Five Favorite British TV Shows
Many of my favorite tv series happen to be British. Fortunately, both BBCAmerica and the SciFi channel (oh, excuse me, SyFy), and occasionally HBO and Showtime wind up airing some of my favorite series.
But if you've missed something, never fear. Many of the best British tv shows are also released on DVD so you can catch each series whenever you feel like.
And yes, I'm totally using the words Favorite and Best as interchangeable here because I'm quite certain my taste in television is awesome! Hopefully you'll agree and check some of these shows out if you're are not watching them already.
Some of my top pics for favorite British tv shows include Merlin, Doctor Who, Torchwood (which is coming back!) and long-running spy favorite, MI-5.
The new Doctor Who
The British tv series, Doctor Who, is the longest running SF television show, but it was in hiatus for many years after the 1989 series aired. Relaunched in 2005 with a fresh and hip new look, Doctor Who is currently presided over by television producer and writer Russell T Davies.
Season 1 featured Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and co-starred Billie Piper as the Doctor's companion, Rose. Having only agreed to stay for one series, Christopher Eccleston was replaced by the 10th Doctor, David Tennant, who will be replaced himself in 2010 by the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Doctor Who's cast changes for the actor playing the Doctor himself are covered within the story by a process called regeneration, i.e. the character regenerates his physical body whenever he is close to death, but this process completely changes his appearance and personality.
At any rate, Doctor Who is a fun and occasionally cheesy romp through time and the show is oftentimes very moving.
Torchwood on Blue-Ray
Torchwood is a spin-off of Doctor Who, featuring a character introduced during its first series, Captain Jack Harkness, played by the incredibly popular (and handsome) John Barrowman. While Doctor Who is a family show, Torchwood very much isn't. In fact, the first series of Torchwood could be criticized for trying a little too hard at being edgy, but it quickly settled into itself during season 2 and of the two related shows, I actually prefer Torchwood to Doctor Who.
The reason for my preference is Jack Harkness. Due to an event that occurred in the first series of Doctor Who, Captain Jack is for all intents and purposes, immortal. He is, as far as we know, a time traveller from the 51st century, but the rest of his background is pretty mysterious and only bits and pieces of it get revealed as the series unfolds.
What we do know is that he's bisexual, incredibly charming and a man of action. For all his lighthearted banter and flirtatiousness there is also something quite tragic about his circumstances and his history which gives the character some gravity and Barrowman balances these aspects perfectly. His team is intensely devoted to him and so is the audience. I seriously love this show!
Here, watch my favorite clip from the series. Jack teaches Gwen how to shoot in the 3rd episode of Torchwood.
Children of Earth trailer
Merlin! Arthur! I love this show to pieces. BBC's Merlin series is so much better than it has any right to be. I think I was expecting something along the lines of Xena and Hercules, but in fact the show is quite excellent.Colin
It's a fresh new look at the legend of King Arthur and everyone is just a little bit different than expected.Merlin is working as Arthur's manservant and Gwen is one of Morgana's maids.
Merlin, Arthur, Morgana and Guinevere (Gwen) are all ridiculously attractive teens verging on adulthood. There's no round table yet, and Merlin is just starting to understand and explore his powers. Arthur is something of a prat, but the greatness is there, just waiting to be developed.
The show is a complete delight and has already been renewed for a second series by the BBC. It will begin airing on NBC in the States in June 2009.
Life on Mars
Life on Mars ran for two series during 2006 and 2007. The recent US series, Life on Mars, was based on its UK precursor, using mostly the same scripts. It wasn't a bad remake at all, but it had a very short life on US television. But though it wasn't bad, it certainly wasn't as goo as the British series.
Set in Manchester, Life on Mars is about Detective Chief Inspector Sam Tyler who gets hit by a car and wakes up in the year 1973. He's still a cop, but now just a DI, and being a cop in the 70s is nothing like being one in 2006. There's all sorts of interesting ways that the case Tyler was pursuing in 2006 weaves itself into the past he finds himself now living in and Sam spends much of the series questioning his reality. Played by the always excellent John Simm, you will be right there with him as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on.
