In recent years, British TV has migrated from network television to Netflix, exposing various shows to mainstream American audiences. These television shows and the actors and actresses in them have also won big at the recent Oscars and Golden Globes award shows. In a time when British shows are in their golden age, let’s take a look at some picks in a range of genres.
Original Run: 2016-2019
Creator: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Starring: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, and Andrew Scott
Where to watch: YouTube (rent or buy), Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes
“Fleabag,” written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, tells the story of a woman navigating complicated family dynamics, personal loss and romantic relationships.
What makes Waller-Bridge’s writing so effective is how candid it is, carving out a range of flawed, sympathetic characters with a genuine love for one another. From Fleabag’s high-strung, career-driven sister to her passive father, Waller-Bridge knocks it out of the park in finding out what makes these characters tick.
Another strength of her writing is the versatility it offers to the performers. Within a single episode and even a single scene, the tone can shift between cheeky, transgressive humor and honest, emotional moments. Waller-Bridge exudes charm and excels at reacting to conversations, looking into the camera like she’s on “The Office” every single episode. It’s pure entertainment.
A particular highlight is Andrew Scott, who plays Fleabag’s love interest in Season 2. Nicknamed the Hot Priest, Scott offers a warm, conflicted and utterly human portrayal of a Catholic priest fighting his own demons and desires.
Original Run: 2013 – present
Creator: Steven Knight
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson, Helen McCrory, etc.
Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon
Steven Knight’s family stories, which were passed down through the decades, served as the inspiration for “Peaky Blinders,” which refers to the flat caps that gangsters would sew through with razor blades to fend off potential opponents. Set in Birmingham during the 1920s, “Peaky Blinders” separates itself from other popular British TV by focusing primarily on working-class characters.
The show absolutely nails intensity and suspense. Half of its success comes down to the strength of the central cast: Cillian Murphy, who plays gang leader Thomas Shelby, menaces with icy stares; Helen McCrory, who plays Aunt Polly, brings wry humor into the fray; and Paul Anderson, who plays Arthur Shelby, portrays a damaged man with meticulous detail. In scenes with high stakes, the actors show great chemistry.
Another highlight of the show is its atmosphere. The cinematography is a feast for the eyes, with distinctive color schemes and exquisite lighting.
Probably the biggest drawback of the show is the treatment of female characters within its narratives. Many of them are killed off to further the character development of male characters in the show or are otherwise sidelined under the excuse that gender roles at the time were different. Though recent seasons have portrayed more complex, morally ambiguous women, it is still very much a man’s world.
Season 6 is due to come out this year, bringing an end to the series. Unfortunately, since losing her battle to cancer, McCrory will not return and reprise her role.
The End of the F***ing World
Original Run: 2017-2019
Creator: Jonathan Entwistle
Starring: Alex Lawther, Jessica Barden
Where to watch it: Netflix
Based on a series of mini-comics, “The End of the F***king World” serves as a clever dark comedy and subversive coming-of-age story. It charts the adventure of two teenagers: James, who initially thinks of himself as a psychopath, and Alyssa, a girl with a troubled home life who just wants to escape. Over the course of the show, the two of them fall in love and grow up together.
Some of the most honest moments come in the form of coping with and confronting the effects of past trauma on living fulfilling lives in the present. There is a grounded quality and candor to the show that keeps it from being preachy, making way for gradual healing and chemistry between the lead actor and actress.
For those who don’t like the responses “okay,” “oh my god” and “f— off,” this show is not for you, because they use these responses at least three times each episode. The characters in the show talk like teenagers; ironically, many of the adults in the show act like teenagers as well.
Having won a Peabody in its run, it is a good series to binge on.
Original Run: 2015-2018
Creators: Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
Starring: Manpreet Bachu, Gemma Chan, Colin Morgan, etc.
Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube, Showtime, Google Play, Vudu
For sci-fi fans, “Humans” explores what would happen if scientists developed a race of artificially intelligent beings. Throughout the show, the artificial beings are given more choices, test more boundaries and encounter more discrimination. Some of the best parts of the show come when the real humans defend and advocate for these artificial beings.
One drawback of the show is that it can sometimes come off just a little too sanitary. Its color schemes lean toward gray and dark palettes, bleeding the life out of even heavily emotional scenes. Also, the quality between the episodes tends to be uneven.
Though it came to an end a few years ago, it is a show worth watching and worth a rewatch. It asks a lot of questions and explores a wide range of answers through a tense drama.