In recent weeks, I have had to defend my love of British television to an ever-incredulous group of friends. It saddens me that they do not know the joy of the great comedy, science-fiction, and drama programming that the United Kingdom produces.
But how does a girl from a small town in West Virginia develop a love for British culture? One of the defining moments for me was when I read Bridget Jones’s Diary in high school. Ms. Jones references the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice mini-series with THE Colin Firth as the ever prideful (or is it prejudiced?) Mr. Darcy. I had to know why Bridget destroyed her videotape of the mini-series by rewinding the scene in which Mr. Darcy emerges from a lake in a sopping wet shirt.
From there, I discovered Ricky Gervais’s and Stephen Merchant’s series, The Office. I forced high school friends to watch it with me when they just wanted to drink and go muddin’, or participate in some other rural teenager activity. Later, when the U.S. version was created, I was continually disappointed to learn that those who watched the U.S. version did not seek out the, in my opinion, superior source material. Gervais’s and Merchant’s follow-ups have also provided nothing but delight for me. Check out Extras, a personal favorite.
It was also during this time that I realized most of my favorite reality t.v. shows started in the U.K. The TLC program Trading Spaces was based on the BBC’s Changing Rooms, American Idol was a spin-off of ITV’s Pop Idol, and BBC also created the original What Not to Wear. You think Stacy and Clinton tell it like it is? You haven’t heard anything unless you’ve seen Susannah and Trinny dish it out to some sad-sack in pajama bottoms.
My love for U.K. produced television hasn’t waned. The dramas are amazing and are almost unmatched by what we have in the U.S. Luther is the show that first comes to mind. You think Dexter is a twisted serial killer? You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Luther’s Alice descend into madness with the calculated killing of her parents. Fans of The Wire’s Stringer Bell will recognize Idris Elba in the title role.
Downton Abbey is another splendid show for those wanting to experience how the haves and the have-nots experienced life before and during World War I. Lucky for us, the show can be seen in the U.S. on PBS.
Also on PBS is the brilliant Sherlock, which places the world’s only consulting detective in the modern world of texts and blogs. Sherlock is played by the most Englishy of English named actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, while Watson is played by the loveable Martin Freeman (Tim, NOT JIM, from The Office). You will be amazed by the skill of writer and co-creator, Steven Moffat, who is also the lead writer for the current series of Doctor Who.
Aah, Doctor Who. Some might remember this from the original run in the 1960s that sometimes made its way across the pond via PBS. I’m only familiar with the current run which began in 2005. Trying to sum up my love for the Doctor in one blog post is impossible. If you like your superheroes to be time-traveling, pacifist aliens, then this is the show for you. The one wish for every Whovian is to hear the whirring sound of the Doctor’s TARDIS (time machine, “Time and Relative Dimension in Space”) that will take you away to a time and place far from the current one. Come for the science fiction, stay for the emotional weight of the characters and stories.
Doctor Who also has its own spinoff, Torchwood, a slightly more “adult” show. Notice the letters in both programs. The Torchwood Institute, started in 1879 by Queen Victoria, works to defend the earth against extraterrestrial threats. I’ll direct newbies to check out the third series (not season) entitled, Torchwood: Children of Earth, a five-part serial dealing with aliens coming to take Earth’s children. It also provides the explanation for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic (a plot point also covered in Downton Abbey).
Finally, there are the comedies. The two that I am absolutely infatuated with are The IT Crowd and Gavin & Stacey. The IT Crowd, starring Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, and Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd, centers around the information technology employees of Reynholm Industries that have been condemned to toil away in the basement. This show is like comfort food; I can re-watch episode after episode and laugh with and at these “standard nerds.” Episodes featuring Noel Fielding of another great BBC show The Mighty Boosh are always a treat.
Gavin & Stacey is more akin to an American sitcom. The show focuses on the relationship of the title characters, Gavin from England, and Stacey from Wales. When they arrange to meet in person for the first time, they fall madly in love and have to figure out how to deal with their long-distance relationship. I’m not doing it justice, because that sounds sickeningly sweet. I love this show for its heart. I feel like I know these characters, and I want so badly to pop over to Gwen’s house for an omelet or go down to the pub with Smithy.
I’ve only scratched the surface of the great programming the U.K. has to offer. If I haven’t sold you on trying out a new British show (or eleven), then let John Oliver persuade you:
My completist tendencies would have me mention these other wonderful programs: Coupling, Absolutely Fabulous, Spaced, Merlin, Robin Hood, and Being Human (with Being Human, the British version is unmistakably the better version). And wonderful mini-series like North & South, Lost in Austen, and the Red Riding Trilogy.
So what British programs do you watch? And which are you thinking about checking out? Once I renew my Netflix subscription, I am going to check out Peep Show, which is described as a sitcom about two dysfunctional flatmates who reveal all their inner thoughts – whether dark, stupid, or embarrassing. Or occasionally, all three.