Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rule Britannia! Why We Love British Television and Where to Find It

The Brits Are Winning the TV Wars!  And where to find all the shows.   

Downton Abbey
Seems everyone’s secret passion these days is British television.  Downton Abbey and Sherlock got some of us up and running and Broadchurch set us for life, but Murdoch Mysteries and Heartbeat and had fans on notice years ago, along with Inspector Morse, Poldark, and Upstairs Downstairs.  Are Maggie Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch responsible for the ‘10’s revival?  Why is America jumping wholus bolus on the BBC bandwagon? 

 Dale of Toronto may have the answer.  “Why do I prefer British drama?  All comes down to story and actors. The British don't rush a storyline; they have the confidence to let the story unfold naturally. This is so different from North American plots that seem to be in such a hurry.  As for actors who can top the likes of Derek Jacobi, Helen Mirren and Dame Judy Dench.  Experience, experience, experience.”     
Helen Mirren "Prime Suspect"
Alyssa, in Arizona admits she finds most American television “crap” and instead, scouts for British shows wherever possible.  As a result, she’s hooked on Foyle’s War, Doc Martin and like the rest of the TV watching world, Downton Abbey.  Are British shows really that different?  Alyssa says it’s no contest. “They take me away from the repetition, predictability and violence of North American television.  They offer me an intelligent insight into the frailty of people, historic intrigue, clever scripts, and other places to which I can travel as well as very good variety.”
Benedict Cumberbatch
as Sherlock
 Sue in North York, another Brit TV fan puts it succinctly, comparing Sherlock to Elementary.  “Elementary is tedious” because it follows the accepted American formula with zero attempts at edge or contemporary relevance. Meanwhile, the quirky Sherlock with Cumberbatch keeps viewers around the world riveted.  There is such interest in the upcoming season of Sherlock that its witty second promos are the stuff of social media.
British television is happy to ignore the American dependence on outrageous plotlines, special effects, harsh language and paper thin characterization, certainly. English television doesn’t dumb down to the imagined “lowest common denominator” nor does it depend on the low humour and cheap situations that dog some US series.
Dr. Who

The English know television. They know what works, what endures like Dr. Who and Coronation Street, for instance, and what makes worthy viewing.  Downtown Abbey is for everyone.  It respects the audience and speaks clearly to human nature within its own tightly prescribed worlds upstairs and down.  Despite the elaborate social web of the early 1900's writer and director Julian Fellowes know that the human heart, rich or poor, never changes.  The brilliance of Downton is that it acknowledges the social artifice of the time and creates stories that are not only contemporary but universal.
Downton Abbey

Brit TV knows that it’s in the details.  Brilliant art direction, cinematography, authentic, witty dialogue and an informed interest in past as well as the present set the stage for just about anything the writers throw our way.  This is a realistic world, it feels real and yet it’s just a show.   What American series have that immersive thrall?
US shows had what it took to grab audiences a few years ago, but things are changing.  We are exposed to so much art and our standards are rising.  It’s not enough to up the jolts-per-minute, big death factor.  “Oh, they’re not afraid to kill off lead characters!” is the battle cry of the new American TV drama. 

Brit TV proves quality endures, and endless jarring deaths are no longer required to keep audiences engaged.  It’s the difference between crap and quality.  British TV has always produced quality programming and offers disgruntled North Americans the next step.  Nuance over serial killers, wit and brain over cheap retreads. 
Enter Acorn TV, with the nifty not-so-little idea of streaming Brit TV around the clock.  At any given time there are 80 British series to choose from.  Offering online screening and DVDs, Acorn is on a mission to quench the US thirst for UK TV.  It offers last forty years of English TV in one place.                                                  

Midsomer Murders
 Check Acorn's offerings for the month of January.  There's Midsomer Murders Series 6 and Series 7, The Early Cases, Barnaby’s Casebook, the exclusive U.S. premiere of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 2, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Series 12 starring David Suchet, archaeology reality show Time Team, Michael Gambon in Maigret, Lynda La Plante’s long-running courtroom drama Trial & Retribution and Julia McKenzie  in Fresh Fields and follow-up French Fields.  
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries        
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 2, features Essie Davis as the witty 1920s lady detective.  One episode will be added every Monday through the Series 2 finale on March 31st.  The complete 13 episodes of Series 1 are available now to watch anytime.

                                                           Foyle's War  
Watch for the exclusive U.S. debut of Mr. & Mrs. Murder, streaming exclusives for the romantic comedy William & Mary starring Martin Clunes and Julie Graham, all 26 episodes of Springhill, Under Capricorn, Upstairs, Downstairs, Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect and Brideshead Revisited, as well as all previous episodes of Midsomer Murders, Michael Kitchen’s Foyle’s War, Brenda Blethyn’s Vera and Martin Clunes’ Doc Martin.
Doc Martin
Vera, Set 3 starring two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn is a “younger, sassier successor to Prime Suspect”.   Above Suspicion, Set 3 stars Kelly Reilly and Ciarán Hinds, Midsomer Murders, Set 23, The Broker’s Man featuring Kevin Whately of Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis fame.

Hetty Wainthropp Investigates
February brings the full 27 episode series Hetty Wainthropp Investigates.  Patricia Routledge from Keeping Up Appearances is a housewife-turned-private-investigator.  Gifted with intuition, powered by a strict moral sense and aided by Dominic Monaghan, she solves crimes in England’s small towns and villages. 
The Agatha Christie Hour

Acorn also offers Agatha Christie’s The Queen of Crime Collection, with three feature-length, star-studded murder mysteries, The Agatha Christie Hour: The Complete Collection with ten stories in Art Deco-era England.   Evergreen series Doc Martin, Foyle’s War, Poldark, Brideshead Revisited, Jack Taylor, and Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren are also available.
The Fall

Many of today’s big name stars appear in British TV dramas.  Henry Cavill stars in Midsomer Murders Series 7, Michael Fassbender appears in Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Trial & Retribution, and Jamie Dornan recently cast as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey stars in The Fall opposite Gillian Anderson.  Stars from the past, from Sir John Gielgud, Francesca Annis, Pauline Collins, James Warwick, and Dominic Cooper to Susan Hampshire appear regularly. 

Acorn’s 4 DVD set The Agatha Christie Hour: Complete Collection features a star-studded ensemble cast featuring John Nettles, Amanda Redman, Christopher Cazenove, Ralph Bates, Cherie Lunghi, Maurice Denham, James Grout, Stephanie Cole and Rupert Everett.

Joanne Lumley's Greek Odyssey

 History and travel documentaries are high on Acorn’s list, with Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey currently streaming as well as the Ancient Egypt series Secrets of the Pharaohs: A Quest for Ancient DNA, Oasis of the Golden Mummies, Secrets of the Sands, and The Sacred Animals of the Pharaohs Realm of the Dead.
 Acorn TV  and its Roku channel, Acorn TV streams more than 80 mysteries, period dramas, documentaries and comedies, with more than half streaming exclusively on Acorn TV.  Six series are added each month.










  1. Anne, thank you so much for the info about Acorn TV! After finishing Kingdom, Doc Martin and Derrick (which is one of the best television series I have ever seen), knowing about Acorn TV will help me survive the winter!