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Top Ten British Shows You Could Be Watching

Erin suggests plenty of British shows for your holiday viewing pleasure!

Top Ten British Shows You Could Be Watching

Oh my god, you guys! It's Tuesday! Which means it's Thanksgiving Eve-Eve!! You may think it's weird that I get so excited for Thanksgiving, but it is legitimately my favorite holiday. No presents to buy, just lots of food to cook, fun place cards made from mini pumpkins, a giant meal and football. It is truly the world's most perfect holiday.

Of course, not everyone feels the same as I do. Some people really hate Thanksgiving because they don't like spending time with their family. Some people hate Thanksgiving because they have a lot of time off, but their family's far away, so they can only sit on their couch all weekend and pout with boredom. And some people hate Thanksgiving because they see it as a gleeful celebration of white opressors' eventual massacre of native peoples and also turkeys.

Those people are right, but in times like this, it's important to remember: really it was the British and Dutch people's faults. We Americans just benefitted after the fact. There. Doesn't that make you feel better?

If you have some extra time this weekend, you should kill it by marathoning TV shows on Netflix Streaming, a service which makes it super easy for you to sit on the couch, eat twelve turkey sandwiches, and catch up on all the TV you should have been watching over the years.

To help you out, and in the spirit of remembering the origins of the Pilgrims,I've got a list of Ten British Shows You Could Be Watching Right Now! (So why aren't you?)

Note: This list is in no particular order (some of my very favorite shows haven't made it to Netflix Streaming, but more on that later). And doesn't even include all the great British shows on Netflix! I just thought I'd go for a mixture.

Downton Abbey, Series One (ITV)

Have you watched Series One of Downton Abbey, the multiple Emmy award-winning costume drama from the UK's ITV? No? WHY THE FUCK NOT? Series Two premieres on PBS in January and Megan no h and I are going to review it (she doesn't know that yet because I forgot to tell her. Hey, Megan no h! Let's recap Downton Abbey since we've already watched it!), and while I actually was pretty dismayed at the end of the second season, it's STILL SO GOOD.

What's It All About, Guv: It's 1912, and Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, has his estate and title entailed onto the male line, yet has only managed to ever produce girl children. (Sound familiar?) It's all cool, though - he and his rich American wife Cora have suckered brokered a deal so that Crawley's young nephew marries Crawley's oldest daughter, the headstrong Lady Mary, and everyone gets to, quite literally, keep the farm.

Until Crawley's cousin and nephew drown in the Titanic, that is. Now the search is on for a new heir, and Matthew Crawley, a solicitor (of all things) from Manchester (of all places - sorry, Carla!), who doesn't even have a butler, now has to learn how to take over a giant village like Grantham. Oh, and keep his loins in check around Lady Mary. Meanwhile, there's a nefarious footman, a war-wounded valet, a butler who looks like a penguin, budding feminist Lady Sybil, poor, sad Lady Edith and Maggie Smith, stealing every damn scene she's in.

Why You Should Watch It: Maggie Smith is a g-d comedic genius, y'all. I'd want her as my acid-tongued grandmother if she didn't scare me quite so much. Hugh Bonneville and Dan Stevens are smoking hot (though I throw my money behind the super-swoonworthy Brandan Coyle as Mr Bates . . . my boyfriend's mother recently threw a charity event that the cast of Downton attended and he is SUPER FOXY in a tux, y'all.). Lady Mary fucks a Turk to death. And the impending dread as the golden age of the Edwardian era declines into madness and war is handled expertly.

Where you've seen them: Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) was in the Red Riding trilogy (which is also on Netflix Streaming, and which you should also see); Hugh Bonneville, besides starring in many of my nightly dreams, was Bernie in Notting Hill; Dan Stevens played Edward Ferrars in the most recent Sense and Sensibility; and Maggie Smith you know from . . . well, everything.

Luther (BBC One)

A gritty and compelling they-done-it-and-i'm-gonna-watch-you-nail-em series, Luther is great if for no other reason that the main character is so very, very flawed. Where else do you root for a guy with anger management skills who exhibits violence around a wife and a corrupt, soulless killer to stop talking and start making out already?

