Communicator (communicator) wrote,

The Hour vs Mad Men

The Hour, a 6-part BBC drama set in the BBC in 1956, has had a mixed reception. I have enjoyed it. It has inevitably been compared to AMC's Mad Men, but then that immediately makes you think of all the ways The Hour is different. The aesthetic is different of course - more austere, but I think just as compelling. There is a more conventional dramatic plot than Mad Men - a spy-murder-conspiracy story. And finally, the atmosphere is less of a sealed pressure-cooker.

In Mad Men the social roles of the characters, and the mores of the society, are deeply internalised. For example, in Mad Men the women inhabit their gender roles, and only slowly come to notice and question them. In The Hour the women exist outside of their female roles, and wear them as clothes, which they do not always like. The establishment pressure is more overt - the Eden government puts explicit pressure on the BBC not to broadcast comments from Gaitskell, or to report the Prime Minister's 'health problems'. In Mad Men much of the censorship is pre-conscious, coming out in nightmares and alcoholism.

Which of these is more accurate as a depiction of humanity-within-society? Does the difference represent a real difference between the US and UK establishments in the late fifties - one unified by anti-communism, one splintered by it? Or different psychological theories of creativity?

In The Hour they more or less invent the satirical sketch, a media form which was to drive British political dialogue in the early 1960s, to circumvent the censorship of the Conservative establishment. The creation is in the light, and uses humour as aggression. Whereas the creativity in Mad Men seems to come as if up through hidden fissures, surprising the creative person as much as anyone else.

The Hour, if you like, represents a society consciously restructuring itself, and Mad Men represents unconscious processes sweeping people on, both thrilling and implacable.

However, I think some of this difference is due to the difference between American and British high-end drama which I have mentioned before. In America it's economically feasible to make a lot of money from a show which appeals to 5% of the population, in the UK it's hard to. Mad Men can be narrower in its appeal than any BBC show can afford to be. What I mean is - AMC's writers don't have to spell things out for the viewer. BBC writers do not have that luxury, and so the dialogue has to be more explicit and obvious. And that might be why I am feeling that The Hour is about conscious, articulated, social change, and Mad Men is about change painfully coming to consciousness.

For example, last night in The Hour the BBC producer was talking to her mother, a lovely old party-girl. Each woman presents herself differently, one very controlling and one very irresponsible, and yet the subtle similarities between them come out in the conversation. Great. And then as the scene comes to a close the mother opens her mouth (I shouted out 'don't say it!') and says 'You know, perhaps we are more alike than you think' (me: 'nooooo'). It doesn't need to be said. In the best US drama it is not said, they trust us to get it. In BBC drama they feel the need to add these clonking signs to the audience to tell us what to think.

But, despite that, I think it's a good drama. A lot of good characters, and Anna Chancellor is frickin' gorgeous. Boy oh boy.
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