British TV through a French spyglass

Now that’s a title (see my post about titles)! You can almost smell the gunpowder. So what does a lonely Frenchman does when he’s tired of studying, playing jazz guitar, eating what passes for cheese in England or hacking through armies of toads in Rayman Legends? Well it’s simple, he binge-watches TV series! Now, a lot of good ones have redeemed American TV for me (oldies: Twin Peaks; more recently: House of Cards) but I thought I’d write a little British TV series guide and give you a taste of what Ol’ Blighty has to offer to the TV-addicted and streamaholics when the weather is bad (which is pretty much every other day and the ones in between). These are the ones I’ve seen over the last 3 years, sorted by awesomeness level.

God Tier

The_Thick_Of_ItThe Thick Of It: The most hilarious, depressing, brilliant, offensive, thought-provoking political sitcom out there. Although it focuses on one ministry in the British government, it perfectly depicts the vacuity and madness it takes to go into politics and survive long enough to reach the high spheres. Stories made up and empty policies, bogus focus groups and press backstabbing, it applies as well to the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSAC, just the name…) as to your government, yes, yours, anonymous reader. Brilliant acting across the board but of course most people will only remember Malcom Tucker, the ruthless and foul-mouthed spin doctor played by Peter Capaldi. Call me when you find another show in which a protagonist threatens another one to politically destroy him with a lubricated horse cock.

blackadderBlackadder: Monty Python meet Shakespeare meet WWI. Barely historical as it completely re-writes some pages of England history. Frustratingly hilarious as it prevents you from hearing the end of the character’s lines over the sound of your own laughter. The adventures of various Blackadders through the ages: heir to the throne, lord of the court, butler to a prince and entrenched footman in the King’s army during the Great War. The dialogue manages to take British comedy to the next level, with a brilliant use of language and perfectly absurd sitcom. Rowan Atkinson is miles away from his Mr Bean character, portraying a cunning but unlucky man desperate to advance his position in the world but constantly held in check by extremely stupid people and extremely large turnips.

HOUSE OF CARDSHouse of Cards: Yes, the British version! The American one produced by Netflix is a slick, aesthetic re-interpretation of what is truly the best Shakespearian political drama of all time. Malcolm Tucker is a cartoon character and Edmund Blackadder a vain misanthropist, but the hero, nay, the villain of House of Cards, Francis Urquhart, is evil incarnate. He revels in his cruelty and ambition and utterly destroys the lives of everyone on his path to ultimate power, just because he can. Includes the most unsettling romantic relationship you’ll ever see on TV, no spoilers. Watch it by yourself and feel your heart go cold when Urquhart suddenly looks at the camera and breaks the fourth wall, making you the ambiguous accomplice of his terrible quest for the seat of Prime Minister.

Great Tier

sherlock_and_watson_bbc_by_celorea-d5srqa0Sherlock: It’s just pure fun, good writing and acting, great production value and smart modern re-invention of the classic Sherlock Holmes tales. Probably the most well-known British TV series outside of the UK? Freeman and Cumberbatch really brought a rare quality interplay to the show. When you learn that Sherlock dictated their filming schedule for The Hobbit (which probably cost 1000 times as much), you realize that this is an exceptional show.

broadchurch_2499774bBroadchurch: Like most big successes in TV these past 5 years, Broadchurch relies on beautiful visuals, a couple of striking acting performances and a plot engaging enough that it can be under-written and still enjoyable. This story of a peaceful costal town disturbed by the murder of a young boy delivers a few punches to the gut (I can only think of Game of Thrones to compare the emotional shock brought by the performance of some actors). By the end of the 10th episode, you will be crying. But it will be worth it!

Good Tier

idris-elba-lutherLuther: I won’t say much about Luther because it slowly takes you over and it would take many lines and many spoilers to describe how. This is basically the old good cop has a bad day story, only made fresh and powerful by the setting (London) and the magnificent Idris Elba as DCI Luther. Great procedural with a powerful story arc, definitely worth a watch if you’re tired of American cops.

tenth doctorDoctor Who: Sometimes awesome, sometimes boring to death but always ready to take you on a wild journey through space, time and random use of sonic devices. This is the one you watch on a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea, with either the girlfriend, the little cousins or your grandma. The character of the Doctor is way too big and interesting for a show that was primarily about an old man and his life-long fight against rotating armchairs armed with TV antennas. His motto, « Never cruel or cowardly, never give up, never give in » should be inscribed in every Constitution around the world. His unending faith in good endings and unwavering optimism are just what you need when your life is in turmoil. I personally recommend seasons 2, 3, 4 (with David Tennant) for the best acting/writing/adventuring combination.

The-Escape-Artist-e1383141181187The Escape Artist: Is it a long film or a short TV series? With only three one-hour episodes, it’s definitely focused but the pacing is still a masterpiece. This is the story of a brilliant lawyer trapped into a nightmarish case, the less said the better. Go watch it.

the_fallThe Fall: Yay, Gillian Anderson! When she’s not busy answering Reddit AMAs, the lady takes the time to cross the Atlantic ocean and play a female investigator confronted to a very unusual killer preying on dark-haired women. Again, it’s a short one but it really refreshes the genre by giving equal screen time to the good girl and the bad guy. Feminists, this is the one you must see as it has one of the most cleverly-written feminist characters since a long time on TV. Brunettes fetichists, watch it too I guess?

whose_line2Whose Line Is It Anyway?: Improv comedy, this does not get the recognition it deserves. Probably because, again, it was stolen by the Americans! Starting to get visually old but the material is still hilarious. Features the brilliant Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles who would go on to make the American spin-off a worldwide success.

That was a long one! Feel free to send me your own recommendations, as there are some TV series I consider to be the best of all time which I had never even heard of before a few weeks ago. On the watching list, maybe to be added to this post: Dancing On The Edge, Top Of the Lake, The Hour.


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