I’m often amazed when I speak to my friends outside of the UK and they tell me that they’ve never heard of certain British TV shows, especially when said shows have huge followings domestically.
It’s apparent that shows spawned in the US are readily available here in the UK, but the same can’t be said for shows created over here, despite the best efforts of BBC America. So with that in mind, I feel it is my duty to share 10 British TV shows that I personally feel the WORLD should be watching. If you’ve seen them already then give yourself a big old pat on the back, because you’re awesome. If you haven’t, then seek them out, sit back and enjoy some of the very best of British television.
10. Flowers (Channel 4, 2016)
Flowers opens with a man climbing a ladder next to a tree. Within seconds, it’s clear he intends to commit suicide. It’s a dark start to a comedy series, but it sums up the tone of the show perfectly.
Julian Barratt is Mr. Flowers, a depressed children’s author. His wife, the always excellent Olivia Colman, is your typical ‘make-do’ wife, keeping up appearances, nervously laughing to herself as her far from perfect family comes apart at the seams. The Flowers live in a shambles of a cottage with their two obnoxious adult children, and an odd Japanese illustrator named Shun, who it just so happens is played by show creator Will Sharpe.
Over 6 episodes, we are privy to the many eccentricities of the Flowers clan. It’s hard to define the plot beyond that. It’s one of those fantastic, lightening in a bottle TV shows, in which not a lot happens but you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Director Will Sharpe pushes the limits of “dark comedy” here and pulls it off superbly. This could easily be a Wes Anderson project, it just has that same feel to it, and to me that’s a huge compliment.
A second series has just been commissioned.
9. Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place (Channel 4, 2004)
“Back in the 1980s, I wrote, directed, and starred in ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,’ a television program so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so goddamn crazy that the so-called Powers That Be became too scared to show it and gypped me, much in the same way that women have done ever since they sniffed out my money.”
Presented as a show within a show, Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, is a pseudo retrospective of a horror TV show once thought lost to the ages. It is presented with a mixture of footage from each episode, with talking head moments from members of the cast. Of course, the whole thing is fictional. It’s also ridiculous, bizarre and completely, bloody brilliant.
8. Misfits (Channel 4, 2009)
Imagine if the kids in The Breakfast Club had been superheroes. That’s the basic idea behind Channel 4’s unmissable sci-fi dramedy. A group of kids who’ve all be slapped with ASBO’s, are forced into menial community service at a local community center. One day, while cleaning graffiti from the walls, they find themselves out in a storm that leaves them all with unique, and sometimes useless, superpowers.
Channel 4 has so often delivered great things, and Misfits was no exception. It blended comedy and drama, with lashings of gore, science fiction and superhero mythology. The casting choices were also inspired, with no one character feeling bigger than the show itself. Well, no one except maybe Joe Gilgun’s Rudy, who is one of the great characters in alternative British TV history.
7. The IT Crowd (Channel 4, 2006)
There’s a good chance a few of you will already be familiar with The IT Crowd. After all, there had been plans to adapt it for the US market at one time or another. Even original cast member Richard Ayoade was on board before the idea was shit canned.
The show started life back in 2006, the brainchild of Graham Lineham who also wrote Father Ted and Black Books. The premise was simple enough; Ayoade and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) are the IT guys at global conglomerate Reynholm Industries. Despite having no idea what the company actually does, they go about their day to day activities, hidden away in the basement of the main business headquarters. One day, and for no apparent reason, they are gifted with a new line manager named Jen (Katherine Parkinson), who despite having zero IT knowledge (she thinks the internet is a box!), cons her way into role of departmental manager.
The show itself is very British but the themes are universally geeky. Episodes largely focused on IT related issues, however they also touched on the confusing world of dating, and stress in the workplace.
The show was eventually cancelled in 2013, after 4 series and a one-off special, but remains one of the most successful British TV shows on non-domestic Netflix services.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether to watch The IT Crowd or not, consider turning your brain off and on again. That usually works.
6. The League of Gentlemen (BBC, 1999)
There’s very little else on television that’s quite like The League of Gentlemen. It’s probably best described as a behind the curtains peek at the inhabitants of rural England’s most bizarre town – Royston Vasey.
Calling Royston Vasey bizarre is no understatement either. It’s a town where the high street butcher deals in human meat, the shopkeeper and his wife/sister will murder you if you’re not “local”, and where your wife may be stolen in the night by ringmaster Papa Lazarou, and forced to join his travelling circus. It’s every backpacker’s worst nightmare, and there’s always a part of you that can imagine it being real.
Welcome to Royston Vasey, you’ll never leave.
