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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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Holiday Entertainment

It’s that time of year! Namely, the time of year where everyone is home for the holidays and gets bored and needs stuff to do. Having been doing lots of stuff recently, I have some recommendations. And I hope that my recommendations are worthy.

Film

A lot of noteworthy films have come out this year in theaters. Currently out and really really good movies that you should see are Life of PiLincoln, and Skyfall. Coming soon movies that look really good are Les MiserablesThe Hobbit, and The Impossible. Basically, it’s just been a really good year for movies. Life of Pi is a story about a boy who is stuck at sea in a lifeboat with a tiger for nearly a year, and uses beautiful imagery and storytelling to make a fantastic film. Lincoln has some very good actors and keeps your attention even though you know what’s going to happen. Skyfall is the best of the newer Bond movies, focusing on Bond’s relationship with MI6 when the new villain threatens the organization. Coming out, The Hobbit looks stunning and Peter Jackson is a great director so, hopefully, it will be a great movie. Les Mis also looks good but could go either way. The Impossible, the true story of a family vacationing during the 2004 tsunami, is heartbreaking and has gotten good reviews in Europe, so it’s worth checking out.

If you happen to have theatres that show older movies from earlier in the fall, then you should definitely attempt to see Cloud AtlasLooper, and Argo. All three movies are huge accomplishments in storytelling and are innovative, unique stories in their own right. Looper didn’t really get a lot of advertising so I think quite a few people missed out, but if you like gritty, realistic sci-fi and time travel then this is your film. Cloud Atlas also missed out on an audience due to people not knowing quite what it is, because it’s six wildly different stories in one film, but the film is beautiful and shows how humans are all interconnected through six amazing different story lines. Argo is still playing in a lot of places because it’s the fantastic story of the Iranian hostage crisis.

Or you could catch up on the various super-hero movies, good in their own right, that have come to a conclusion this year. The Batman trilogy of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises is a dark and exciting take on the Batman story and well worth watching. If you saw the Avengers, or want to see it, it’s worth also checking out Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America because they are all entertaining and provide insight into the various characters. Lastly, the new Amazing Spider-man came out and Andrew Garfield good in the part, so it’s worth a watch.

Television

There’s lots of good television to watch or catch up on as well. I recommend, highly, The Hour, which tells the story of a BBC news program in the 1950’s that strives to tell the truth. Journalists Bel, Freddie, and Hector have to go up against the British government in order to give a true look at what’s going on in the country during the beginnings of the Cold War. The show has some amazing acting and storytelling, and also makes quite a lot of good commentary on journalism. Series 2 is airing now.

Doctor Who is coming out with a new Christmas special, introducing new companion Clara. If you haven’t seen the first half of series 7, in which Amy and Rory left, now’s a good time. It starts off questionably but gets going by the third episode to end spectacularly. If you haven’t watched Who before, I’d suggest starting all the way with 2005’s Series 1, with the Ninth Doctor, and working from there. It’s quite a fun ride.

Sherlock is not coming out with anything knew, but with both lead actors starring in new films, it’s worth checking out for anyone who hasn’t watched. It’s a modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes stories that is compelling and fantastic. There are two series out, and they both have cliffhangers that leave you wanting more.

For Shakespeare lovers, BBC came out with a series entitled The Hollow Crown over the summer, featuring the plays Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V. Some fantastic actors filled in the roles, with Ben Whishaw as Richard II, Jeremy Irons as Henry IV, and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal/Henry V. It’s well worth checking out if you want to see an extremely well done take of Shakespeare’s histories.

Books

As a student who doesn’t get too much time to read, I can only recommend a few, but I can promise you that they are good. First, I’d like to recommend Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell–if you can’t see the movie, definitely read the book before it comes out on DVD. It’s six vastly different stories nested within one another that show how, ultimately, we are all connected.

For the history lovers out there, Chinese Lessons by John Pomfret is a good look at what communist China was like after the Cultural Revolution, told through the eyes of the author when he studied abroad in China shortly after the country was opened to students from the West, and includes the stories of several fellow classmates he met that, against all odds, ended up going to university with him.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh is the story of a group of heroin addicts in Edinburgh trying to make their way through life, trying to get clean and failing, and ultimately trying to find a way out. It’s a good book with interesting narration (phonetic, in the style of a thick Scottish accent) and a great movie adaptation that also shouldn’t be missed.

