British Television My New Cup of Tea--I'm Off My Trolley

I'm conflicted.

Okay, maybe not Spelling...maybe Tori Amos...
no...I know, Torii Hunter of baseball fame.    
You see, I've grown attached to a number of British television shows, and I am, as you probably know, very American (fat, loud, opinionated, heavily in debt, etc.). Watching shows that originated on the BBC makes me feel like a Tory during the Revolutionary War; and if I'm going to be a Tory, I want it to be Tori Spelling.

The first time I turned my back on my country was when I got my first car (or rather my parents purchased one for me). It was a 1985 Honda Accord. One of those import cars that nearly destroyed the auto industry in America. In my defense, the cars out of Detroit from that era took up 1.5 parking spaces, were designed using the creativity of five basic Lego blocks, and fell apart as easy as Tinker Toys.  The garbage puked out of GM, Ford, and Dodge during the 80s and 90s still haunts their reputation today. Many of my generation won't consider American cars as an option because we still smell the vomit of a (now retired) Ford Escort when we sit in a now Ford Focus.  

You didn't watch this? And you
call yourself an American? 
Likewise, American television during the 90s and 00s was so pathetically bad, that it nearly destroyed the Networks. Nobody wants boxed dvd sets of Caroline in the City, Grace Under Fire, The Nanny, Perfect Strangers, Yes Dear, or Veronica's Closet and if they do, they probably don't read my blog (they get all their "reading" via Buzzfeed).  Even Friends, the most popular show of that era is crammed full of laugh tracks, vanilla characters, stupid premises, and unbelievable situations.

Either American writing was so bad that these were the best we could produce, or the viewing masses were so dumb that the most appealing shows were as intellectually stimulating as a children's board book.

Even now, once you remove the "investigative cop" dramas and reality talent shows in the U.S., there isn't much to choose from. Two and A Half Men, Grey's Anatomy and 2 Broke Girls are still in the top 15. These shows are fine for those recovering from a brain aneurysm or whose only social interaction is with their cats Sir Meowsy Purrfect and The Great Catsby.  (In full disclosure, I did watch the first three seasons of Grey's with my wife and dog, Indiana, when I was questioning my identity).

There are, I've been told, some shows with decent writing like Modern Family, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, among others, that I've been meaning to watch; and cable and HBO has plenty to offer...

But for now, I'm stuck on British Television, with all its quirks: like stars abandoning the series in the middle of a run due to weird contract deals (see Doc Martin, Downton Abbey, or Ripper Street--which was just cancelled and voted the most popular show in England); stars not looking at all like American stars (which means ordinary and sometimes ugly); and almost stereotypically, actors with bad teeth.

Cyberman: We have five million Cybermen. How many are you? 
Dalek: Four.
Cyberman: You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?
Dalek: We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek!
You are superior in only one respect.

Cyberman: What is that?
Dalek: You are better at dying.

(Trash talking robots...only on British TV or American cartoons).
But they also have extraordinary writing, stellar acting, interesting scenes and edits, and almost a film-like quality of production. They seem to have a clear vision of what they want their shows to be in England; and actually plan how the story is going to end up (unlike American shows like Lost which started strong and went nowhere). Even their shows which run forever, like Dr. Who, have escape clauses built in when it seems the show is stagnating.

"His lips are really pointy," my wife said.
"Yeah, they make the shape of an M.
M for Prof. Moriarty." I replied.
The Brits think of everything.  

I just finished watching the six movie length episodes of Sherlock and was absolutely floored with how well they modernized Inspector Holmes. Each was better than Guy Richie's recent period piece movies that mistakenly turned Sherlock Holmes into Charles Bronson.  (I realize Richie is British as well, but he was basically making a Hollywood movie).

America still has much to learn from the Ole' Colonizer Island. With a population a sixth the size of us, they are experts at exporting their finished goods. Per capita, they nearly double our total export numbers, which is really impressive when you consider that England (like Japan) has very few natural resources, and America is a gold mine of earthy abundance.

While American television is obviously on the uptick in quality and writing, there is no excuse for us to ever fall to the slovenly state it was just a decade ago. Because if America loses its boob tube market share to the world, how will we ever get our mixed messages and hidden agendas to developing nations?

We have no excuse. We have beautiful phony people. We have decent dental care. We have crushed our Unions to name power only. Our corporate film and television companies should monopolize the airwaves.

Or maybe there's something to be said about quality vs. quantity. Something Americans, in general, have never quite understood.

So please, God, save the BBC.


  1. Chris,
    Am loving British television as well. Started with Sherlock, which I'm now addicted and can't believe the wait between seasons, then Downton of course and now I've started with Doctor Who. I went to London in January and was so excited to watch all of Season 3 before it aired here! I felt like I was cheating or something but it was awesome!


    1. I love Downton as well, which is weird, since as a history major, I hated English history with all its aristocracy and class warfare. America obviously has rich and poor people, but we don't judge people based on their family's interesting to watch England work through that ideology in a historical yet entertaining fashion.

  2. I am a British TV fan, too. I don't even go near American network television; the only decent shows nowadays are on cable (which we watch on Netflix). So basically, I agree with everything you say here, including the reasons why I still hesitate to purchase an American-made car.

    1. Well, top o' the mornin' to you, Ms. DeYoung. Oh how the Brits would hate me.

  3. I don't really have an opinion one way or another about American vs. foreign cars. My first (and only) new car was a Ford Escort. It did pretty well for me at first, but by the time I sold it five years later, it wasn't worth much. That was probably due to the fact that I was terrible about doing regular oil changes.

    As for TV through the 90's and 00's...I missed most of it as I spent most of the time overseas. Without a satelite dish (which I didn't have) I was limited mostly to Indonesian programming or DVD's. Ummmm...let's use the DVD's, please.

    1. What? You didn't love the Indonesian channels? Don't worry about missing out on the 90s was forgettable.

  4. The BBC productions are bar-none the best. I have never seen such an overall caliber of acting as theirs and writing, and they actually appear to have a plan when they start a series rather than just a pithy beginning that can't ever seem to decide where it is headed and then dribbles off into bring repetition of the violent or sexy sort like American offerings. God save not only the Queen but British film entertainment as well.