Getting antsy waiting for Mad Men to return in March, 2012? While new fall series such as The Playboy Club and Pan Am will both try to siphon off fans of "highly stylized midcentury-modernist" dramas, BBC America's The Hour, which premiered Wednesday night, may be the most distracting Mad Men alternative of them all. The series — set in England's BBC newsroom in the late 1950s as it shifts from airing newsreels to investigative journalism — is drawing comparisons to AMC's Emmy-winning drama for its "moody, smoky" cinematography, its period art direction, and its blend of personal drama and media-workplace plots. Is The Hour a superior British version of Mad Men?
Bow down, Don Draper: As the best new show of the summer, says James Poniewozik at TIME, The Hour is "Mad Men plus a lot": An espionage thriller, a "searing look" at TV journalism, and a welcome return to TV for The Wire's Dominic West. Visually, all the Mad Men-esque boxes are checked, and the series' central mystery — which pops up tantalizingly near the close of the premiere — adds a "distinctively dark, noirish" dimension. The one drawback of The Hour? You wish it "lasted all day."
"TV tonight: The Hour"
It doesn't live up to the comparison: The Hour's branding as "Mad Men-sterpiece Theatre" is understandable, but it's a slight to the AMC series, says Troy Patterson at Slate. The mystery that underlies The Hour's newsroom drama is less "edge-of-your-seat spy thriller" than "arm-of-your-sofa spy thriller." Too many plot coincidences prevent "the pot from coming to a boil." Despite lively banter between its likable cast, The Hour is ultimately "cozier and slower and airier" than the prickly Men.
"The Hour reviewed"
In any case, what a fascinating dissection of news: Beyond the Mad Men comparisons, The Hour is a brilliant and well-timed take on journalism, says Linda Holmes at NPR. With its period approach, The Hour doesn't fall into the "same 'print is dying, blogs are evil, Gawker is taking over' merry-go-round" that dominates current discussions. Its "subtle but unmistakable" message: There has "always been more than one way to cover the news," and there's always been an internal struggle when those ways evolve.
"The Hour: Intrigue at the BBC"