What's It All About, Guv: John Luther is a hotheaded, tempramental, violent, genius cop. He's most recently come back from an administrative suspension because he maybe accidentally let a pedophile suspect fall from several stories up after hitting him in the face a few times. Could happen to anyone! Luther's wife, Zoe, has left him, and he's being pursued by a charming, meglomaniacal and ruthless killer.

Why You Should Watch It: Idris Elba has never been less than stellar in any performance he's ever given, but hearing him with his East London accent is even better than watching him kill people on The Wire. Apart from that, in one word? Alice.

Where You've Seen Them: Idris Elba, of course, was Stringer Bell, Baltimore's sexiest mob boss, on The Wire and he also seduced Jim on The Office. Ruth Wilson (Alice) played Jane in the 2006 miniseries of Jane Eyre and Indira Varma played Niobe on Rome!

Skins (E4)

Shh, not that awful American remake that was on MTV last year. And, for that matter, not even the last few series of Skins. Just watch the first two series and stop, trust me. It'll go better on you if Effy doesn't talk.

What's It All About, Guv: Skins follows a group of teens in Bristol during their sixth form years (ages 16-18, when teens in the UK study for their A-levels, which are sort of like the SATs only . . . more.). And these teens are crazy pants. Think of the worst thing you did growing up - the time you lied the most or had the most unprotected sex or did the most drugs. Now triple it. Think of the teen you would be at that point. The teens in this show would call Triple Teen You a square.

Tony, his best friend Sid, his awful girlfriend Michelle, his silent sister Effy, and their friends Jal, Chris, Maxxie, Anwar and Cassie regularly get up to antics that would make even a 21 year old feel tired and old. Drugs, sex, manipulations and craziness are just par for the course, but it's the compelling humanity and basic honesty that grounds the show and keeps it feeling fresh and authentic.

Why You Should Watch It: Tony (Nicholas Hoult) regularly does sit-ups and push-ups in nothing but a pair of whitey tighties. Don't feel too gross; he's legal. Cassie (Hannah Murray) will gut your heart with her lost look . . . and then have you cracking up at her nudist mother's "art." Jal kicks ass. And if you don't fall hopelessly in love with Chris, then I'm afraid we just can't be friends anymore.

Where You've Seen Them: Yeah, yeah, this Nicholas Hoult, has grown up a LOT from being the kid in About a Boy. Kaya Scodelario features heavily in our casting calls. And of course, Dev Patel starred in Slumdog Millionaire, this tiny little indie film that no one has ever heard of before.

Gavin and Stacey (BBC Three)

I haven't met anyone yet who has not been charmed by Gavin and Stacey, one of the sweetest and funniest romantic sitcoms to come out of the UK in the last few years. If you are one of these people, don't tell me about it.

What's It All About, Guv: Gavin lives in Essex. Stacey lives in Wales. They've never met, but communicate with each other over the phone all the time (their companies work together, which is how they "met"), and now they've decided to actually meet, in person-like. Joined by their best friends, the hilarious and experienced Nessa and bromantic Smithy (series writers Ruth Jones and James Cordon), Gavin and Stacey hit it off immediately. But they live four hours away*! Can they make it work?

*Four hours away. Eat me, Gavin and Stacey, you pansy-ass complainers. TRY OCEANS.

Why You Should Watch It: Two words: Smithy. Nessa. Three more words: Omelettes, Rape Whistles. One more word: Prague

Where You've Seen Them: Joanna Page (Stacey) was Just Judy, the naked lady on Love Actually. Ruth Jones has been in just about anything, but if you ever watched Little Britain (and why haven't you?), she plays Myfawny. And I regularly have Rob Brydon over for tea.

Top Gear (BBC One, though Dave likes to air it constantly)

Oooh, scandalous! Yeah, I'm recommending Top Gear. Yeah, I understand that everyone on it is kind of an awful person and the BBC spends way too much money on this show when they could be using it to upgrade those special effects computers they use on Doctor Who to something more advanced than an Apple II, but it's still SO MUCH FUN.

What's It All About, Guv: Three average dudebros, the cheerfully sexist/racist/classist/everythingist Jeremy Clarkson (known as Uncle Jeremy in my house, because you know how you have that one Uncle who drinks a lot and says perfectly awful things but is also really funny, so you find yourself laughing at his stories while simultaneously thinking, "I could never invite this guy to my wedding - what would my friends think?" Uncle Jeremy!), Richard "The Hamster" Hammond, who may have been Dickens' original inspiration for Tiny Tim and James "I Should Have Been In Queen" May, sit around and talk about cars. And then drive cars. And then wreck cars. Seriously, that is the entire plot of this show. It's AMAZING.