5. Spaced (Channel 4, 1999)
There’s a lot of debate as to what the all-time best British sitcom is. For some it’s probably Fawlty Towers, while others may prefer The Office. There are some though – myself included – that when asked the question, will always answer “Spaced“, and we’d be willing to fight you over it if we have to!
Simon Pegg stars with Jessica Hynes as two total strangers who pretend to be a married couple in order to snap up the only available flat in London. Pegg is Tim, the proto-nerd, a comic book artist who spends his time playing Resident Evil and watching Robot Wars, while Hynes is struggling writer and wannabe feminist, Daisy.
Along with their small group of friends, including Nick Frost, Tim and Daisy struggle to keep their fake relationship a secret from their landlady, a middle aged lush named Marsha, who is over the moon to have the young couple living upstairs. Spaced is never mean though. Yes the premise is built around the deceit, but the characters truly love Marsha, and the pain brought about by lying to her is clear from the off.
The show is littered with Easter eggs, nods to some of the all time best Geek fandoms. There’s so much to see that you can guarantee you will spot something new with each new viewing. Hell, even George Lucas got in on the act, allowing Series 2 to use actual music and images from the Star Wars Universe, which was virtually unheard of at the time.
Without Spaced there may never have been a Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. Edgar Wright wouldn’t have landed Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. It introduced the world to people like Ricky Gervais and David Walliams, and made it cool to be a Geek.
4. Black Books (Channel 4, 2000)
The British TV viewing public love an anti-hero. You only have to look at some of our most successful TV shows to see that the best loved characters are almost always a cantankerous wanker. Think Victor Meldrew. Think Basil Fawlty. Think Bernard Black.
Bernard Black was an alcoholic, chain smoking, book shop owner, whose day was perpetually ruined by the people who tried to offer him custom. These insensitive idiots were often met with contempt, and demands to vacate the premises, which they did, never to return.
The shop would surely have gone out of business were it not for his far friendlier, Hobbit-like, assistant Manny, played by the also Hobbit-like comedian Bill Bailey. Tasmin Greig also appeared as a neighboring business owner.
The show ran for 3 series, and aired on Channel 4. Dylan Moran excelled as Bernard, and has pretty much reprises the character in every role he’s had since. He’s also been suggested as a possible Dr. Who candidate, which has some real potential if you ask me.
3. Bottom (BBC, 1991)
Created by and starring infamous comedy double-act Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, Bottom offered a warts and all account of the lives of Richard Richard (Mayall) and Eddie Hitler (Edmondson), two utterly grotesque, slovenly flat mates who would rather set each others testicles on fire than come up with a way to improve their increasingly hopeless situation.
Memorable moments included sellotaping a burglar to the ceiling, Richie chopping Eddie’s legs off with a chainsaw and explosive sprout farts, but to be honest there was just too many to recall here. This was perhaps Mayall’s most iconic television role, and was one he would revisit again and again before his untimely death in 2014.
2. People Just Do Nothing (BBC, 2014)
People Just Do Nothing is not what you think. At face value, it’s a British TV show about a group of Chavs who run a pirate radio station from a grotty high rise flat, and sponge off the benefits system when they can be arsed. If you bother to give it a chance it’s a hilarious mockumentary, that brilliantly brings to life the UK independent garage/drum and bass scene through the eyes of Britain’s great unemployed youth.
“We’re the Beatles of Brentford”, claimed the show’s creators in an interview with The Guardian. That might be stretching it a bit, but they’re at least the Spinal Tap for benefits Britain.
1. Red Dwarf (BBC, 1988)
Red Dwarf is easily the biggest title on the list, and has fans all over the world. Almost everyone has heard of it, but unbelievably there are still people out there who have never watched an episode. For the uneducated the show follows the only survivors of the titular mining ship, which has been floating in space for 3 million years. There’s Dave Lister (Craig Charles), the only known living human and chicken-soup-machine repairman, who has survived in accidental stasis the whole time, Cat (Danny John-Jules) a humanoid descendant of his pet cat, and Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie), a smug, lily-livered former crew member who has been brought back to life as a hologram. As they fluke their way through space, the crew also pick up a malfunctioning, neurotic droid by the name of Kryten who acts as their domestic maid, and oracle of ways to survive their many trials and tribulations.
The show started life back in 1988, and was never supposed to last. It quickly rose to the top of the ratings table for the BBC, and is still going strong today, almost 30 years later. If you’re interested in giving it a go then be sure to pick up the DVD’s. The special features – primarily the season by season breakdown documentaries – are worth the cost alone.