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Great British TV Shows: Modern Edition

Updated on January 18, 2013
Hooray for Britain!
Hooray for Britain! | Source

British TV is Awesome!

I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a Brit-o-file. So much so that I even married a Brit. And I couldn't be happier because he has opened my eyes to some great British TV Shows. I've always known that the Brits have a leg up on us in the comedy department, who hasn't laughed their head off at a Monty Python sketch? But it turns out that they have better television across the board, drama, sci-fi, you name it. British television is great. My husband likes to tease me and say "it's just better if it's British," and I'll agree when it comes to TV he may be right. So if you love an accent and are sick of the same old boring American sitcoms and cop dramas get ready for some great British TV shows.

So strange, so funny
So strange, so funny | Source

Misfits

This is currently my absolute favorite British TV show. I came across it on Netflix and I love it. The premise is ridiculous, so much so that I almost didn't watch it, but now I'm so glad that I did. It centers around a gang of juvenile delinquents who have been sentenced to community service in the estates (aka slums) when a freak storm occurs hitting them all with lightening and giving them super powers. Kind of far fetched, I know, but keep watching. It is so darn funny and unlike anything we would see in North America.

All the characters are fantastic, and have rather interesting super powers, like super sexiness. But by far my favorite character is Nathan, played by Robert Sheehan. So vulgar and so skinny and so hilarious. Be forewarned this show is filled with swearing and is quite racy in spots, so it's not for everyone.

The first two seasons are fantastic. The final season is good but not as good as the first two because Nathan's character is no longer on the show. Rumor has it that Robert Sheehan had better offers due to his popularity on this show. A character named Rudy tries to take Nathan's place, and although he isn't quite as endearing or goofy as Nathan, I warmed up to him after a while.

In the end, I still adored this series in its entirety and would happily watch it again. I suspect a show like this wouldn't have seen the light of day in North America. Now I wouldn't be surprised to hear that one of the American networks plan to make a watered-down glossy version of this show starring some Justin Bieber as Nathan. Why oh why can't they just leave great British TV alone?

Idris Elba, is tall dark and tortured on Luther
Idris Elba, is tall dark and tortured on Luther | Source

Luther

This is another great British TV find that we came across on Netflix and it is easily one of the darkest cop shows I have ever seen. There is nothing feel good about it, but it is so compelling and gritty you can't look away. Oh and then there's Idris Elba, without a doubt, the finest specimen of the male species ever created. American audiences might be more familiar with this actor from his role as "Stringer," on "The Wire." If you like your leading men tall, dark and tortured this show is for you.

In the first season Luther is forced to redeem himself due to his unconventional/unethical policing methods are brought into serious question. He wrestles with some pretty deep personal demons too, that lead to the destruction of his personal relationships. Leaving him with a psychopath as his only close friend.

The second season is more case specific, and what a fascinating case it is. Of course Luther continues to be dark, tortured and brooding, and somehow finds himself entangled in the personal protection of a young sex worker. All this combines to make great television. It really is like nothing you would ever see in North America...okay, maybe on cable.

At only six episodes a season you'll race through the two seasons available on Netflix and then find yourself constantly checking to see if another season is available. Now that' a sign of good TV.

Way better than the US version
Way better than the US version | Source

Being Human (UK Version)

So a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf share an apartment in Bristol... no it's not the beginning of a bad joke, it's the premise for a great British TV show. Normally I'm not much of a sci-fi fan, but this show has me converted. My poor husband had downloaded episodes of this British series for a long plane trip to take his mind off the flight. Unfortunately for him, about half way into the first episode I was leaning all over him asking for one of his ear phones so I could hear what was going on.

I like to think of it as "Three's Company," meets "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And the title really explains it all in terms of the premise of the show, just three supernatural beings trying to live and fit into a human world, while coming to terms with their own existence You wouldn't think it would be that hard, but when you over one hundred years old and have a relentless thirst for blood or turn into a werewolf monthly or can only been seen by other supernaturals and desperately long for a good cup f tea, it can be difficult. It's like a fish out of water story with more blood. Again, a slightly impossible premise, much like Misfits, that yields some fabulous results.

Friends wished it was as funny and awesome as this show.
Friends wished it was as funny and awesome as this show. | Source

Gavin and Stacey

I love, love, love this series. This is British television at its finest. I seriously can't watch it enough. The characters are just that, total characters and the things that fly out of their mouths is unbelievable. The writing is crisp and funny and the acting is superb.

This British TV series revolves around a English boy and a Welsh girl who end up meeting on the phone through work. This leads to a meeting and a whirl wind romance and marriage a few months later. The fact that they come from two very different worlds (Brits don't think much of the Welsh) is what makes it interesting to watch. Families and cultures clash and the inherent problems that come form marrying someone you don't know all that well make for fantastically funny TV.

But what really makes it must see British TV for me are the supporting characters. The actors that play Stacey's best friend 'Nessa and Gavin's best friend Smithy are the actual creators of the show and, as far as I'm concerned, steal every scene they're in. The reference to the toilet brush in the first few episodes alone had me rolling on the floor with laughter. Again, pretty racy humor at times, so beware.

This series was briefly featured on Netflix, but didn't last long. After watching the first season on Netflix, my husband and I resorted to installing the BBC iPlayer on our iPad to watch the entire series. The entire series consist of three seasons and one Christmas special. There is a rumor that a fourth season may be in the works. I have my fingers crossed.

