British Television? Why yes, thank you very much.

With the broad and somewhat surprising success of Downton Abbey here in the States, more and more people are watching British-made television. But DA aside, there are a lot of other reasons to take in shows from across the pond. I’ve been watching the BBC since I was kid, starting with Mystery! and Masterpiece Theater. I even had — still have, actually — an Edward Gorey sweatshirt with those images from Mystery!’s fun introduction.

During the past few years, with the ease of Netflix, I have gotten to know many more British shows, and look forward to my next installment each day as I exercise. Here are just a few of the reasons I find British television so satisfying:

1. Period costumes. As in Downton Abbey, viewers get to see so many wonderful clothes. Whether you’re watching Lark Rise to Candleford, Cranford, or Wives and Daughters, there is so much beauty, as well as the glaring difference between classes. Period costumes also means period culture, so you get all the lords and ladies, the squalor of the lower classes, and a different way of viewing the world. I can’t remember the last time I saw an American show like that, although I’m sure there have been some and someone out there will be glad to tell me. And I’d be glad to hear it! I’d love to see some good American period entertainment.

2. The small British theater world. It seems as if British film-making is composed of a kind of family. I’ll be watching MI-5, which is a contemporary spy thriller, known as Spooks in Britain, and all of a sudden there will be Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) from Persuasion. Or Hustle, will be on, and suddenly there is Marc Warren, an actor I’ve just seen in Life on Mars. Or Julia Sawalha, who had roles in Lark Rise to Candleford, Cranford, and Pride and Prejudice. Which of course brings us to

3. Jane Austen


4. Mr. Darcy..

5. Interesting premises. I don’t know about the rest of you, but many times I want to watch something other than “reality” TV (actually, come to think of it, I don’t ever watch “reality” TV) or yet another version of a cop show. The BBC has plenty of variety to choose from because it doesn’t seem to be afraid to try new things. Sure, they’ve got the spy shows and mysteries, which do include police officers, but they also do the period pieces, the book adaptations, the contemporary Sherlock… It’s a relief to watch something that doesn’t always have to be violent, or disgusting, or embarrassing. And the cop shows they do have? They’re different because…well…the cops can’t just shoot the bad guys, because the British cops aren’t usually carrying guns. A nice change.

6. Teeth. Okay, so this sounds strange, but have you seen the teeth on some of these guys? And believe me, it’s okay. In fact, it’s great. These teeth makes these people interesting and memorable.

7. Women who look like real women. Okay, I know here we have a few shows, like The Office (which is, of course, a British knock-off!) who have some actresses who look like people you might actually see in real life. And the British have their share of gorgeous women. But most of the time when I’m watching American TV I’m wondering what planet the women are from, because it’s rare to see real women who look so perfect. And skinny. And young. And…well…you know what I’m saying. I’ll take some non-traditional beauties any day.

And, of course,

8. The Accent. If I could talk like a Brit, I would. And so would everyone around me, if I had control. Even if the British do pronounce some words (CON-tri-bu-ted) in ways that don’t always make sense. It still sounds awesome.

9. The words. Blimey! They’re fun.

There are a few currently-produced American TV shows I enjoy — The Office, Raising Hope, and Bones — but most of the ones I actually like end up getting canceled because they just aren’t what the American Public is looking for. If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably because you’re a reader or because you also like shows from the BBC, so I’m probably preaching to the choir. I guess I’ll just have to live with the fact that American TV doesn’t have much for me. And that’s all right, really, because there are two big factors which make that okay:

a) I really don’t want to spend all that much time watching TV, anyway, because there are a lot of other things that are probably better uses of my time; and

b) There’s always the BBC.

Cheerio, mates!

4 Responses to British Television? Why yes, thank you very much.

  1. Speaking of Helen Mirren, British actors and actresses often seem to be more interested in their art than in their image. They don’t mind looking old or ugly or evil, whatever it takes for the part, even if they are very attractive people in real life. Consider the Redgraves, for example.

  2. I completely agree, Judy! I love British television. My favorites being “Coupling” and “Inspector Lewis.” There was a mini-series a watched some years back that was wonderful called “The Forsythe Saga.

    My only problem is I need to have on the closed captioning. Sometimes, I miss a few words to the accent and reading the British slang makes it bit easier to decipher.

  3. The DVD’s I have of BBC programs are always well produced, and because of technical reasons I won’t bore you with at this time, a classic from the ’70’s like “Upstairs, Downstairs,” “Brideshead Revisited,” or classic “Doctor Who” looks amazing compared with American content from the same period.

    Dame Helen Mirren in the “Prime Suspect” series, outstanding. In general, actors in the UK practise the art of theatre, rather than market themselves as a commodity as they tend to do in Hollywood.

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