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Three BBC America Shows to Break Your Heart

I’ve been gone a long time, and for that I am truly sorry. But here is post full of things to distract you from my lack of being around so long. This year BBC America has broadcast three shows that are really, really good at not only getting you way too invested in the characters, but are also good at breaking your heart into little pieces. Not only that, but they are genuinely brilliant shows. So, here they are:

The Hour

Series 2 aired this past year, but Series 1 is also good. Unfortunately, the show was canceled after Series 2 despite writer Abi Morgan having won an Emmy Award for writing the series. The Hour takes place in the 1950’s and revolves around a team of journalists making a new show called The Hour, a weekly news show produced by the BBC. It’s “the hour you can’t miss.” Leading the team is Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), a brilliant journalist who is a pioneer in her field simply for being a working woman in a time when women didn’t really work in high positions or have respect. Also working with her is her long-time friend Freddy Lyon (Ben Whishaw), who will stop at nothing to dig out the whole truth for a story and then some. There’s Hector Madden (Dominic West), the host of the show who isn’t so much a good journalist as he is a good face for the camera. There’s also quite a few other characters who get to share the spotlight, and their lives are also examined in the context of the news program they’re putting out.

And what a news program it is. The first series deals with post-World War II Britain and the fight in Egypt over the Suez Canal. The government, who owns the BBC, tries to stop The Hour from broadcasting anything too controversial, while Bel and Freddy uncover a story that could reveal uncomfortable truths about the nature of government. The finale is an awesome commentary on the interplay between government censorship and the media, and is still relevant today. Series 2 examines police corruption in London, at a time where the country is spending huge amounts of money on defending against a nuclear threat that might not come, while in the city crime runs rampant and the owner of a “gentlemen’s club” has police in the palm of his hand.

All of these are fascinating issues on their own, but they are added to some very well-done character developments as well. Bel and Hector have an affair, and Hector’s wife, Marnie, has to find a way to deal with it. Freddy loves Bel but is convinced she doesn’t love him back, and Bel won’t admit that she might feel attracted to Freddy. Various other characters go through life changing events, and they all still have to put journalism at the front of their minds because that’s what matters. As Freddy says of Bel, “cut you to your core and you’ll find news running through your spine.” Journalism and personal matters conflict with each other, and it is these conflicts that give the show some of its most heart-breaking scenes. The end of series 2 and, by extension, the end of the entire show, is definitely something that brings on tears and feelings of mourning what could have been.

Broadchurch

Broadchurch is a new show, currently having just finished its first series, about a crime taking place in a small Scottish town on the seaside. A young boy named Danny goes missing in the middle of the night, and detectives Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Coleman) are forced to work together to take on the case. Adding to the tension is the fact that Hardy took the job Miller wanted while she was on vacation. They find Danny dead, murdered at the beach, and soon the whole town is wondering who did it. And the town is small, so everybody knows everybody. Except for Hardy, who is the only stranger. Miller finds herself in a strange position by being one of the leads on the case but also extremely close to the affected family.

The show is heartbreaking in that there are scenes that ring very true to grief and desperation interspersed with what one might think of as traditional police procedural proceedings. It’s got a lot more emotion than your average cop show, because the crime is so close to many in the police department and because everyone knows each other in the town–the only outsider is Hardy. There is a lot of time taken to show Danny’s family grieving, how his mother is recently pregnant, the father keeping a secret, and the teenage sister not knowing how to cope. Throughout the show it is revealed that almost everyone has secrets, and they were kept secrets for a reason, and relationships are strained, even at a time when people need those relationships the most. Hardy has a big secret, and it’s one that makes him desperate to finish the case despite his failing health and conflicts with Miller.

So there’s all that ongoing emotional stuff, but the end is really the thing that will break you. There is a twist–we find out who Danny’s killer is. But finding out isn’t satisfying. Instead it breaks everything, devastates the town, and tears relationships apart.

Orphan Black

Time to add some science fiction to the list! Orphan Black is a great example of excellent writing and acting and great execution on the part of the directors. If you’re looking for good, realistic science fiction that’ll have you emotionally invested in everything that happens, this is it. Which is good, because science fiction often tosses aside emotion for plot. Not so here.

Orphan Black starts with Sarah Manning, a con artist of sorts who returns to New York after some time away with the intention of taking her daughter, Kira, from her foster mother and going to live a better life. While at a train station she sees a woman who looks just like her kill herself by stepping in front of an on-coming train and, on a whim, Sarah takes her stuff. She finds out that this woman is named Beth Childs and that she’s a detective with a nice apartment and, importantly, a lot of money. But when Sarah impersonates Beth, she’s pulled into a trial at the police station where she finds out that Beth had been suspended for shooting a woman while on duty. But that’s not all.

Beth has also been in contact with a woman named Alison. And then Sarah, as Beth, meets a woman who looks just like her but is killed almost immediately. She finds out, through a meeting with Alison and a scientist-grad-student named Cosima that there are multiple clones of her running around. They all look exactly the same (but different, given styles and hair stuff and things like that) and are all played by the brilliant Tatiana Maslany. They also have different personalities: Alison is a high-strung soccer mom, Sarah a tough city girl, and Cosima an enthusiastic and quite hip science enthusiast.

They find out that one of their clones, Helena, is trying to kill them because she’s been told that she’s the original. And then they find out that they all have monitors who take medical examinations from each of them while they sleep, and make sure that they don’t become “self-aware” so to speak. Basically, they are part of a huge unethical science experiment. And as they unearth more about who created them, where they came from, and why Helena is so disturbed, they find a lot of things that point to their lives being in serious danger.

And the heartbreak? Well, it comes from these women finding out that they are clones, science experiments, for the most part. But there is also how it affects their relationships. Cosima falls in love with her monitor. Sarah’s involvement in finding out about her origins puts her daughter, Kira, in danger, because none of the other clones have had children and therefore, if their creators find out about Kira, she could be experimented on and worse. Helena’s story is sad for a lot of reasons, because she is the one that’s gone so far astray that it seems impossible to bring her back into some semblance of a family. The series finale takes all of this into account: the relationships, the stakes for each of the clones, and what it means to be a clone, and brings it to a devastating climax.

So there you have it: emotional journalism, emotional police procedurals, and emotional science fiction. Three things that often sacrifice emotion for plot, and the BBC managed to make all three of them in a year and make them heartbreaking. But that’s okay, because all three are brilliant television and well worth watching.

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