What is it about Brit TV?

From ‘Downton Abbey’ to ‘MI-5’, ‘Sherlock’ to ‘Great Expectations’, British TV fare today is of exceptional quality. Why is the eternal question. Although it is not always true, why does North American TV often lag behind in quality? Is it because Brits focus on complex character development while American and Canadian producers seem to think audiences prefer action? Is it because British shows have shorter seasons, and therefore they can invest more resources into scripting and development? BBC’s amazing ‘Sherlock’ series, for instance, has a season that lasts only 3 episodes, while many TV shows here endure 23. Perhaps it’s because most of us only see the best the Brits have to offer, and we know too well how ‘dumbed down’ North American TV can get. Have you noticed how few British shows have fairy-tale Hollywood endings? How refreshing.

Whatever the reason, I recommend that you experience the great drama Brit-TV has to offer, if you haven’t already indulged. Here are just a few scintillating examples found on channels such as BBC Canada, BBC iPlayer (for iPad and iPhone), and PBS among others. Links are to DVD boxed-set editions that can be borrowed right here at Winnipeg Public Library!

The talented Benedict Cumberbatch as an adrenalin-addicted ‘Sherlock‘ and the affable Martin Freeman playing Dr. Watson as a wry-humoured straight man, together form a can’t-miss duo in an up-to-date version of Conan Doyle’s mystery series.

The actor Idris Elba is exceptional as a troubled, risk-taking London homicide detective in ‘Luther‘. Talk about struggling with one’s own demons, viewers will never be sure what to expect when Luther investigates a crime!

Great Expectations
(2004) – Although the new 2011 version starring Gillian Anderson, currently broadcasting on PBS’ ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ in commemoration of Charles Dickens’ 200th anniversary, is absolutely riveting, try this excellent version for comparison. I think it holds up well.

The now-axed American version of ‘Prime Suspect’ was really good, but if you haven’t seen the original, you can’t miss with going back to view the gritty drama series starring the always-reliable Helen Mirren.

If you need more recommendations, there are many others to choose from: ‘Dalziel & Pascoe‘, of course ‘Doctor Who‘ if you don’t mind leaps in logic and time, ‘Life on Mars‘, ‘MI-5‘, ‘Torchwood‘, ‘Jekyll’, or an oldie-but-real goodie, ‘I Claudius‘. That last one will take you back a couple of thousand years!

What’s your favourite British TV drama?


4 responses to “What is it about Brit TV?

  1. Interesting writing. My feelings have always been the exact opposite. Whenever I hear British accent coming out of my TV I automatically think crap… Coronation Street!?! – FISTS OF RAGE!

  2. That’s a tough question, I’d say that Life On Mars on Ashes to Ashes are definitely on the top of my list (aside from Doctor Who) for the drama category. I loved them so much that I imported region 2 DVDs and bought a regionless Player to watch them.

  3. Favourite British series … mmm … well Brideshead Revisited is still great (the one from the eighties with Jeremy Irons in it) – I loved Life on Mars too. And Sherlock was good fun. Too many great sitcoms to list: Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, Spaced, Peep Show …

  4. George Gently is an underrated British show. I watched it to see Richard Armitage’s guest shot, and then watched the rest for the fine writing and acting. (Seriously, check them out.)

    I like both versions of Robin Hood. The one with Michael Praed took me back to my teen years glued to CBC on Saturdays, while this new one can sum itself up in a few words:
    Richard Armitage in black leather.

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