Killer scenes and visual appeal in The Hour

Last updated 05:00 13/02/2013

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Sparkling lines save a slow first Downton Hidden agendas and half-truths abound Inspector Morse gave clues to guests' greatness Hard to get excited about manufactured kitchen dramas Tim Balme's killer concept: The Brokenwood Mysteries Off-key and irritating Special law enforcement series bunkum, but fun The guilty pleasures of late legals New host for Police Ten 7 revealed Mihi Forbes: The quiet achiever

At the risk of being howled down as an easy sell, there is suddenly a small avalanche of seriously good television in this new season - the most stylish being Soho's second season of The Hour, Monday.

Along with The Blue Rose, The Americans, The Following and George Gently, this stunning English thriller fills the armchair appointment card out nicely.

Even richer in visual appeal and denser in plot than the superb first series, it continues chronicling the machinations behind a fictional BBC TV current affairs show in ultra-conservative 1950s black-and-white Britain.

This time the bright and brittle journos have more than last series' spy scandal to contend with: fascism, racism, organised crime, and the advent of serious competition from ITV.

Popularity has all but ruined the wolfishly handsome frontman Hector (Dominic West), whose whisky-fuelled delusions of grandeur are about to cost him dearly.

Leaving his increasingly depressed wife at home folding pastel napkins and baking party food for their non-existent children, he has been nightclubbing with sinister types.

Into the mix skulks new TV news chief Brown, played with obsessive-compulsive malevolence by the brilliant Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It). A practitioner of the stone-in-the-shoe school of management, he brings back exiled star reporter Lyon, (Noah Taylor) by now noxiously cocky, as Hector's co-anchor.

This also discombobulates long-suffering producer Bel (Romola Garai), who, in an excruciatingly sad scene, discovers this ratbag whom she secretly adores is now married.

There are so many killer scenes: Hector's tearoom meeting with his wife, who only just restrains herself from braining him with a saucer; Brown's passive-aggressive conversations with each staffer; the risibly formal countdown to the show's on-air time.

And a special mention for the fashion: Dior's New Look, Hartnell's upholstered tailoring and a sumptuous eyeful of gelato coloured kitchen appliances . . .

None of which get a look-in, obviously, in Sunday's return of Masterchef New Zealand.

So far suspiciously overstocked with talented and humble supplicants, the series mercifully retained the lone roughie contestant, straggle-chopped farmer Johnny, who arrived luridly hung-over and lacking only a freshly shot carcass under each armpit.

Declaring "Chicken, to me, is more of a ladies' meat, so it's almost a vegetable," he produced a hairs-on-ya-chest red meat dish cooked to well beyond the judges' picky expectations.

Charm comes in some unlikely packages.

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- Wellington


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