Tuesday, September 6

Dept. of Not Trying Hard Enough

I haven't seen one picture where the young guy has his
collar buttoned--surely he doesn't show up
to work this way? Oh, wait--he's a rebel!

There's a new-ish BBC drama called "The Hour" now airing on TV in the US.  It's their attempt to get in on the Mad Men retro-vibe (we're also going to get the US efforts "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club" this fall--I give them about six weeks).  I'm the perfect audience for something set in that time period, since I know a lot about it and find it endlessly fascinating, but I'm also the worst audience for a present-day writer, production designer, actors, etc., since I can get very distracted spotting all the anachronisms.

I tried to give this one a chance last week, but it lost me about five minutes in.

Here's a description of the show's premise:

A spy thriller needs a spine as stiff as James Bond's martini to nickname a character Moneypenny. BBC America's retro-hip “The Hour” — which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays — certainly has the nerve, and occasionally even the punch to back it up.

Set in a BBC newsroom in 1956 — more excuse than necessary to doll itself up like a “Mad Men” theme party — “The Hour” doesn't improve on its obvious inspirations.

It deserves points, however, for knowing how to pick them: A show-within-the-show is called “The Man Who Knew,” as if adding “Too Much” would be exactly that.

The show is a tasty cocktail of “Front Page” repartee, soap opera romance, murder mystery and Cold War intrigue, all set to a score that sounds like Henry Mancini warming up for “The Pink Panther.”

The six-part series stars Ben Whishaw as Freddie Lyon, a talented, hotheaded BBC writer working alongside his beautiful, ambitious producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai).

He calls her Moneypenny, after the flirtatious secretary in the Bond films. She calls him James, and together they dream of Important Journalism. 

There's a big stinking anachronism right there--and one that apparently gets repeated frequently--the Freddie/Bel James/Moneypenny nickname thing is super el-wrongo.  While Ian Fleming had been writing the 007 books since 1953 (3 or 4 of them published by 1956), the whole Miss Moneypenny routine isn't in them--it started in the first film, Dr. No, in 1962. (It also seems like a cheap shortcut to spelling out the relationship these two characters have with each other.)  It may sound over-picky, but to me it indicates that the writer wasn't that interested in dipping her toes too deeply into any real research, and the whole thing is going to be a kind of glib pseudo-historical cartoon--like a 1970s TV-movie about the forties, with guys with blow-dried hair.  

I initially (way back in 1997) watched Mad Men with this jaundiced eye, but found that they rarely let these kinds of boners (no, I mean it like this) get by, and then I got really caught up in the show, because it's good, and Matthew Weiner and company are actually trying.  Historical accuracy has traditionally not been a hallmark of movies and TV (and every other medium of fiction), but there seems to be a trend toward making an effort in that regard.

The trick with writing historical fiction is really caring about getting into the time period (and the way people interacted and spoke to each other--it's not only about trivial details).  If you're not interested in doing the work, you should stick to things you've actually experienced.


  1. Wow, you really were ahead of the curve, watching Mad Men in 1997!

    From the description, this show sounds like it will produce plenty of boners, and not in a "that's what she said" kind of way.

    And what happened to the young guy's face? Part of it looks to be missing.

  2. Oops! 1997 and 2007 both seem like the same year to me! For I am old.

    I think the young guy just has too much hair and not enough head.

  3. I have the same problem. I keep forgetting that the years 2000-2009 were a different decade from the one we're in now, which means the 90s were usually 10-15 years ago when I try to figure stuff out in my head (and I'm usually very good at doing math in my head).

    You don't think they just did a bad job placing him against that background?

  4. I think he has a V-shaped head. here's another photo:

    I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around remembering that the 80s are now going to be 30 years ago, and the 70s are going to be 40 years ago, etc.