Occasionally, Life on Mars airs on BBCAmerica, but you can also pick it up on DVD. I've written quite a bit more about the series in my Life on Mars UK hub.
MI-5 or Spooks as it is known in the UK is one of those shows that just keeps on keeping on. The first series aired in 2002. Spooks is now in its 8th series and since season 1 has undergone a remarkable cast change. Nearly all of the main characters from season one are now gone and now some of their replacements are gone as well *g*
MI-5 refers to Britain's Security Service, a counter-intelligence agency primarily concerned with internal security in the UK. The TV series portrays the a group of MI-5 Intelligence Officers as they go about their work. There's also a strong sudsy angle due to a focus on their personal lives and interpersonal relationships.
It frequently airs on BBCAmerica and you can also pick up several of the DVD sets as well. I'd start with Volume I, as I think Tom Quinn (played by Matthew MacFadyen) is still the most interesting MI-5 protagonist.
Alan Sharpe from Whitehouse, Texas on January 29, 2015:
Only Fools & Horses
The 2 Ronnies
sevda on September 14, 2012:
I love matthew macfadyen
Chantele Cross-Jones from Cardiff on May 20, 2012:
There are so many good british series out there! (granted there is some rubbish too!) At the moment obviously Who and Torchwood and very popular. But Downton Abbey is amazing, the classic comedy show are great, Top Gear and things like Bear Grylls are fun too, Being Human and Skins early series were really good (last few not so much) We recently watched the Fades too which was great.
So many to think of really
Lala on January 28, 2012:
How about absolutely fabulous???
GoBeavs on January 19, 2012:
I don't think it has to be a US vs. Brit thing... good shows are just good shows. Too bad so many people like to watch crap, and some of the really great shows have been canceled. I love Luther and Sherlock, and enjoyed Upstairs Downstairs. I find the acting and story lines to be amazing. As another user mentioned, shows such as House, Dexter, Spartacus, Castle, Burn Notice, etc... are all excellent. I do miss Life on Mars AND Life. Both excellent shows that were canceled after the first season. I'm guessing I watched the US version of Life on Mars with Harvey Kytel (spelling?). Awesome show but just didn't fit into the 'standardize' type of show that the majority of 'sheep' watch... Same with Reaper, which I thought was excellent and very funny and good characters. A bit on the dumb side at times, but still funny.
jesse church on January 02, 2012:
I'm Canadian and love British TV. must sees have *
State of Play
pensimmon on January 01, 2012:
Doc Martin - really really good - great believable characters- watch from beginning though - now on 5th season.
urr on December 27, 2011:
how about father ted?
Britlass on December 10, 2011:
My all time favourites (I'm a Brit living in the USA) are: Dr. Who, Torchwood, Life on Mars, State of Play (which BBC-America is airing/started last Wednesday but I'd think they'll replay episode one next Wednesday...John Simm, again...Our Friends in the North, The Lakes, Teachers, Shameless, The Royle Family, Mighty Boosh...I can go on and on.
While the US remade Shameless, Life on Mars and Coupling line for line of the UK versions, they failed to cast the shows with actors that had any chemistry, IMO.
Theharm on December 01, 2011:
You guys might like Firefly and Breaking Bad. Great American TV shows. As for Brititsh TV, hard to beat the original Sherlock Holmes.
bea-san on November 20, 2011:
british sci-fi: paradox, andromeda
thriller: red riding, wire in the blood
KC1286 on November 09, 2011:
I've really enjoyed Skins, The Inbetweeners, Being Human, and Downton Abbey. I just started watching Little Britain and think it's hilarious. I absolutely love British tv! I didn't really like Torchwood or Merlin, but does anyone have any other suggestings on good shows?
Kidzlibrarian on November 05, 2011:
One last comment - I watched Survivors and Flash Forward awhile ago and liked them, too. A million years ago, I used to enjoy watching Law and Order. I just watched Whites because someone here recommended it. Thanks! It was quite good. Okay, British shows and American ones are now tied for me.
