Television Favorites From Across the Pond
The New British Invasion
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 20:02
A new disease has taken over the American television-viewing public: Anglophilia. This obsession with anything and everything British has partially been spawned by the increased accessibility of programs through internet platforms like Hulu and Netflix. Many of the names may be familiar — American television producers have tried many times to adapt and remake shows for American audiences with highly varied levels of success.
The first British television show to gain mainstream attention this side of the pond was "The Office," thanks to the remake spearheaded by comedian Steve Carrell. The original was also shot in the trademark mockumentary style but with Ricky Gervais in the starring role of David Brent, the general manager of a branch of Wernham Hogg Paper Company. Gervais was the breakout star, as was Martin Freeman (who continues to be a cult favorite).
The king of British television in the U.S. though, has to be sci-fi behemoth "Doctor Who." Trying to explain the premise and plot of the show is rarely successful, but I’ll try anyway. The show follows the various adventures of The Doctor, a 1200-year-old alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, and his various "companions" as they travel through all of time and space in his time machine, called a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions In Space). Sound crazy yet? Well, it gets better. Whenever a Time Lord dies, he goes through a process called "regeneration," essentially transforming into an entirely different person. That’s how they keep the character and the show alive when actors quit. No matter how crazy it may sound, the show has managed to build an incredibly loyal and enthusiastic mainstream fanbase, including me, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary and 11th incarnation of The Doctor this year. Eat your heart out, "Law & Order." It has managed to make science fiction not only approachable but also enjoyable for a new group of people.
"Downton Abbey" is another British drama that has been winning broad support and acclaim in the U.S. through PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre. And though this program’s genre has often been spurned for being stuffy and boring, the American public has found multiple reasons to fall in love with this upstairs-downstairs period drama. For one thing, it is superbly acted, with Dame Maggie Smith stealing the show as the Dowager Countess and Michelle Dockery winning hearts as the beautiful, eldest and recently married daughter Mary Crawley. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s drama, drama and more drama. The Crawley family and their servants at "Downton Abbey" live through times of war, times of peace and times of great social upheaval.
But "Downton" is not the only British creation popularized by PBS Masterpiece Theatre. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s "Sherlock Holmes" series, aptly titled "Sherlock," is another. While there is no shortage of adaptations of these famous detective stories in the United States — most notably the film series starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law and the new American television show "Elementary," which drew undeserved criticism for casting Lucy Liu as Dr. Jwoan Watson to Johnny Lee Miller’s Holmes — "Sherlock" separates itself from the rest with its loyalty to the plot of the books. The shows creators have stuck almost entirely to the plots of the original Doyle short stories, with edits made to fit the stories to the modern setting. The show’s format is uniquely British, which means uniquely frustrating for American viewers. There are only two seasons, with three episodes each, and they were released over a year apart. Worst of all, the third season won’t be filmed until at least 2014 due to the scheduling conflicts of its stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and the aforementioned Freeman. The show has scores of Internet fangirls who sometimes stray into the creepy zone, but that hasn’t scared away the mainstream audience yet.
If you’re looking to expand your crime drama repertoire even further, "Luther" is a standout import. It’s a bit like "Sherlock," but it’s much darker, grittier and far more sinister. It stars Idris Elba, who, by the way, has apparently been in discussions to be the first black James Bond. Elba plays the morally ambiguous Detective Inspector John Luther, who attempts to catch London’s worst criminals while battling wits with Alice, a charming sociopathic serial killer more similar to Luther than he would like. Marital strife, disturbing crime and unbearable sexual tension all combine to make for some really gripping television, but if you find yourself unable to stomach more than two episodes of "Law and Order: SVU" at a time, "Luther" may not be your cup of tea.