Why You Should Watch It: I'm not, by rights, a car person. Barring the folder graced with a photo of a Lamborghini that was my prized posession in third grade, I don't really give cars that much thought. I drive a Fit, for fuck's sake. But cars be shiny. Cars go fast. Sometimes things explode. Uncle Jeremy drinks a lot. (Also, the episode where they drive across the Southeastern United States with things like "HILARY FOR PRESIDENT" and "COUNTRY MUSIC SUCKS" spray painted on their cars is pretty amazing.)

Where You've Seen Them: Probably nowhere, since all threeare British broadcasters/journalists. Weirdly, 60 Minutes did a special on them last year, which just goes to show that yet again, 60 Minutes is on the cutting edge of something that started a decade ago.

Peep Show (Ch 4).

Before you watch That Mitchell and Webb Look, or after you watch That Mitchell and Webb Look, or concurrent to watching That Mitchell and Webb Look, watch Peep Show.

What's It All About, Guv: Not much, actually. Peep Show revolves around Employed Mark and Unemployed Jeremy and the fact that, despite being nearly 30, they have no idea what the fuck to do with their lives except masturbate and play video games.

Why You Should Watch It: Well, what the hell are you doing with your life except for masturbating and reading books? Trust me, you'll feel better about yourself when watching Mark and Jeremy's screw ups. Plus, it's hysterical.

Where You've Seen Them: You probably don't, unless you watch a lot of British comedy and/or quiz shows. In which case you've seen them everywhere.

The IT Crowd (Ch 4)

Not since The Office has another workplace comedy so accurately portrayed what it is like to work for, and with, idiots. And unlike The Office (UK), everyone on this show is hot.

What's It All About, Guv: The IT Department at Reinholm Industries (no one is quite sure what it is they do) consists of a genius, a person who knows nothing about computers, and a slacker Irish guy who makes even me look like a good worker. They get into trouble a lot, owing to the fact that everyone they work with are idiots and they, themselves, are not exactly the brightest crayons in the box.

Why You Should Watch It: If you have ever told a coworker how to find the Power machine on their computer or hung up on Tech Services because they've told you to reboot while your computer's on fire, this one's for you.

Where You've Seen Them: Richard Ayaode played Joseph in the greatest rock opera about the birth of Jesus Christ ever (AD/BC - do yourself a favor and try to find it), but most of you will recognize Chris O'Dowd as the Irish cop/love interest in this year's Bridesmaids.

Sherlock (BBC One)

Often referred to as "Holy Shit, Sherlock!" in my house, this is a reboot of the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories set in modern London. Sherlock is quirky, quizzical and a big fan of nicotine packages when he needs to particularly think and our Watson's a wounded Afghanistan War vet.

What's It All About, Guv: The show takes classic Sherlock Holmes novels (Doyle's A Study in Pink, for instance, is the pilot of the show) and changes them a bit for modern times. Generally even the words "changes it for modern times" makes me want to barf, but believe me; this show works.

Why You Should Watch It: The blatant homoeroticism between Holmes and Watson is perfect, while not sacrificing the obvious acrimony that one might feel rooming with a guy who thinks it's fun to shoot bullets into walls. And Sherlock's brilliant takedown of pretty much every person he comes across will have you clapping your hands in glee. But moreover, I think people who love the Sherlock Holmes stories and people who've never heard of Sherlock Holmes will love this show.

Where You've Seen Them: Watson is played by Martin Freeman, who besides being Just Judy's naked scene buddy in Love Actually, has been in just about everything, including Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Office, and will play Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock, was in Atonement, Four Lions and the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy . . . plus he happened to go to boarding school with Meghan's husband Chris!

Lost in Austen

Guys! Lost in Austen is back on Netflix Streaming for a short time!! Get on this!

