Last weekend I published my (very long) guide of US television shows that people who just got Netflix Australia should check out. Today I’m going to go through British television, and at some point next week I’ll talk about the good Australian shows on there.
The Bletchley Circle (2012-present):
Genre: Period crime drama Number of seasons: 2
I read a review of The Bletchley Circle in early 2012, and I wanted to watch it immediately. I ended up waiting 6 months before it aired on the BBC, but it was worth the wait. The Bletchley Circle is about four women who worked in Bletchley Park in WWII as codebreakers, and now that the war is over, they have returned to their previous jobs, or if they got married, to their role as homemakers. In the 1950s (I’m not quite sure of the year), a serial killer has started murdering women at train stations, and the women pick up on clues that the police don’t. As women, they have a different perspective (there weren’t any female detectives back then), and they have the intelligence to not only solve the crime, but figure out that the murderer/rapist is smart enough to set someone up to take the fall before moving onto another area. It’s thrilling and feminist and I love it. The second season brings a new case, as one of their colleagues from Bletchley Park has been arrested for murder and they try to prove that she’s innocent. There’s not a huge time commitment with this one, the seasons are short (the first season was three episodes, the second is four), and cases are multi-part stories that never go for so long that they outstay their welcome.
Genre: Crime drama Number of seasons: 1 of 2
I’ve written a few posts about how I didn’t like the second season of Broadchurch that much – I ended up watching six of eight episodes, and I didn’t really miss anything. The reason that the second season of Broadchurch was so disappointing is that the first season was fantastic, and would have worked perfectly as a miniseries. It’s well worth watching, as it explores the effect that the murder of a ten year old boy has on a small town as all their secrets are exposed. The mystery is important, but not the central focus of the show, which is the characters, who are all affected by Danny’s death in different ways.
Call the Midwife (2012-present):
Genre: Period drama Number of seasons: 3 of 4
I confess that I have not watched as much of this show as I should have. When I was in Washington, D.C. in January last year, it was during the polar vortex, and my sister and I were staying with some of her friends. We spent most of the week when we weren’t visiting government buildings (which was awesome) staying huddled inside watching ice hockey and the first season of Call the Midwife. It’s about a group of midwives (lay women and nuns) working in London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s, as well as their patients. Some of the stories are devastating, others are incredibly touching. The best part of the show follows Chummie (comedian Miranda Hart) as she becomes more confident in her profession and becomes close with one of the policemen. It’s pretty adorable, quite funny, and the moment where she stands up to her mother at the end of the season is pretty great.
Doctor Who (new series, 2005-present):
Genre: Science fiction Number of seasons: 7 of 8
I used to love this show, and I wrote about why I don’t love it any more a few months ago. My advice is to watch the first five seasons; I was initially excited for Steven Moffat taking over as head writer for the show after I saw “Blink,” still one of the best episodes the show has produced, but halfway through the sixth season I stopped caring. What I learned in retrospect about Russel T. Davies’ tenure as showrunner is that he cared about the show from a character perspective, and the companions were people with flaws, rather than just female human versions of The Doctor. While I found Davies’ Ten/Rose shipping kind of annoying, there was well done character work that made the emotional beats land.
Downton Abbey (2010-present):
Genre: Period drama/primetime soap Number of seasons: 4 of 5
It’s worth watching the first two seasons of Downton Abbey, which is going to finish its run after its sixth season. The show is about rich people and how the aristocracy passes down its titles and land, but there’s a human element to it too, in the lives of the servants. I’ve stopped watching Downton except for Maggie Smith’s one-liners, but if you’re looking for something light and fun to watch (serious things do happen, but it’s still a fairly soapy show most of the time), this isn’t a bad choice.
The House of Cards trilogy (1990-1995):
Genre: Political thriller Number of seasons: 3
One of the main reasons I don’t like Netflix’s adaptation of House of Cards is because I saw the original trilogy, based on the Michael Dobbs novels (the second and third novels and miniseries are called To Play the King and The Final Cut). The British version of this show is (in my opinion) superior to the Netflix series in its dry wit and catchphrases. The device of breaking the fourth wall using asides was taken from the original. Sir Ian Richardson’s performance is also far better than Kevin Spacey’s and Urquhart’s marriage is much more of a marriage of convenience; it’s actually Urquhart’s wife who suggests he starts the affair with the journalist.
You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
The IT Crowd (2006-2013):
Genre: Comedy Number of seasons: 4
I was obsessed with this show when I was in high school. This is one show where the US adaptation failed, and thank goodness. It’s really hard for me to explain why I loved this show so much, but in the first episode Moss gets both the adult and child versions of the new Harry Potter book to make sure there were no differences in the text, and I was sold. It’s about two weird IT guys and their manager, Jen and the dysfunctional company they work for. I still have no idea what Reynholm Industries actually does.
The Thick of It (2005-2012):
Genre: Comedy Number of seasons: 4
This is another show of which I’ve only seen the first season. I wrote a review of it a couple of months ago when I got Stan, but I haven’t watched any of it since. Peter Capaldi is brilliant, and this is a much better showcase for him than Doctor Who.
Genre: Science fiction Number of seasons: 4
Torchwood is Russel T. Davies’ baby that he planted the seeds for when he was running Doctor Who. First there are mentions of it in the second series of Doctor Who, and then Captain Jack Harkness takes over the Torchwood office in Cardiff. It’s great. It’s also not a show you should show your children. It’s darker, and there’s weird sex stuff, like that sex alien thing in the second episode of the show. The third season is the pinnacle of the show, and it’s completely tragic, but a fantastic viewing experience.