Our beloved Television Collision editor Phoebe is out this week (not through any tampering of my doing), leaving me in charge of dispersing pertinent television information to her legion of fans. Hopefully I do her justice!
With that I decided to discuss the world of television outside the confines of the United States…the BBC. With the rise of British television shows being adapted for US shores there has to be a reason, right? That’s because British television has a lot to offer that US shows don’t (things other than more graphic depictions of sex and nudity). So let’s say you’re a person who doesn’t venture into outside television, you’re comfortable with your True Blood and Real Housewives of Orange County, but you want to see what all the fuss is about. Well I’ve come up with a handy guide of five shows to seek out in order to look smart in front of your BBC-loving friends. They’re separated into levels, from the beginner to the more advanced viewer depending on your interest and pre-existing knowledge. Pretty soon you’ll understand why everyone says British shows have better stories, and will probably be sporting a fake British accent to boot.
What to begin with you ask? How about a show that is relatable to you, no matter the funny accent or dialect? That show is the side-splitting British sitcom The IT Crowd!
The IT Crowd tells the story of three friends stuck working in the IT department of a prominent British company. There’s the new manager of the department, Jen (Katherine Parkinson), who has no idea what IT means, and her two employees Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy (Chris O’Dowd). There is not a single bad episode of this sitcom throughout its four seasons (with an upcoming fifth coming out at some point next year). Each episode is about 20 minutes and there’s only six episodes in a season making it easy for you to complete the entire series in a day or two. The best thing is each episode does its utmost to go beyond the work setting. A particular episode involves Jen trying to date a man who ends up being gay, while taking her two co-workers to a gay musical. From there the episode devolves into Roy accidentally being confused for a disabled patron. When the trio aren’t getting into trouble outside the office they’re causing mayhem on the inside, uproariously seen when Jen becomes the office “Fredo,” responsible for making sure the traveling business associates are shown a good time. Each episode has fantastic one-liners and three stars that have hilarious chemistry and are incredibly loveable, especially O’Dowd who showed off his chops in this summer’s Bridesmaids. With numerous references to movies and other things in pop culture (there is a Facebook episode!); The IT Crowd is an excellent start into the world of the BBC that won’t cause you to bust out Wikipedia to understand locations or local slang.
So you’ve passed through the beginner section but you want more. Not only do that, you want to be able to show off how your BBC knowledge can be applied to American television. Then what better way then to look at a show that A) failed in an Americanized remake and B) has been compared endlessly to one of the most successful television shows ever in the US. Enter the BBC series Coupling!
Coupling is a BBC series that aired for four seasons, from 2000 to 2004 and followed the sexual exploits of a group of friends. There was the crazy Jane (Gina Bellman), the horn dog Patrick (Ben Miles), the cute couple Steve and Susan (Jack Davenport and Sarah Alexander), and the bumbling Jeff (Richard Coyle). In its four seasons the group discussed everything from male size, porn, breasts and pretty much everything in-between (figuratively and sometimes literally). The show garnered numerous awards and was compared to the US series Friends to the point that an American version of Coupling was attempted, but failed after four episodes due to the inability to discuss a lot of the explicit content. Coupling is hilarious and still sheds a light on discussions that real couples have including a hilarious episode focused on Steve’s interest in porn entitled “Lesbian Spank Inferno.” Aside from the sex the series also has great episodes revolving around everyday conundrums, some of which has entered the lexicon of those who’ve watched the series (you’ll look totally cool if you know what a “giggle loop” is). The series boasts a fantastic cast, including Jack Davenport of Pirates of the Caribbean, and is endlessly rewatchable just like those endless Friends reruns on TBS. If you’re a fan of Friends, relationship sitcoms or quality sitcoms aimed at adults, then Coupling is for you!
The Genre Fan
What about BBC shows for the specialized viewer? I’m including two BBC television shows for the genre fan, both having connections to other US series’ that will hopefully slide you into enjoying them on their own merits. Not to mention you look cool for seeking out the quirkier fare.
The first series is Spaced, a shows that boasts the talents of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright! This is what got the trio their ticket to Hollywood and without Spaced we wouldn’t have the trifecta’s fantastic films. Spaced follows two London friends, Daisy (Jessica Hynes) and Tim (Simon Pegg) who pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat. Once there they go through adventures with their quirky band of friends and flat-mates. Spaced is just a delightful series because of Pegg, Hynes, Frost and the other characters that pepper the series. Filled to the gills with pop culture references, to the point that the DVD posts a Pop Culture reference commentary, the series has consistently witty dialogue and at only two seasons is incredibly quick. The duo of Tim and Daisy is a relationship built on mutual interests and there’s a constant “will they or won’t they” to their relationship that isn’t forced. Pegg and Hynes are adorable, Hynes especially (who you might remember as Yvonne from Shaun of the Dead) who has a hilarious character arc with her dog Colin. From trips to a club to a drug deal gone bad (complete with a finger gun battle that has to be seen to be believed), Spaced is for the fans of Pegg and Wright, as well as directors and movies that love to reference other things.
What about for fans of horror and mystery, those who enjoy Supernatural or other similar shows? The BBC has the show for you with the series Hex. Hex follows student Cassie Hughes (Christina Cole) and her dead roommate Thelma (Jemima Rooper). As if the dead roommate isn’t enough of a problem, Cassie is being stalked/seduced by a fallen angel named Azazeal (Michael Fassbender), literally hell-bent on making her fall for him and conceives a child that will open the gates of Hell. A lot more happens in the show’s two seasons including the arrival of a demon-hunter, more dead people, and a demonic child. The series is equal parts soap-opera and supernatural mystery as questions arise about Cassie’s parentage and the history of Azazeal himself. This is the series that really shows off the BBC’s lax ratings as there’s sex scenes and a slew of nudity but it all comes down to the characters. Christina Cole’s sweetness and doe eyes make her a perfect heroine whose both sweet and strong. Rooper is the comic relief as Thelma and also lusts for Cassie opening the door for a few lesbian tinged moments but the true stand-out is of course Michael Fassbender as the evil Azazeal. You’ve probably heard of Fassbender by this point but this series was what showed off his skills. He’s smooth, charming, seductive, and evil all at once and trust me there’s moments that would make Eric from True Blood blush. If you enjoy True Blood or similar fare then Hex is the British equivalent.
So you’ve made it through the other levels and are thirsting for more? That or you’ve seen the other shows before and want something above and beyond sitcoms and soap operas? Well then why not go with the true staple of British television? The show that every British citizen has grown up with: Doctor Who!
Now I’m not talking about watching every Doctor Who incarnation starting from the 60s and 70s, I’m talking about 2005 reboot from creator Steven Moffat. Coming up on six seasons it’s the lengthiest of the series listed here and it’s by far the most complex in terms of story and mythology. In a very small nutshell the show follows the adventures through time and space of Doctor Who (currently played by Matt Smith) and his series of female companions (currently played by Karen Gillan). In the six seasons Doctor Who has been on currently we’ve gone through three diverse and fantastic Doctors and the stories get better and better. From trips to 1940s England to the literal end of the universe Doctor Who is the ultimate mystery of the week series that expertly combines an overarching story through the seasons. Anyone who watches the series will have a favorite Doctor (mine is David Tennant) and if you like the new series it’s always fun to go back and watch the wacky 70s versions.
After your journey’s done you’ll have hopefully found something to enjoy about the BBC. If not then you can at least give a more accurate list of evidence about why The Real Housewives is better than those snooty Brits.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.