Fire up the kettle and break out the Jaffa Cakes, because I’m ready to curl up with a cup of tea and devote my television habits exclusively to the efforts from across the pond. Okay, even I know I couldn’t live without a weekly one-two punch of Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon (returning this week on Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, respectively), but the BBC has been offering up a bevvy of programming that seems tailor-made for TV geeks like myself, and I’ve aristocratically sipped the British Kool-Aid in a big way.
I’ve long been a fan of television with a stiff upper lip. At a young age, my European mother, bored with some of the comedies of the 80s (not everybody loved Mork & Mindy, apparently), turned to the programming of her mother continent – re-runs of Are You Being Served?, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, heck, even Mr. Bean, and I soaked it up like a tea-soaked sponge; the only second grader at Maple Hills Elementary to practice her cockney British accent on the playground. So it should come as no surprise that when it came time to curate my own cultural landscape, I looked to the Brits for inspiration. Sure, most teenagers listen to The Smiths at one point or another, and The Clash is pretty much a staple of adolescent angst, but as for TV? I watched each episode of Ricky Gervais’ take on The Office ad nauseam, got an education from Doctor Who, and spent many laugh-filled nights with Spaced. Yes, I adore Parks and Recreation, and Happy Endings has me laughing so hard that I verge on an ugly cry, but there’s some pretty great British TV on the horizon right now, and I’m almost ready to apply for dual television citizenship.
Sunday night saw the second season premiere of Downton Abbey, the ITV/PBS period answer to Mad Men. The buzz surrounding the highly anticipated episode was palpable, and for many, Twitter feeds were flooded more with Downton talk than the usual chatter about Sunday night sports. Heck, even Patton Oswalt got in on the Abbey-gabbing. The show’s chronicling of the servants and their masters is so masterfully (peasantry puns!) acted, that it should be the Jon Hammian benchmark by which television is measured. The love saga of Mary and Matthew is so tortured that it makes Ross and Rachel look like Joanie and Chachi. And Anna and Mr. Bates? Their own tortured love story is the epitome of the kind that Nicholas Sparks novels aim for, but hopelessly fail to emulate.
And then there are the villains. THE VILLIANS. Lady maid O’Brien (while experiencing a tender streak in season 2 thus far), is so devilishly mean that she makes Ursula from The Little Mermaid look like Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life. Footman Thomas is such a smarmy subterranean specimen that you’re actually hoping for him to meet his maker in The Great War.
Downton’s splendor is such that I could talk about it all day, but that would beat the horse that pop culture has so mercilessly slaughtered. In fact, there’s another show from across the pond that deserves just as much praise for its irreverence, and that show is Sherlock. Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat has put his own spin on the trials and tribulations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s protagonist, and he’s done it big. Newest Hollywood it-guy Benedict Cumberpatch embodies Holmes with a quirky and distant antisocial flair that leaves the character with nothing to process but the facts. As John Watson, Bilbo Baggins himself (Martin Freeman) is every bit the straight man to even the keel and relate to the humanity of it all. The series has kicked off its second round in the UK – it will make its way to PBS in May – and with just two episodes thus far, it’s eclipsed in quality ¾ of the fall’s new drama offerings.
Like I said, American TV isn’t without its own merits. But most of what is on now is an offshoot or adaptation of a concept from across the pond. Sure, they have bad teeth, but it looks like we Americans are doomed to exist as TV households that are just a little bit behind the curve. What do you think? Am I just a little too obsessed with all things BBC, or are we destined for less TV wit and more Fear Factor?