Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Irreviews: British Television, Issue I

I haven't done any kind of television rant, rave, or review in a while, so here's one for you.

Thanks to magic of Hulu, I've been catching up on shows watched by our cousins across the pond. It all started when a long-favorite show of mine (Spaced) landed on Hulu. I can't state it enough: best. sitcom. ever. And, yes, I did the fanboy thing and watched the entire series again.

That led me to a bunch of other series (strategically advertised by Hulu's placement ads).

Now, I'm no stranger to British television (I've been watching Top Gear and Graham Norton for years), but until recently, I haven't seen enough of it to get a decent cultural picture of it. Given the shows below (along with several others I've seen the past - Primeval, Spooks, etc.) I think I'm learning... and quickly. I also think that London is, as far as television is concerned, the new New York.

In other words, the quality of British television is much, much higher than ours. HBO notwithstanding.

Australian television, on the other hand... well, I'll save that for another rant.

Black Books (2000-2004, 3 series, 18 episodes)
Starring: Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Tamsin Greig
Bernard Black (Moran) is an irreverent, disrespectful, deviant of a man. And he owns a book shop. Problem is, he can't be bothered to run it properly. Enter Manny (Bailey), an aloof, kind-hearted weirdo who has a propensity for business and a need for a job, room, and board. Sort of an over-the-top Odd Couple (odd threesome, really, when accounting for Fran, Bernard's oldest friend), Black Books is a riot.
Verdict: SEE it. And worship the Bernard.

The Book Group (2002-2003, 2 series, 12 episodes)
Starring: Anne Dudek, Bonnie Engstrom, Michelle Gomez, James Lance, Rory McCann, Saskia Mulder, Derek Riddell
Scotland-based American ex-pat Clare Pettengill (Dudek) has trouble making friends, so she decides to form a book group in an attempt to find like-minded people. Instead, she finds a drug-addicted smart-ass, three footballers' wives who just want to get away from the grind of celebrity, a secretly gay football fan who just wants to get close to footballers, and a paraplegic aspiring writer. It's touted as a comedy, but it's not very funny. Avid American viewers might enjoy Anne Dudek (formerly of House) and the later appearance of Henry Ian Cusick (Lost).
Verdict: SKIP it.

Green Wing (2004-2006, 2 series, 17 episodes + 1 special)
Starring: Sally Breton, Oliver Chris, Olivia Colman, Michelle Gomez, Tamsin Greig, Pippa Haywood, Mark Heap, Katie Lyons, Stephen Mangan, Lucinda Raikes, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Karl Theobald, Sarah Alexander
Scrubs, meet your competition from across the pond. This entirely over-the-top comedy is somehow both more cheeky and more realistic than its American cousin. The cast is perfect, the characters are insane, and it's a riot. I'll probably watch this again at some point.
Verdict: SEE it.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981, 6 episodes)
Starring: Peter Jones, Simon Jones, David Dixon, Sandra Dickinson, Mark Wing-Davey, Stephen Moore
The first attempt at adapting Douglas Adams' BBC radio classic to the screen, it's arguably the best version. No, the recent film isn't as bad as people claimed and, no, you can't really state that any version is more faithful to the source material since Adams himself has rewritten the source material several times. That stated, is the BBC miniseries all that great? Maybe... but it hasn't aged well.
Verdict: If you're a fan, SEE it. Otherwise, you won't feel like you've missed anything.

Peep Show (2003-present, 7 series, 42 episodes)
Starring: David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Olivia Colman, Matt King, Neil Fitzmaurice
A unique sitcom told primarily from the first-person perspectives of its two main characters, Mark and Jeremy (Mitchell and Webb). Mark tries to live his life responsibly, pursuing a corporate career and studying history. Jeremy tries to live his life on the edge, pursuing music and doing a lot of drugs. The problem is, neither is any good at what they do, and role-reversals abound. What's the gimmick? Not only is the series shot first-person, it's narrated by the characters' thoughts.
Verdict: SEE it. Mitchell and Webb are hilarious.


  1. i must say, i dont think it would take much to be better than our television...

    did you happen to see Falling Skies this summer? eh, was ok...

  2. don't really care for Peep Show. Top Gear (British) is the best show on television, maybe ever.

  3. Well, now I'm intrigued. But I have little time for television, no matter what galaxy it comes from. I agree with Brian...wouldn't take a hell of a lot of effort to improve our sorry lot.

  4. I liked Hitchhiker. (You've gotta love Marvin.) And I'm a big fan of BBC mysteries and drama. But I'm not a sitcom fan, and I really don't like slapstick. (I'm the only person I've ever known who doesn't like Monty Python.) The only Brit "comedy" TV I've ever liked is Spitting Image. A lot of it is insider Brit humor, but the American references are great. There's a lot of it on Youtube if you're unfamiliar with it.

  5. The quite shocking thing is that I haven't heard of most of these. Not sure what that says about me.
    (Jeff, I have not forgotten my promise to get Skype up and running. The house is full of medical students at the moment and therefore I do not get a moment to myself, so I will leave it until they all vanish back to Uni next Monday if that is OK)