Monday, April 1, 2013

TV Anorak: An American Intro To British TV-The A's

1. British: A person obsessively interested in a thing or topic that doesn't seem to warrant such attention.

It's time for The April A to Z Challenge! I can't believe it's been an entire year since the last challenge. This series of posts is an introduction to British television for Americans by an American. There is a glitch, however, to playing another country's DVDs, so please go either here or here to read previous blog posts of mine that should clear up any confusion. So, on with the show!


I do need to give a bit of background information first - since I was practically born with Anglophilia, I have always been obsessed with all things British. I can remember watching Doctor Who on PBS after school and Mr. Bean on Sunday mornings. But after discovering Duran Duran at the ripe old age of 11, life has never been the same! I would write to record stores in far off places, the addresses of which I got from the back of Smash Hits magazines, and buy tons of memorabilia including 12" vinyls of singles and VHS video collections (showing my age much?). The best videos didn't get released in an American format, but were in their original British PAL version. PAL VHS weren't compatible on American VHS players, a fact that I discovered the hard way. Sure, you could buy a PAL compatible VHS player, but they were incredibly expensive, and not readily available to the general public.

The arrival of the internet and DVD changed things significantly. Foreign DVD's were still released with different region coding, but plug-ins were available to help your computer's video player ignore the different codes and allow you to watch any DVD. Over time, all-region DVD players became more and more affordable, opening up a whole new world for all who wished to venture outside their home country's borders and actually watch shows on their TV instead of a small computer screen. Entire libraries of videos at places like were suddenly readily available to anyone, anywhere! You can now purchase an all-region player for around $30.

I've never understood region coding, if you are willing to pay to see something, it shouldn't matter if they come from a different county or not. In my opinion, region coding restricts the audience and hurts the industry more than helps it. It is not illegal to view DVD's from other countries, so why make it hard? You'd think those greedy so-and-so entertainment execs would do anything they could to get more people to purchase their products. Music, although not restricted by region coding, is restricted by what countries they are actually released in, making "import" CD's incredibly expensive to Americans (take note iTunes...I want access to iTunes UK! I will gladly pay extra for the privilege!). But I'm digressing, as per usual, so lets get back on track!

During this blog A to Z Challenge series, I will be introducing my American brethren to the joy that is British tele! A few of these may have been seen on PBS or BBC America or even Bravo, but the majority haven't been viewed by the general American population (and really should be because they are brilliant!). I will try not to give away spoilers and limit myself to just show descriptions (and the occasional rambling about a particular actor I fancy!). I will give you the links to said shows, and, upon occasion, I will try to find some YouTube clip to give you an idea of what the show is like. Granted, this is not a list of my entire collection, but rather the best of the best (although there is very few shows that I either didn't like or felt wouldn't make the cut).

I guess I should mention that there are differences in structure between American and British shows as well. Because an hour-long American show is technically only 42 minutes or so, an hour-long British show (which is usually 50-60 minutes) has to be edited to allow them to "fit" in the American hour slot, costing viewers valuable minutes (as anyone who has seen Spooks, aka MI5, on Bravo can attest). They do release some British shows in the American region 1 format, but they are usually in their edited form, the episodes rearranged for some reason that completely escapes me, or even worse, the shows are renamed to "appeal to Americans" (Spooks to MI5, Jam and Jerusalem to Clatterford, etc).

I should also mention that whereas American shows typically have 20-24 episodes per season, The Brits go for quality over quantity with most series ranging from 6 to 10 episodes. They also don't restrict themselves to "seasons" like we do, giving the writers time to come up with better material. Some British shows may have a couple series a year, or may go a couple of years without a new series. They have show cancellations like we do, but just because a show hasn't aired new episodes for a while, doesn't mean it's been cancelled. Plus, fewer episodes means much cheaper DVD's (it's not unheard of to get an entire single series for less than $10). The lower price also has another drawback, very little to no DVD extras. American's (myself included) seem to be obsessed with extras, so be prepared for their absence.

