Why 'The Last Hours of Laura K' Is the Most Important Show Not on Television

The BBC's new immersive murder mystery will make you think about how you interact online.

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Laura Kitchens never existed, but she’s dead now and Britain is in mourning. The fictional 23-year-old Londoner is the protagonist of a new project from the BBC called The Last Hours of Laura K launched on March 30 and inspired by a quote from Edward Snowden. “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity, love or friendship, is recorded.”

Laura lives in that world. Or lived in that world. Or was produced by that world. And now she’s just digital detritus.

Production for The Last Hours began two years ago with writers toying with the idea of how our connectedness has changed how we interact with entertainment, as well as with each other. The goal was to make something Black Mirror-esque that didn’t just scrutinize the constant flow of information we live in, but swam in the same waters. The result was a 24-hour streaming video of Laura’s last day before she was mysteriously murdered. Beyond the stream, the team came up with various social media profiles for Laura, her friends, and possible suspects.

As is the case in our lives, there is always something more going on than what is actually happening.

Filming for The Last Hours took place across London over sixteen days last winter. The footage is meant to come from Saturneye, a futuristic surveillance service that follows everyone’s every move in Laura’s London. Essentially, Saturneye is Snowden’s nightmare realized, but it makes for great entertainment. We see Laura — played casually by co-writer Rachel De-lahey — with no interruption: She’s at the bar; she’s watching TV; she’s going to the bathroom (they don’t show that bit).

England is both more and less comfortable with surveillance than America. Cameras are everywhere in London so Saturneye has the ring of truth to it. But this isn’t a farce or a straight critic. The Last Hours of Laura K is a scavenger hunt, a sort of fictionalized version of Serial in which the audience is guaranteed a satisfying conclusion.

That conclusion hasn’t come, but it will be big news in England when it does. And those headlines will beget the American rush to adapt it, Got Talent-style.

The BBC is currently planning to go public with a leaderboard tracking the viewers who become participants who make the most progress toward solving the crime. At that point, spectators will have to choose whether they want to watch something fictional (a show about a girl) or something factual (a leaderboard showing detectives looking for someone who doesn’t exists). 

That’s a big risk (especially for the BBC, which is fighting for continued public support.)

The difficulty of The Last Hours gives credence to the idea that more information may make us more connected, but that doesn’t simplify how we interact. With more of ourselves online, the complexity of our networks reflects our own complicated lives.

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