Kidzlibrarian on November 05, 2011:
Oh, I forgot to mention Alphas. Can you tell I like shows with characters having super powers? Going back a ways I liked E.R. and most of the Star Treks. So, many of the ones I liked are/were American but I think, in general, British actors are better. I also loved most of the Masterpiece Theater shows (the historical fiction ones).
Kidzlibrarian on November 05, 2011:
Some shows I have enjoyed (or am still enjoying) - Misfits, Merlin, Warehouse 13, Black Books and Lie To Me. I'll check out some of the others all of you have suggested. Thanks!
CindyDB on October 26, 2011:
I'm from the US but I love British shows so I am always looking for some new one's to watch. I have really enjoyed watching Misfits, Skins, Luther, East Enders, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Wire in the Blood, and there are probably shows I forgot to mention. If anyone has any suggestions of others shows I may like based off the ones I've listed I would greatly appreciate it. :)
johnUK on October 11, 2011:
Just to even things up a bit. I'm a Brit, and I love Dexter, The Mentalist, Desperate Housewives (yes really - even as a bloke), House, The Big Bang Theory, Fringe, and then there's In Treatment, and Game of Thrones too!.
I think the US has loads of brilliant shows.
Elaine on September 13, 2011:
Young Ones, Mighty Boosh, Skins,Blackbooks, Faulty Towers,Misfits, The Inbetweeners, Shameless, The Bill, Dr Who, East Enders, Teachers, The Lakes, are just a few that come to mind. I'm so glad we get them in Australia I think America lucks out.
penguin324 on September 13, 2011:
so I do absolutely enjoy British sci-fi shows and I agree that America remakes a lot of British shows and they do it poorly so why bother. American drama shows are better in a lot of cases though. My absolute favorites though are british comedies, there is something raw, witty, and absolutely uncensored about them that just has me dying ever time. So I gotta say MISFITS ftw I've cried of laughter to many times from that show.
queenie on July 15, 2011:
Downton Abbey is the best
Marylandia on June 20, 2011:
I ultimately enjoyed every episode of the 3 seasons of Merlin and am looking forward for the 4th one in 2012.
Downton Abbey is next in line...
Bo on May 24, 2011:
How is the name of the scifi series. I saw the first episode, there is a man who solve crimes. The first one is trime travel like. The length is maybe like in Sherlock.The main Character have curly hair.
PLS I like to know how the name is an whether they continued the series.
LOL... on May 22, 2011:
you guys forgot about Total Wipeout :D
american idiot on May 19, 2011:
uhh fawlty towers?
alex on March 28, 2011:
im from canada and i think all the good shows come from the UK and lots of American shows i find stem from British shows. Im lovin Shameless uk, outcasts,merlin, hustle, dr.who. Thanks for the suggestions, def gunna check out MI-5, life one mars and luthor.
al on February 15, 2011:
I LOVE MERLIN
Emma (author) from Boston on February 15, 2011:
OUTCASTS! Yes, I started watching it last week. Amazing so far. I cannot wait to see the rest.
nixxon on February 15, 2011:
Hustle is a great show and so is Merlin. I am also really enjoying Outcasts and would love some good Sci Fi recommendations (other than Dr. Who and Tourchwood).
I am an American and work overnight, mainly with the UK, but live in Seattle. I find the best shows to be from the UK. It takes me about an episode to really sort out the accents, but after that I can watch the entire series without even noticing the accent.
If anyone in the US has gotten BBC iPlayer to work, let me know how = )
cheryl on February 14, 2011:
I Love the "Merlin" show! We watch it every week; but I wish they would repeat the "Upstairs Downstairs" series, that one was Awesome!!
empress411 on January 28, 2011:
i am from the caribbean and i just totally love British shows. top of my list is skins, misfits and the inbetweeners. i am lookin for new ones to watch (any suggestions). y did the us have to go and remake skins???? its so horrible!!!!