What's It All About, Guv: Amanda Price, of London, basically lives my DREAM, when she randomly happens across Lizzie Bennett, hanging out in her bathroom. Elizabeth WOULD hang out in people's bathrooms. Rude. Amanda and Lizzie switch places - landing Amanda smack in the middle of the goings on of Pride and Prejudice and letting Elizabeth realize that in modern times, there are whole clubs full of people like Charlotte Lucas, and those people are called lesbians.

But nothing is quite what it seems, and what's going to happen when Darcy screws up the script and falls for Amanda instead?

Why You Should Watch It: LADIES. A GIRL JUST LIKE US GETS TO KISS DARCY. Don't even front like that isn't your well-cherished dream.

Where You've Seen Them: Alex Kingston from ER plays Mrs Bennett, and you'll remember Gemma Arterton from your boyfriend's sex dreams.

And, last but definitely not least, in a Going-Going-it's-nearly-Gone. . ..

Pride and Prejudice (BBC)

Accept no substitutions!! Only Colin Firth, standing wet for no reason and looking a bit as if he has to shake water out of his ear, will do!

What's It All About, Guv: Off-book erections in tight pants; foppish hair.

Why You Should Watch It: Seriously? If you've never seen the full BBC miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice, you're doing your life a disservice. It is my favorite go-to comfort food, in movie form. PLUS COLIN FIRTH, WHY ARE WE STILL EVEN DISCUSSING THIS?


Of course, this isn't even a sampling of some of my favorite UK or Irish shows- many of those aren't on Netflix Streaming. But! Some of them are available via Netflix The Old Fashioned Way, or as I like to call it, "Netflix Whine." ("You mean I have to WAIT? For a dvd? To be mailed to me in a day? I have to walk to the mailbox and then get the dvd and then watch it and then send it back whenever I want with no late fee penalties? LIFE IS SO UNFAIR.")

If you act fast, you could have some of these series in your mailbox (that, yes, you have to walk to) by Black Friday and spend the post-turkey day in the way it is meant to be enjoyed: vegging out on the couch and laughing at people who have been shopping since 4 am.

Life On Mars - You may at some point be tempted to watch that shoddy American remake. I urge you not to, or you will miss Sam's wibbly faces, the Gene Genie in all his glory, and more Bowie and T Rex than you can shake a bell bottom-clad leg at.

State of Play - Occassionally in my house I have what I call John Simm Extravaganza days, and those are the best days of the year. State of Play is probably one of the best drama mini-series I have ever seen. I do not make that statement lightly. It's tightly-paced, intricate and compelling. The addition of Bill Nighy, Kelly MacDonald and James McAvoy don't hurt, either.

The Mighty Boosh - One day, you should take All The Drugs and then sit down and watch The Mighty Boosh. Actually, no, I don't recommend that you do that, but it'd probably be one hell of a good time.

Actually, you don't need drugs to experience this magical wonderland of jazz foxes, talking apes, boxing kangaroos, a mystical shamen with hair taller than he is, a Shoreditch Vampire and a Mustached Musical Genius . . . but sometimes it helps. Everybody gather around as Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett take you through the wonderland that is their demented imagination! Not you, naan bread.

Spaced - My hands-down favorite show of all time, because it pays homage to most of my other hands-down, favorite shows of all time. This show knows what it's like to truly celebrate the nerd, and even if you aren't a fan of the many pup culture homages (I like to play a drinking game where I take a shot for each pop culture homage I spot. I don't last long), the story of Tim and Daisy's romance should make your heart go pitty-pat.

Nighty Night - I love any shows in which people don't grow or learn, and Nighty Night is one of the best of those. Almost every character is either unflinchingly awful or grotesquely perfect and the situations in which main character Jill (the amazing Julia Davis) tries desperately to steal the husband of her MS-suffering neighbor will have you doing a weird mixture of cringing, crying and laughing.

Black Books - One day, if I am very lucky, I will be able to live Bernard Black's life. The drunken, misanthropic and crazy-haired Irishman owns his own dusty bookstore, and usually yells at the customers to get the fuck out instead of asking them to buy books. I aspire to this goal!! I also aspire to his daily bottles of wine at lunch time, as well as his association with the zen-swallowing Manny and next-door neighbor Fraaaaaaaan.


Hopefully some of these shows will keep you company over the holiday weekend! Let us know what you think of them! Or, if you're old hat at all of the shows listed, let me know in the comments what you think I should have included!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.