by Rob Ross
I love British television. Being weened as a child on Faulty Towers and Are You Being Served? has left me predisposed to favour the humour of our once imperial overlords. Nowadays, itʼs not so much the antics of John Cleese that have me returning to the annals of BBC as it is the distinctly un-North American approach to violence and sexuality (aka: less of the former, more of the latter). Lucky for us in Canuckia, Netflix is a trove of British programs and mini-series. While Peep Show and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace arenʼt available (to my fist-shaking chagrin), there is still good many shows from which to choose. Let the secret Union Jacks of your hearts merrily flap in the flatulent winds of this beans-for-breakfast culture.
A spin-off from the popular kidsʼ show Doctor Who, this made-for-adults series of international acclaim has more plot twists than The Big Sleep and more gore and naughty-ness than the entire history of basic American cable television. If you donʼt know the difference between a TARDIS and a Dalek, it doesnʼt matter; this show keeps you on the edge of your seat, which is good because you might wet your pants and it saves on cleanup time. The show focuses on a group of riff-raff inter-dimensional security enforcers as they try to keep aliens out of Cardiff, and their lives from falling apart (due to the high-stress, high-mortality rate work environment). Itʼs all “work hard, play hard” for the folks at Torchwood. With significant shifts in style and tone over the course of its four seasons, there is no way to know what disaster lurks behind the next intergalactic turn of events.
Starring Stephen Fry (who, from what Iʼve heard, is super fly) as a small-town solicitor in Northern England, Kingdom builds upon the well-known English genre of the harbour town filled with quirky locals. Peter Kingdom (Fry) tries to hold his family, his community, and by extension, all of the commonwealth together as he meets out justice against the forces of greed, corruption, and ill manners. With stellar performances from the likes of Hermione Norris and Tony Slattery, reassuring messages such as, “the system works,” and “the little person can still make a big difference in this world,” not to mention a cinematographic style designed to make northern England appear like a rustic paradise, Kingdom is the perfect show to park your brain and pretend everything is okay. This is middle-class escapism at its finest.
Sherlock may make fans of Jeremy Brett cringe, but this reboot into contemporary times with Benedict Cumberbatch is worth the watch. Firstly, Sherlock is actually the age he is said to be in the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories. Secondly, Watson (Martin Freeman) actually behaves like someone who just got out of a war (in this case the Iraq war). Thirdly, Andrew Scottʼs performance as Moriarty is freakinʼ terrifying. This series is making all the right choices, especially for those who already know all the classic Holmes plots and watched all the earlier incarnations of these stories. This show is all about new twists on old tales: Watson writes a blog instead of stories, Sherlock clearly suffers from some form of obsessive compulsive disorder, and Mrs. Hudson isnʼt just some mild-mannered lady who serves the boys tea when theyʼre doing important boy stuff. This an exemplary series to stew oneʼs self in on rainy days (preferably with some fog for mood weather).
4. The Inbetweeners
Ever wonder what drives the minds of male adolescents? Ever been a male adolescent? This show is probably the most brutally honest depiction of the libido-driven lives of sixteen-year-old boys that will ever be made for television, and itʼs just as tragically hilarious as all those shenanigans you hear about from the cafeteria rumour mill. Following a pack of socially inept outcasts as they seek out the ever-elusive “minge,” these boys make jackasses of themselves and fail miserably with consistent hilarity. How these beta males fail to comprehend that women are people could easily come across as distasteful and offensive, but their sheer idiocy somehow gives them a smear of decency. This show always puts a smile on my face.
Co-written and co-starring the same Simon Pegg that brought you Shaun of the Deadand Hot Fuzz (with the talented Jessica Hynes née Stevenson, whose role as Daisy is still an exceptional lead female character for Western culture), Spaced is the award winning show that will reward you with understanding why Jessica Hynesʼ Shaun of the Dead character is in the film in the first place. The show is a homage to popular cinema and its effect on the psyches of turn-of-the-century twenty-somethings, a tribute to the first generation of slackers steeped in graphic novel and video game culture, and a wacky foray into how the artistically unemployed made do in those freewheeling times known as the late nineties. Highly exploratory and impressionist in style, and with remarkable actors such as Mark Heap playing Daisy and Timʼs neighbours, this show warms the cockles and the chestnuts. So open Netflix, type Spaced into the search bar, put the kettle on, and let the magic begin.
Note: Hats off to Katie Man for her inspirational post earlier this month.