If you like Game of Thrones or are a fan of the BBC series Merlin, or simply like tales of knights and magic, read The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This novel tells the story of how King Arthur became king, how Merlin taught him to view the world and then continued to be his friend during kingship, and how Arthur’s marriage and kingship fell apart. It’s epic, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking. Read it.

I hope that everyone has a fantastic holiday and gets to do a lot of fun things before next year eats up time again.

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Review: The Hour and Current Journalism

Journalism is in the air! This is the general feel of BBC’s show The Hour,

Bel (Romola Garai), Hector (Dominic West), and Freddie (Ben Whishaw) are the three main journalists on The Hour.

which follows three journalists-Bel, Freddie, and Hector-as they put together a show called “The Hour” to report on current events. The series takes place in the 1950’s during the Suez crisis, and the show, which promises to be breakthrough journalism, struggles to uncover the truth behind Britain’s involvement in Egypt.

There are a lot of personal conflicts in the show, as would be expected of a drama, but everything in the preceding five episodes builds up to a finale that is not only personal, but is also full of commentary about how journalism works and how journalists are limited.

Bel is the producer of this new show, and Freddie and Hector are reporters. There is a constant conflict at work between all three of them-finding out the truth behind stories and keeping your career as a respected journalist. As they report on the Suez crisis, government officials keep a close watch on the show, and in the last episode go so far as to dictate what the show can and cannot air.

The real issue comes when Freddie, the young, investigative journalist of the lot, decides to investigate the death of Ruth Elms, a childhood friend involved in shady activities. The government claims her death was suicide, but Freddie believes it is something else, and he investigates. This leads him close to finding out certain truths about his government, spies, and the way international politics work. This also has the government on his tail, forcing him to stop his investigation before he finds out anything too damaging.

Freddie is constantly finding stories that challenge his government, and this is why he becomes the focal point for government agents. Bel must decide whether to indulge Freddie and allow his stories on air, at the risk of her career, and Hector, as the leading anchor, plays a large part in deciding just how these stories are transmitted. All three of their careers are on the line.

And then Freddie finds out that Ruth Elms was killed by the British government because she knew of a plan for British spies to assassinate Egyptian president Nasser in order to end the Suez crisis. Bel allows him to put Ruth’s father, Lord Elms, on air, where he reveals that the government is hiding things from the public. Even more daring is Hector’s decision to let Freddie interview Elms, because Freddie, unlike Hector, pushes his interviewees harder, and he gets Lord Elms to admit, on national television, the implication Ruth Elm’s death has for the honesty of the British government and what they hide from the public to keep the public from revolting.

And then the government shuts the program off.

Bel is fired from her job as producer. Freddie and Hector’s careers are as good as done. The government is furious.

And this episode is still relevant today.

Perhaps there is not a crisis going on, but journalists are always asked to take their sources at their word, and to be objective. This is how new journalists are taught to report–without opinions, without subjectivity, without questioning their sources. Yet sources have biases-as The Hour demonstrates, the British government is biased towards the British government, truth be damned, and that goes for any government.

Journalism is changing. People are becoming more aware of a lack of questioning sources and want that changed. Independent news programs challenge the information they are given, and dig deeper, in the hopes of finding something closer to the truth. Journalists are beginning to understand that what is regarded as professionalism-objectivity, by simply reporting what they are told-is not always what’s best for their audiences. There is a difference between what sources what the public to hear, and what the public needs to hear, and more and more journalists are starting to report what the public needs to hear.

There is still objectivity in the newsroom. There is still the tendency to report straight from the sources’ mouth without questioning what is being said. But that may very well change as journalism changes and as people become more aware of how the media works. And although subjective reporting can be a career-risk, it can also be worth it, in the end, if only because a more truthful story is told.

One could say that for the journalists of The Hour, their journey into truth-finding ends unhappily. Their show is ruined, their careers are as good as dead, and they are watched by their government. Yet, as Bel and Freddie walk out of the darkened studio Freddie tells Bel that they have another story to write.

The moral of the story is, journalists should be more willing to dig deeper for the truth, because there will always be an audience willing to listen.

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