The Hour (BBC)

by James McNally on January 29, 2012

in DVD,Television

The Hour
Editor’s Note: The Hour will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US and Canada on February 7 by BBC America. You can help Toronto Screen Shots by buying from or

For my Canadian readers, I must begin by saying that obvi­ously this is not the CBC chat show with George Strombolopoulos. Instead, The Hour is a BBC series about the making of a tele­vi­sion news­magazine pro­gram in the 1950s. This prom­ises the art dir­ec­tion of Mad Men with the back­stage man­euv­ering and larger polit­ical intrigues of some­thing like Good Night and Good Luck. Starring a cast of British actors who will be largely unknown to North American audi­ences (Romola Garai, Dominic West, Ben Whishaw), the six hour-long epis­odes of this first season (or “series” as the English more accur­ately describe it) set up the cre­ation of a new pro­gram to deliver the news to the British public in the early days of television.

It’s 1956 and TV news is still being delivered like the news­reels shown in the cinema. Young BBC reporter Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) and his best friend/crush Bel Lyons (Romola Garai), already bored of the way they’re presenting the news, apply for pos­i­tions on a new pro­gram, “The Hour.” But there is also a dark con­spiracy brewing, and by the end of the first episode, two people are dead, one of whom was a friend of Freddie’s. While he invest­ig­ates the murders, Bel is coping with her new pos­i­tion as pro­ducer as well as flirting with the hand­some anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West). Whishaw has just the right amount of cyn­icism to play the underdog, and based on the first hour, I’m hopeful that the con­spiracy stuff will win out over soap opera melo­drama and romantic entanglements.

The series has been a suc­cess on British tele­vi­sion and has already been renewed for another six-episode series.


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by James McNally on April 30, 2010

in DVD Clubs,Television

Survivors: Complete Seasons One & Two

In what is likely to be the only piece of non–Hot Docs–related news for the next little while, I’m happy to announce that BBC America/BBC Canada this week released Seasons (or more accur­ately, Series) 1 and 2 of Adrian Hodges’ post-apocalyptic drama Survivors. I became hooked on this show more than a year ago, and up until now had to resort to some rather dubious means in order to keep up with it. Based on the ori­ginal 70s series cre­ated by Terry Nation (although Hodges calls it more of a re-imagining), Survivors fol­lows a small group of people who sur­vive a cata­strophic virus that wipes out 99% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion in a matter of a few days. The storyline has lots of twists and turns, but the best part for me is just seeing how people might sur­vive when all of their creature com­forts are sud­denly taken away. Who is best-equipped to sur­vive in a world like that? Since the series is based in the UK, at least everyone isn’t going around with auto­matic weapons, so the threat of viol­ence, though ever-present, doesn’t erupt into ludicrous fire­fights every episode.

I’ll have to say that the writing starts to wobble a bit in Series 2, espe­cially when it’s obvious that the pro­du­cers are reluctant to kill off any of their char­ac­ters. But Survivors is hugely enjoy­able, and may even have you thinking about how you might endure if/when everything even­tu­ally goes pear-shaped.

Survivors: The Complete Original Series

The ori­ginal series has also been released. All 38 epis­odes from 1975–1977 are included, as well as the fea­tur­ette “The Cult of Survivors”. Although the fash­ions haven’t aged kindly, the stories hold up remark­ably well, and you can see how the newer show has changed some of the ori­ginal char­ac­ters. As you can see from the extensive Wikipedia entry, this series has attained cult status and for fans of the show, this is likely to be the bigger prize.

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Top Gear - Your Hosts
Editor’s Note: Top Gear Seasons 11 and 12 were released on DVD in the US and Canada on January 12 by Warner Brothers. You can help Toronto Screen Shots by buying from or

I don’t own a car. In fact, I don’t even drive. That hasn’t dimin­ished in the slightest my pas­sion for this show. Broadcast ori­gin­ally on BBC, and now a hit on this side of the pond on BBC America and BBC Canada, this show about cars might pos­sibly be the best thing on television.

On the air since 1978, it’s been hosted since 1988 by the cur­mudgeonly Jeremy Clarkson. He’s ably assisted by tall hippie James May (often called “Captain Slow” by his col­leagues) and the dimin­utive Richard Hammond (occa­sion­ally referred to as “Hamster”). The chem­istry between the hosts is about 80% of the secret to the show’s suc­cess, with the centrepiece of each episode con­sisting of a series of vehicle-related chal­lenges in which the trio can com­pete against each other. Some high­lights include the three racing each other in trucks and city buses.

Other pop­ular seg­ments are the “Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car” (in which a celebrity is inter­viewed after com­pleting a lap of the racetrack in a “reg­ular” car) and those involving the masked race driver known only as The Stig. This anonymous pro takes out an end­less pro­ces­sion of fancy cars week after week and tries to com­plete the fastest lap of the Top Gear track. In this way, models are rated against each other and argued about end­lessly by the hosts.

Perhaps the best thing about the show is that it makes not a bit of dif­fer­ence that none of the models fea­tured on the show are even for sale in North America. Nobody in Britain can afford these cars, anyway. Top Gear is the ulti­mate vicarious thrill show. We can watch a crew of foul-mouthed wise­cracking lun­atics tear around a race track in ludicrously expensive cars and we’re sat­is­fied. The cam­er­a­work is dazzling, and the descrip­tions of the cars are over the top, which is also part of the fun.

It’s simply a joy to see these guys having so much fun at their jobs. The inter­views are also great, because they put the celebrities into unfa­miliar ter­ritory. Behind the wheel of a car and racing around a track, they don’t seem that much dif­ferent to us after all. Well, except for me. I can’t drive.

Top Gear Season 11 DVD Top Gear Season 12 DVD

Season 11 Details:

  • 6 epis­odes on 2 DVDs
  • 364 minutes

Season 12 Details:

  • 8 epis­odes on 4 DVDs
  • 500 minutes
  • Special Features include com­mentary on cer­tain epis­odes, the director’s cut of the Botswana Special from Season 10, deleted scenes and more.

Official web site on BBC America

Complete episode guide from Wikipedia

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