This particular TVWriter™ minion doesn’t mind admitting it: I’m addicted to UK television. But with BBC and ITV, Britain’s two largest networks (well, BBC really is 4 networks, but that’s another story) refusing to let anyone browsing with a non-UK IP address stream or download their shows it isn’t all that easy for me to find satisfaction.
Which is where our old pal Netflix comes in:
by Joey Keeton
Trying to keep up with all the quality television being produced in America is downright Sisyphean. But there’s another whole country producing amazing shows across the pond, and—sorry to say it—you’re going to need to watch all of those, too.
The following are the best British shows currently streaming on Netflix, along with your ticket to having something to say whenever somebody brings them up.
1) Top Gear (1977–present)
The Top Gear you see on Netflix may be officially dead now, but its ghost still lives on in the company’s servers. The downside: It’s only five seasons of the famous Clarkson/May/Hammond run of the show. The upside: That’s still about 33 hours of material, and it’s all fantastic.
Top Gear is one of the most highly viewed programs on the planet, and it’s not because of the cars. That may be hard for a newcomer to believe, but you really don’t need to know anything about cars to enjoy it. It’s the chemistry between the hosts—and the hijinks they get into—that makes the show accessible to everybody from the most diehard car enthusiasts to somebody who’s never even driven one. In the spirit of irreverent British humor, some of these hijinks went too far—and were partly responsible for the BBC’s hands being tied when it came down to firing host Jeremy Clarkson. (This is one of those such moments, which, lucky for you, can be seen on the currently streaming India special.)
Hijinks aside (and I promise that’s the last time I’ll use that word), Top Gear is about much more than its shenanigans: The program itself, like many of the cars featured on it, is absolutely beautiful. The production value on it is through the roof; they could film my 2012 Kia Soul going through a Wendy’s drive-thru and make it look a vision that Moses himself would have while atop a mountain. During their famous specials, which usually involved the hosts being given a relatively small sum to each purchase a car and attempt to drive across a country, historic and cultural details are seamlessly interwoven into the commentary. Yes, some of Top Gear’s trips outside of the U.K. may have caused international friction, but damn were they fantastic.
Although you needn’t be a gearhead (or, as the hosts would say, “petrolhead”) to enjoy Top Gear, you’ll be hard-pressed to come away from a series (that’s British for “season”) without a greater appreciation for cars than you had going in. Add in some global culture from international specials, and you have a twofer for expanding your precious mind—all while eating pretzels on your bum.
2) The IT Crowd (2006–2013)
The best way to describe The IT Crowd is that it’s a lot like The Big Bang Theory, except it’s funny. You see, in the U.K., they have a knack for producing programs with about six episodes per series, which gives the shows a much better chance of not having to do-over sitcom plots that have existed since the 1950s in order to fill a contractual obligation for 24 episodes. This also means you can binge watch a lot of shows very, very quickly. If the stars align and you can go off the radar for a bit, this particular one can be conquered in a mere two or three days.
This the only show on the list that includes a laugh track, but the thing is: I’m pretty sure it’s a real track of an audience laughing. Remember when Louis CK had a brief run on HBO with show Lucky Louie, which took place on a set in front of a live audience, and had real people laughing? This show’s like that: dignified.
The show’s about a woman who joins a giant, Orwellian sort of company, and—as her job doesn’t include many real duties—her office is located in the basement, where the IT department resides. That department is made up of Chris O’Dowd, that bloke who played a romantic copper (that’s British for “cop”) in Bridesmaids, and Richard Ayoade, who’s directed music videos for Vampire Weekend and the Arctic Monkeys, and also directed the very good coming-of-age film Submarine.
Much of the humor derives around the female Relations Manager being a fish-out-of-water in the midst of the nerdy IT guys, which is, as I explained earlier, much like the comedic dynamic of the Big Bang Theory. That basic premise may sound a bit inherently sexist, but I assure you it’s not, because every single character has an accent. Accents make everything OK, right…?