A few months ago, I wrote this piece about British shows I loved and tried to get it published across the internet. I didn't have any takers (although it did get me an in to write other things for WhatCulture.com), but I still wanted to share it somewhere. I cannot deny the internet knowledge of fantastic television.
British television is great. The internet knows that British television is great. It’s practically impossible to scroll through Tumblr or watch a YouTube vlog without seeing a reference to Doctor Who, or hearing a mispronunciation of Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s name, or catching a spoiler for an episode of Misfits that you haven’t yet gotten to in your Netflix queue. There are some great series that have made it across the pond and into North American vernacular – Being Human, The Inbetweeners and The Hour, to name a few.
But there are a slew of other brilliant British series that remain unknown to North American audiences at large. Luckily, I spend a great deal of time scouring the Internet for great British telly, and thus I am happy to spread the love for the top 5 British shows you’ve never seen.
5. The Big Fat Quiz of the Year
Since I discovered it in 2008, I’ve spent that weird limbo week between Christmas and New Years waiting impatiently for The Big Fat Quiz of The Year. Hosted by the ubiquitous comedian Jimmy Carr, three teams of two – composed mainly of British panel show comedians, late-night talk show hosts, and an occasional TV celebrity – compete in a pub trivia-style quiz about the previous 12 months. There are “mystery guests,” renowned actors such as Ian McKellan reading from poorly-written pop-star autobiographies, and plenty of Quality Street chocolate. While every year’s show is great, I strongly recommend starting with 2006 for two reasons: Noel Fielding and Russell Brand, AKA the “Goth Detectives.” You shan’t be disappointed.
4. The Law of the Playground
Grade school was both the worst and the best. The Law of the Playground doesn’t really care about the “best” part, and gets right to the heart of the matter: the most embarrassingly hilarious memories of growing up at school. Each episode features a revolving cast of comedians and TV personalities remembering their school days based on a variety of different themes: mean teachers, parties, first loves. The show only ran for two seasons from 2006-2008, which is a crying shame, but luckily each episode gets funnier with repeat viewings.
3. Gavin & Stacey
Think of the slightly embarrassing, often frustrating, but ultimately endearing people in your life. Put six or eight of them in the same plot line, and you’ve got Gavin & Stacey. The show centres around the long-distance romance between the title characters and the way they and their families from two separate worlds - Essex, England and Barry, Wales - interact. And oh! it is funny. Its brilliance stems from the general likeability of each character despite their quirks: Pam is so concerned about making everyone comfortable that she pretends to be a vegetarian for a year; Uncle Bryn is tediously naïve but protects his family fiercely; Smithy is an uneducated, foul-mouthed chav with a heart of gold. It’s truly comedic genius when a scene of four grown men discussing the texture and durability of an oven mitt can reduce you to a fit of laughter and tears.
2. 8 Out of 10 Cats
The British have a penchant for “panel shows,” which are essentially game shows where no one actually wins anything, but are instead an excuse for comedians, TV personalities, and C-list celebrities to have a bit of a chat. And I love them. Of the seemingly endless number of these series, 8 Out of 10 Cats is my favourite for three reasons: 1. The premise is to guess statistical information about pop-culture and news headlines, which is basically just an excuse for guests to talk about life and be satirical for 35 minutes. 2. The team leaders, Sean Lock and Jon Richardson, are truly quality comics; not only are they funny in stand-up routines, but they’re naturally witty in conversation, so the show’s dialogue flows smoothly. 3. The same guests pop up often, so it sort of feels like you’re watching a weekly family dinner, albeit with neon lights and one-sided tables pointed at a camera. Best of all, there’s 15 seasons, plus countless spin-offs where the 8 Out of 10 Cats cast does different British game shows, so it will be a while before you’ve exhausted the 8Oo10C vault.
1. Friday Night Dinner
There are shows that make you laugh, and then there are shows that make you cackle so much that you have to pause the show, get up out of bed (because we all watch TV in bed, let’s be real), wipe the tears from your eyes, and sit heaving until you’ve caught your breath. Friday Night Dinner is that show. It revolves around a Jewish family of four who observe no traditions – except, amazingly, Christmas - save a weekly dinner on Friday evening. The adult brothers Johnny and Adam still act like teenage boys, the father Martin is partially deaf and consistently over-heated, and Jackie the Jewish mother cooks and sighs in exasperation at her family. Add to these four a creepy yet well-meaning neighbor, an invisible girlfriend, and Horrible Grandma, and you’ve got one of the most clever, funny, and underappreciated shows ever to grace the television. And I’ve saved the best news for last! A third season is scheduled to start filming this fall, so not only are the endless hours of laughter a treat, but you’ll be rewarded with more episodes early next year.
Armed with this new arsenal of BBC brilliance, all that’s left to do is don your Union Jack, type a title into YouTube, and settle down for some quality telly with a cuppa and a scone. You’ll be adding to your Tumblr tags in no time.
There you go! Let me know if you've watched any of these, or if you plan to!
Current book: A Spot of Bother - Mark Haddon
Current TV show: The Thick of It series 2
Current nail colour: Dior - "Plaza"