Emma (author) from Boston on January 26, 2011:
Clavendys, thanks for the tips. I love Being Human. Great show. I have not heard of Luther, but I love Idris Elba so I will be on the look out for it.
Clavendys on January 25, 2011:
Hi, I'm french so well... pardon my english ;p
I would like to add to the list a few more shows:
- Being Human (a surnatural story with a good plot, really good actors and well writen characters. It's dark, moving and light and funny all at once and well balanced. I'd definetly recommand this one)
- Luther (Very good polar with Idris Elba seen in the great US tv show 'The Wire'. The story follows the struggles of a cop. Very realistic atmosphere and believable characters)
- and Black Books that I discovered recently which is totally hilarious most of the times. Very good for a good relaxing session of laughter.
Shanghaiguy on January 16, 2011:
One of the best British shows I think is Hustle - and it totally paved the way for the US show Leverage, but I still think Hustle has it down, grifting just seems to be so much more...well British!
Teddy Fan on December 22, 2010:
Im just watching the first episode of the US Top Gear (im a Brit by the way) and its really hard work so far, not a touch on the UK version.
Completely agree with your list, the UK life on mars was incredible and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Both series were top notch, ashes to ashes (the follow up) was not.
Cool Looking Idiots on December 22, 2010:
Actually the "Research Analyst" is wrong about 1 show. American Gladiators is not a remake. The British version is the remake! American Gladiators first aired in 1989. The British adaptation first aired in 1992 called "Gladiators". Also I think there is an Australian version! With that being said I think that Top Gear is the best British T.V show! It's much funnier than the U.S version!
Dave Harris from Cardiff, UK on November 09, 2010:
Loving Merlin right now, but i think it's time Morganna got found out and If Uther died we might see Merlin's true potential at last!
DubDub on October 17, 2010:
I totally agree that Tom Quinn is the most interesting protagonist from MI-5. Whenever I watch the seasons without him I find myself not totally into it. I also enjoy Doctor Who. I haven't really watched Torchwood or Merlin only catching a random episode sometimes, maybe I'll give it a try. Some tv series I enjoy are The Thick of It, Extras, The Office (Uk), Blackadder, Faulty Towers,and of course Spaced.
Jess on September 20, 2010:
I love Merlin! best british export :)
Ian UK on August 31, 2010:
Watch the "league of gentlemen" series, saying that you'll need and advanced sence of humor.
lola on July 25, 2010:
Skins. Hands down, Skins.
John on July 16, 2010:
Stupid that they have to remake British shows for American audiences. Why can´t Americans watch an imported show, even when it is in a language they should understand?
Atencio Lopez on January 22, 2010:
I would like to watch a program presente by Panorama on May 21st. about cell phone radiation. I am not sure about the name of the program,
Research Analyst on July 26, 2009:
British shows really set the pace for many of the U.S shows that we see today, I have seen many successful British TV shows particularly sitcoms and reality shows that have been remade for the American market such as: cash in the attic, celebrity fit club and american gladiators.
Emma (author) from Boston on June 20, 2009:
Hey J Leigh, I haven't watched Ashes to Ashes at all. They are on series 2 at this point, right?
J Leigh on June 20, 2009:
Good taste. Who, Torchwood, and Mars are my favorite as well. You could probably include Mars' spin-off Ashes to Ashes on this list too. Spaced, of course, is another huge hit.
Dolores-- I agree that the Hitchhiker's mini series is amazing, but the US version of Life on Mars? Ehhhh.
KRC from Central Texas on June 15, 2009:
My 5 would be.....Dr. Who, Top Gear, The Graham Norton Show, anything with Gordon Ramsey, and How Clean is Your House.
Emma (author) from Boston on June 15, 2009:
Dolores, I totally agree on Hitchhikers. The movie was quite awful, the tv series quite good :)
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 15, 2009:
I loved Life on Mars - the US one - especially the color and light. It was just weird enough to be good. But my fave Brittish show is still and ever will be The Hitchkikers Guide - the movie stunk.