craggy it looks as it's been chiselled from some lost rock'n'roll Mount Rushmore, Lemmy, the legendary Motorhead frontman, initially seems pretty intimidating. The fact that he's survived most of his long career on a diet of speed and Jack Daniels does little to diminish that impression. However, this surprisingly gentle documentary reveals him as the eccentric old uncle of rock, albeit with a rather perturbing penchant for collecting Nazi memorabilia.
The Space Shuttle's Last Flight (Channel 4), Saturday, 7.30pm
After a depressingly squalid week of news down on our planet's surface, this documentary offers a chance to revel in one of man's greatest achievements in space. Celebrating the completion of Atlantis's final mission on Thursday, this documents the history of the shuttle programme, explores its legacy and remembers the tragedies along the way. It may be a rather sedate choice for a Saturday evening but it sure as hell beats The Marriage Ref.
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more