So without further ado (I know, WAY too late), let's get started!

British TV has a significantly higher number of supernatural/spiritual shows than American TV, as supported by my "A" choices, both of which are members of this genre. Apparitions is a one-series show about a priest who inadvertently gets involved in exorcisms and possessions, much to the chagrin of his superiors. It is filled with brilliant acting and is able to scare without costly and rarely effective CG effects. Ever notice how the best and scariest horror movies are the old black and white ones where you rarely had the obvious visual scare, but were bombarded by the implied frights? Same principal here. You may not be scared while watching this show, but watch it before you go to bed and see if you can achieve sleep without at least one light on!

An older show than Apparitions, Afterlife is the story of a psychologist who, after the loss of his son, meets a medium. He decides to write about her with the eyes of a skeptic, but the more he is around her as she helps clients and their dead stalkers, tormentors, etc (these are pretty scary ghosts BTW), the more he starts to question his own belief systems, especially when she starts to communicate with his dead son. The actor playing the psychologist, Andrew Lincoln, won't be foreign to American audiences. He was in Love Actually (the guy secretly in love with Keira Knightley) as well as that Walking Dead show (which I have never seen).

And that's it for "A"! "B" won't be cluttered by intros, so hopefully, although there is a lot more shows with "B", it will be a shorter post.

If you know of any other really good British "A" shows, let me know and I'll check them out!


Kate N said...

SHOCKED! Totally SHOCKED! that you didnt include 'allo 'allo...timeless comedy classic...but I guess you would have gone on for a while. I'm also surprised that Ashes to Ashes wasnt a show that you liked? Or Absolutely Fabulous? Or Auf Weidersehen, Pet? I actually havent seen either of the two shows you have mentioned! #FailedBrit and shall have to check them out now :D p.s my post is long too and I dont say anything!

Kate N said...

I almost forgot, I am already addicted to your posts for the a to z challenge!

Keebles said...

Believe it or not, I have never seen 'Allo, 'Allo or Ashes To Ashes (besides, I absolutely HATE Keely Hawes). I haven't seen enough Ab Fab episodes to warrant a good enough review (and I don't own the DVD's-although they do come and go off my Amazon wishlist). Maybe one day I'll take the plunge!

tiffstitch said...

Great idea for an A-Z! But yes, 'Allo,'Allo is a classic and another fun comedy romp to my mind was Are You Being Served? I watched that a ton as a teenager and have a soft spot for Mr. Lucas. :)

Tama said...

I love 'Are You Being Served?', too! I like Mr Humphries the best XD, but Mrs Slocombe and Mr Lucas are great!

Anonymous said...

Ok. Now, this is a theme that is useful to me. haha. I love British comedies. I loved the office before it was Americanized and when I lived in China, they have a lot of British programming. I absolutely loved Doc Martin.Look forward to learning about more.

Elizabeth said...

I so agree with sydneyaaliyah, a theme I can really get into. I love, love British TV. But you must add to your A list my favorite BritCom of all time As Time Goes By.

Keebles said...

I lot of the reason why I have never seen the older shows is the simple fact that to buy the complete collections, it would cost an absolute fortune! I haven't ruled out watching them, I'm just too broke! A lot of the shows I have that have been long running, I have been buying as the series came out instead of the complete collections. I did notice as I was doing the Amazon links that the shows I have collected that have been on for a while (like Midsomer Murders, Wild At Heart, etc) now have complete collections and I wouldn't be able to afford them if I were to buy them today. There is something to be said for catching a TV show early in it's career!

Keebles said...

Thanks everyone for your comments and suggestions! I will definitely put them in my wishlist so if the price ever does go down, I can jump on them!

SoCal Debbie said...

This is going to be such a fun A-Z challenge to read every day. I think the only British TV I ever saw was an episode of Monty Python when I was a kid. I have never even seen Dr. Who or Downton Abbey. All of this is NEW to me!

Rebeccah Giltrow said...

You missed off the best British television programme beginning with 'A' - Absolutely Fabulous!