Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Best British Shows You Aren't Watching

Downton Abbey is back this week for Americans;
don't even pretend you aren't obsessed too. via
Good news -- Downton Abbey returned to PBS this past Sunday with the airing of Season 5 for American viewers.  With the popularity of this British transport showing no signs of slowing down, I've collected a few of my favorite British originals for your next Netflix binge.  From comedies to horror, we've got you covered.

Black Mirror (2011-present)

Scene from "The Entire History of You" where characters can rewind and
rewatch their social interactions right within their own eyes.  Technology that
is probably not too far fetched if Google Glass ever takes off.  via

I put this show first because if you don't read anything else on this blog, please check out Black Mirror.  This British sci-fi/horror series has been compared to The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits  in scope, but succeeds in turning those older show concepts into cutting edge science fiction horror.  The focus is on new-age technology, not so distant or hard to imagine given the speed with which out own digital world is changing and reshaping from day to day.  The twists and turns will leave you haunted and wary of the world we are probably all slowly entering into in just a few more tomorrows.

Don't Miss:
Fifteen Million Merits features Downton Abbey alum Jessica Brown Findley and a truly engrossing storyline
The Entire History of You and Be Right Back are two personal favorites
White Christmas is the recent holiday special with John Hamm; it does not disappoint

Skip: Not a big fan of The Waldo Moment (this is the only episode that almost feels outdated--would have worked great in the heyday of Ali G, but feels much more far fetched in today's landscape), but still worth watching!

Watch it on: Ovation if you have DirecTV.  At this time it is not available on Netflix

The Honourable Woman (2014)
I have to say that this show took me by surprise.  Maggie Gyllenhaal as a lead in a British political drama/thriller?  By the end of the first episode you are going to be questioning whether she was British this whole time, that's how convincing she is.  With a compelling backdrop of the strained relationship between Israel and Palestine, there isn't much work to do to drum up tension.  But where this show really excels is in its female characters.  This sounds almost crazy to write, but I can't think of any other television show I've watched where the female characters were more well rounded, well written, and plot essential than any of the males.  The heroes and the villains and the leads are almost all female.  And that fact really stands out on the screen in a way that makes you stop and think, why is that one of the most obvious things to comment on?

Wardrobe Lust via
Don't Miss: The females are awesome in this, but the scene-stealer is Stephen Rea as a "old dog" MI6 agent for Middle East relations.  Also Maggie Gyllenhaal's wardrobe in this is impeccable and made me want to start wearing only silk pantsuits beginning immediately.

Skip:  Well you can't really skip episodes, but the build to the "reveal" of Nessa Stein's secret does drag a bit.  By the time we get to the episode that lays it all out, I had already imagined far crazier twists than what ended up being the case.  But keep going if you are underwhelmed at the reveal because this story keeps twisting ahead.

Watch it on: Netflix.  It's there right now!

Coupling (2000-2004)
Do you watch reruns of American sitcoms from 10 years ago on the regular?  If so, then you should stop and watch Coupling instead.  The first three seasons of this show achieve the rare combination of being bawdy, hilarious, kitschy, and absolutely heart-warming.  Often dubbed the British Friends, I would argue this show aims higher and gets there.

Don't Miss:  Basically any episode where Gina Bellman (Jane) or Richard Coyle (Jeff) are the featured characters.  Episodes like "Remember This" and "The Cupboard of Patrick's Love" where the characters backstories intertwine are the ones that give this comedy its heart.

Skip: Basically the entire fourth season.  Richard Coyle leaves the show to pursue serious acting and is replaced with a try-hard fill-in.  It doesn't work.

Watch it on: Netflix or BBC America reruns

Doctor Who (1963-Present)
You don't need people telling you to watch Doctor Who, right?  It's basically part of our cultural cannon at this point.  If you are on the fence, I challenge to watch three episodes.  You won't stop.
You'll never see cemetary angel statues in the same light via

Don't Miss: There are too many classic Doctor Who episodes to list here, but I think you'll find "Blink" from Season 3 of the new series reboot is a fan favorite for a good reason.  My personal favorite is from Season 2: "The Impossible Planet," where everything points to humans drilling into a planet that is really Hell to unleash a new power source.  This is the kind of stuff Doctor Who is made for.

Watch it on: Netflix of course, or BBC America

An Idiot Abroad (2010-2012)
Do you ever like having a show on that you don't really have to watch intently, but you know that when you are paying attention you are going to be 100% entertained.  An Idiot Abroad  with Ricky Gervais is that kind of show.  The Homer Simpson-esque star of the show is Gervais's friend, Karl Pilkington.  He hates traveling, and seems to dislike pretty much everything.  This somehow makes it funnier. You are going to laugh, and you are going to learn, and you are going to be suprisingly struck by that juxtaposition.

Don't Miss: A personal fave is Karl's trip to Jordan in Season 1.  The humor of Karl's observations and stubbornness against enjoying even a camel excursion across the desert paired with the stark disarray of cities like Jerusalem is the kind of mix that this show achieves so well.  Parts of the world Karl visits are just heart breaking, and he is so fundamentally human and flawed that you see the world through his eyes with startling reality.

Watch it on: Netflix.  Having friends over?  Seriously, just start the series and leave it on all night.  This is perfect party fare.

Have any other British shows you are loving?  I am happy to take any recommendations for my next binge-worthy marathon!

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