A plea to networks: Please bring these awesome British TV shows stateside
I am not ashamed to admit there are some things the British do better than Americans. I would count tea making, tabloid writing, and hat wearing among their many accomplishments. Television, however, is an American art form. We gave the world sitcom gold in the ’90s with Friends and Seinfeld, and we continue to produce addictive dramas from American Horror Story to Scandal, as well as comedy faves like Parks & Rec. But British TV? Like the country’s food (which is actually pretty delicious!) it doesn’t seem to have a great reputation. It was a sort of niche, cult thing where I grew up and BBC America was mostly re-runs of the original What Not to Wear and Trading Spaces (Changing Rooms in the UK). So to say I wasn’t expecting much when I moved abroad last year is an understatement, but now that I’m back in the States, I’m starting to miss the often awkward and usually cheeky banter of British TV.
So while I may never have been hooked on EastEnders and I still fall asleep watching The X Factor, here are seven of the sometimes witty, mostly endearing British shows I wish were stateside.
QI, or Quite Interesting, is the strangest quiz show I have ever watched. Hosted by the beloved English export Stephen Fry (the other half of Fry and Laurie and the host of Stephen Fry in America) the show asks panelists to answer obscure questions about everything from science to history but the questions are designed to stump everyone. It’s charming and the questions are, you guessed it, interesting. You learn a lot and the panelists tend to ease the entire educational experience (because somehow it manages to be both educational and entertaining) with their own jests and jabs. I’m not sure if a show like this would ever find a home in the US but I really wish it could because it honestly should. Seriously, why don’t we have more shows that encourage us to be curious and let us have a chuckle?
Come Dine with Me
I’ll admit I’m partial to this show because it reminds me of nights in with my partner ordering take away meals and avoiding the winter rains. We would turn on the heater and bundle up on the couch with a curry and laugh a bit too enthusiastically at the sarcastic voiceover of the narrator. So what exactly is Come Dine with Me? In writing, it’s as boring and bland as CSPAN on Tuesday afternoon: a group of strangers are brought together for a party hosting competition. I kid you not. It’s a series based on (usually) wannabe posh Britons inviting a few people they have never met into their home to eat food they (typically) have cooked themselves and get slightly (or, in some cases, very) drunk on wine. It’s a bit of an awkward mess. Actually, it’s always an awkward mess. I seriously have no idea how this show was pitched and then picked up and has since continued on for years, but it has and now I’m sucked in forever. Come Dine with Me definitely brightened more than one dull, wet and very gray weekend.
Have I Got News for You
The US has the brilliant Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but England has Have I Got News for You which is part panel show (the British seem partial to this format, I’m not sure why) and part comedy program. The basic premise seems to be generally clever people get together and talk about the week’s news, pointing out the usually hilarious cultural and political undertones. It’s strange to say, but it’s really more of a conversation program, akin to something you would hear over a radio rather than watch on the small screen. It hasn’t got the same satirical gags and mock interviews that The Daily Show and Colbert Report are known for but it’s witty and underneath the funny remarks is biting commentary on British society.
Mock the Week
In the same vein as Have I Got News for You is Mock the Week, which is actually more of a game show and far less conversational. Celebrities, comedians and recognizable faces come onto the show and play a few games based on the week’s news, from guessing the story behind the headline to coming up with the question that precedes a given answer. Mostly, what ensues is a lot of – well –mocking. From mocking the inane and foolish news items that find their way into papers and on broadcast, to mocking the political tug-of-war that defines democracy, to mocking other panelists. Plus there’s usually a cheeky little stand-up bit near the end of the show which is worth a few laughs (though it was probably a lot better and a lot more uncomfortable when Frankie Boyle was around).
The Graham Norton Show
Ok, I concede, The Graham Norton Show airs on BBC America but I’m not a late-night-talk-show-watcher of any kind and I didn’t really get into it until my partner kept tuning in. I cringe at the idea of any chat show so the fact I’ve somehow developed a taste for this one should be recommendation enough. Also, Seth MacFarlane’s interview on Graham Norton definitely quelled some of my general distaste for the Family Guy creator. Is it un-American to say I find Norton a lot funnier than Jimmy Fallon? It’s too late now anyway because it’s out there on the Internet for everyone to read.
Never mind the Buzzcocks
I probably have a silly amount of pop culture knowledge and far less practical knowledge. I would not fare well on Jeopardy and would be eliminated on most quiz shows, I’m sure. But Never Mind the Buzzcocks is a show I could probably smash (if I was better at one-liners and famous enough to get a chair on a panel). The whole thing is a bit of a farce, teasing its celebrity guests as much as laughing at other cultural products. Even if the latest host, Rhod Gilbert, doesn’t quite fit your tastes the guests are usually brilliant enough to carry the show. Tune in if jokes about one-hit-wonders and Lady Gaga are your jam.
My Mad Fat Diary
So this show is different than any of the others I have talked about so far, but it’s without a doubt deserving of a shout. My Mad Fat Diary is a drama-comedy (dramedy?) of sorts with a dark streak. The protagonist Rae is newly released from a mental institution after a suicide attempt and is struggling to resituate herself in regular life. She’s living in the North of England in `96 and suffering from major confidence issues as her best friend blossoms into an enviable young woman. The whole thing hits close to home for anyone who has lived through and survived the angst-ridden years of high school or anyone who has felt like an outsider without a safe outlet. It’s a refreshing young adult show because it’s so strikingly real about everything from body insecurities to early sexual experiences. If you loved the original British Skins, you will probably dig Rae’s sincerity especially as she deals with life’s uglier bits.
Bonus: most of these shows have episodes and clips on YouTube! So you can get a taste for British Tele right now in the great ol’ U.S. of A. Go ahead, tune in. You know you want to.