: 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 Amazon.ca
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.
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.
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.
: 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 Amazon.ca
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.
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