Oh Benedict Cumberbatch when will you run away with me?
Oh Benedict Cumberbatch when will you run away with me? | Source

Sherlock

Oh how I adore this series. And once again we were lucky enough to come across this great British TV show on Netflix. And no I'm not a fan just because I'm head over heels in love with the lead actor in the series, Benedict Cumberbatch. (As an aside this may be the best name for an actor I have ever heard. I once saw it completed obliterated in an article where he was referred to as "Bandersnatch Cumberbund.") Although he alone on a stage reading a phone book would make for great British TV as far as I'm concerned. Seriously, that voice.

As you've probably already guessed, Sherlock is an updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved classic Sherlock Holmes. Martin Freeman, currently best known for his role as Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit, plays the role of Watson and is the perfect foil for Benedict Cumberbatch's cutting and intense portrayal of Sherlock. Few actors could make us believe in a friendship between a practical, empathetic doctor and an arrogant genius as well as Martin Freeman does here. Both the actors and writers have done a superb job of rejuvenating these characters for a modern audience.

The writing is sharp and the cases are complex. Sherlock would have it no other way of course as he gets easily bored with the mundane cases that could just as well be left to the police to solve. The first three episodes are excellent viewing with interesting character development and an excellent story arc involving Sherlock's nemesis Moriarty, played to psychotic perfection by Andrew Scott.

The second season is even better then the first, as they continue to pursue Moriarty and solve crimes. Watson has started a Sherlock blog at this point to drum up business and the results add some fun comedic moments. The producers have also employed some interesting cinematic techniques to reveal Sherlock's inner thought processes, drawing the audience further into the mind of this genius.

Quite honestly, this series was so good we struggled to pace ourselves and limit our viewing to one episode an evening. On at least one occasion we gave in and ended up being a little late for work the next morning. Now that's a sign of truly great British TV.


What Makes British TV Great?

Ultimately I think what the British understand about television that seems to allude the TV powers that be in North America is that great storytelling is key. Forget about the shiny locations, pretty actors and familiar story lines (really how many more hospital dramas or sitcoms about stupid husbands with hot wives do we need?) and tell a fresh, interesting story from a unique perspective. And while they're at it, why not hire people on their acting talent rather then their looks. What struck me as I was watching the majority of these shows was how normal these people looked. I could relate to them. No one looked plastic or fake. It's as simple as that, interesting stories and real, talented actors. Hey wait maybe I should become a TV executive.

Now enough of this reading, find your remote and go watch some great British TV!

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    • Thundermama profile image
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      Catherine Taylor 4 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for the tip, I have heard great things about that show. I will add it to my growing list of shows to checkout.

    • profile image

      Casimiro 4 years ago

      You might try Breaking Bad. Some really excellent acting, but the mood might be too dark for some. I'm looking forward to the final episodes coming out this summer.

    • Thundermama profile image
      Author

      Catherine Taylor 4 years ago from Canada

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting Casimiro. I am just now discovering some great cable shows like Sons of Anarchy and am totally addicted. I have all but given up on network television.

    • profile image

      Casimiro 4 years ago

      Will definitely be looking to download a few of these. I agree that most network television in the States is bleeeccchhhh, but there are some excellent shows cropping up on the cable channels. Thanks for a great hub!

    • Olde Cashmere profile image

      Olde Cashmere 4 years ago from Michigan, United States

      I really enjoyed the way you wrote about these shows. I now have some interesting and new stuff to check out. Thank you Thundermama for these suggestions. Voted up and rated useful and awesome :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      My hubby watches the Sherlock episodes one in awhile. They seem interesting. I love the BBC channel for the quality shows they bring us. Thanks for highlighting the modern trends.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for this review of British TV shows, Thundermama. I love Being Human, but I'm not familiar with the other shows. I'll look for them on Netflix and BBC iPlayer - they sound intriguing!

    • europewalker profile image

      europewalker 4 years ago

      Interesting article. I thought Luther was an excellent show. The first British program I got hooked on was "This Life" with Jack Davenport and Andrew Lincoln 1996-1997 season. I also liked Absolutely Fabulous. Right now I am a Downton Abbey fanantic. I also need to check out Sherlock.

    • Thundermama profile image
      Author

      Catherine Taylor 4 years ago from Canada

      HawaiinO, I wish I could take credit for the awesome description, but my husband helped me with it. As always thanks for stopping by and hope you're having a lovely weekend too.

      Innerspin, so glad you took a peek at this hub, I was hoping to get the British perspective. Interesting that Luther was the only one that registered with you.

      Shinning, I absolutely agree with you. It is pretty rare for the Brits to grab an North American series and put their spin on it. although I have heard they are trying to put together a UK version of the Big Bang Theory. Which in my opinion is a one of our rare fantastic shows.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Very interesting article as I am one who so enjoys some of the British sitcoms and series. I also consider it "telling" that many of our shows in the USA have originated as spin offs from British shows.

      Excellent article.

    • innerspin profile image

      innerspin 4 years ago from uk

      I read this with interest, as a British person, seeing our TV from another viewpoint. The funny thing is, I watched maybe 2 episodes of Luther, and none of the others you feature. Your conclusion that we have good storylines and "real" actors was good to read. Glad you enjoyed yourself!

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Thundermama, I've seen a couple of British series on my TV set, so I'm hoping that the ones you've mentioned are accessible as well. The favorite line that I chuckled over was: I like to think of it as "Three's Company," meets "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

      Thanks for sharing! Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Thundermama profile image
      Author

      Catherine Taylor 4 years ago from Canada

      bb, I aplaud you for your TV free lifestyle. I'm not that strong. But if you were to devote time to staring mindlessly at a screen, British Tv is definitely the way to go. As always thank you for stopping by.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't have a tv.....and one of the rare reasons why I miss tv is because of British television. I may have to get these on DVD because I agree with you, the British do have some wonderful shows.