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October 4, 2015

Five British TV Shows to Catch on DVD

by Nick Zaino, posted Oct 3rd 2010 1:30PM
British TV is definitely more visible in America these days. BBC America reaches about 68 million homes, according to its press site, and features a few shows every TV fan probably recognizes, like 'Doctor Who' and 'Top Gear.' But it's still behind some of its basic cable brethren.

According to TV By the Numbers, the April premiere of 'Doctor Who' series 5 set ratings records for the network with 1.2 million viewers. That's a lot of people, but dwarfed in comparison to the 5.3 million who watched the 'Jersey Shore' season 2 debut in July.

Even a show like 'Being Human,' which has been a cult hit and set hearts a-twittering at ComicCon, may have slipped under your radar. But this is why living in the age of TV on DVD is so great -- you get a second chance to find great shows, past and present.

Season 1 of 'Being Human' was released in July, and season 2 hit shelves last week. Here are five British shows you should seek out and why, starting with 'Human.'

Being Human'Being Human'
The premise sounds like a punchline -- a vampire, a ghost, and a werewolf rent the same house. If you figured that out from the commercials and skipped it, no one could blame you. But you'd be missing out on a compelling drama with a great sense of humor. The reason it works, perhaps despite the odds, is that the writers create a lot of sympathy for three characters struggling with three different problems that they are uniquely qualified to bond over. And now you can catch up on both seasons before the next one starts.

Survivors, BBC America'Survivors'
It's hard enough to do a show well once, the BBC did it twice. Both the original 1975 version and the 2008 update were fantastic (both released earlier this year on DVD) and with a plot that's difficult to pull off in a TV series. When most of the world is killed by a mysterious plague, a handful of people have to find a way to get along and rebuild a civilization gone wild. This has been an increasingly popular genre recently, with or without zombies (think 'The Road'), and both of these series deserve to be mentioned with the best of that bunch. The remake updates one character in particular, Tom, from a shabby drifter to one of the most morally complex and entertaining characters in any TV drama, of any age.

Black Books BBC America'Black Books'
In the U.K., Dylan Moran is already well-known as a genius of a stand-up comedian. Billy Connolly has counted him a favorite, which is high praise on its own. American audiences know him from supporting roles in 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Run, Fatboy, Run.' In 'Black Books,' which ran from 2000-2004, Moran proves he can more than handle being the focus. He played sarcastic, cynical, often drunk Bernard Black, owner of a bookshop that often seemed a nuisance to him. Black is the most worthy successor to Basil Fawlty, and the series is well worth seeking out.

Man Stroke Woman'Man Stroke Woman'
This is a bite-sized entry, just six episodes of sketch comedy on one disc. American audiences might recognize Nick Frost (again, from 'Shaun of the Dead' and also 'Hot Fuzz'), while producer Ash Atalla also produced the original 'Office.' With no live audience, no laugh track and really no transitions to speak of, the show skips from short sketch to short sketch, some of them barely a minute long. It never lingers on a joke, never stretches for time. There are crude gross-out gags (a cautionary tale of not feeding you dog the way the vet tells you), a lot of relationship humor (a woman distraught over her boyfriend suddenly changing from a bastard to a nice guy) and some downright strange bits (a woman whose hat doesn't fit, because it hovers several inches above her head).

The IT Crowd'The IT Crowd'
As you watch more British TV comedy, some of the same names keep popping up. 'The IT Crowd' was created by Graham Linehan, who also created 'Black Books,' and produced by Ash Atalla, who also did 'The Office' and 'Man Stroke Woman.' The show has an American following, but that certainly would have expanded had the American remake with Joel McHale managed to get off the block. If you're not one of the lucky ones who has found this already, seek it out. The show centers on a two-man IT department and their newly installed manager, the geeks versus the non-geek. Also watch for a couple of regular supporting players from other British comedies you should know. Matt Berry from 'Garth Merenghi's Darkplace,' 'The Mighty Boosh,' and Steve Coogan's 'Saxondale,' and Noel Fielding, one half of the team of 'The Mighty Boosh' (the one not named Julian Barratt).

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An Idiot Abroad. Ricky, Steve and Carl have another hit on their hands. I couldn't stop laughing during the first episode.

October 05 2010 at 7:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kerry Kerstetter

I recently discovered New Tricks, which is now in its 7th season. Seasons 1 and 2 are on NetFlix. It's similar to Waking the Dead, with a squad of cold case coppers. The difference is that most of the squad consists of old retired coppers brought on as consultants. Very funny and entertaining.

October 05 2010 at 2:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about the Inbetweeners, too?

Or some quiz shows? Never Mind the Buzzcocks, QI, or Mock the Week? (Granted, I don't know that they're on region one, but Youtube's awesome.)

October 05 2010 at 12:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah, good list but I'm in the group that wonders why you left Skins off...

October 05 2010 at 1:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"People Like Us"...the funniest mockumentary series ever made, and a definite influence on the original "The Office"...

October 04 2010 at 10:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

please someone tell me they've seen "Gavin and Stacey"..funniest show of all time..loved skins also

October 03 2010 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good call on the new sherlock holmes. Great stuff. But Spooks (about MI-5) is more realistic and better than any show over here about any of our respective agencies.

Cough.... new series of current Dr. Who....cough

October 03 2010 at 6:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Survivors ends on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved, because the show was canceled, right? I loved the original series from the 1970's, but I don't think I want to watch this one, since I'll never know how it ends.

October 03 2010 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You neglected to mention the two best: Skins and Ideal

October 03 2010 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The Thick of It. Best. Swearing. Ever. (And brilliant political satire. If you thought Washington was bad, this is what we lived through)

Anything involving Chris Morris (The Day Today, Brass Eye and Jam)

If a DVD is out, try the new Sherlock. I thought it was awesome.

October 03 2010 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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