A Vicar in a Fine Tradition
The British network ITV is a more important part of the American television diet than most viewers realize. It sends us both the sweet clotted cream of “Downton Abbey” and the greasy late-night doner kebab of “Broadchurch.” But just as important for some of us, it’s the leading source of that bland bangers-and-mash called cozy mysteries: Marple, Poirot, “Midsomer Murders,” “Foyle’s War,” “Lewis.” Its latest contribution is “Grantchester,” about a village vicar who solves crimes in the 1950s, and it’s the perfect distillation of the form.
“Grantchester,” beginning on Sunday night on PBS as part of an expanded “Mystery!” series, squeezes many common features of the cozy into 50 whirlwind minutes: a picturesque setting, a literary source (the mysteries of James Runcie), a brilliant amateur detective with a plodding policeman as his foil. And murders, lots of murders.
The detective is Sidney Chambers, an improbably handsome vicar played by James Norton, who broke out playing a killer on the BBC series “Happy Valley.” Just as “Grantchester” is a little too perfect, so is Sidney. You suspect that 1950s country clergymen didn’t often look like him or possess his many endearing qualifications: jazz lover; war hero; whiskey drinker; defender of blacks, gays and German widows. He also regularly breaks several commandments in pursuit of the truth. He has to draw the line somewhere, though, and in one of the six episodes of the show’s first season, he draws it at euthanasia.
“Grantchester” will be breezy fun for fans of the form, though the more discerning will be put off by how rudimentary the actual murder mysteries are after being squeezed into 50 minutes (half the norm for this type of show). Others are liable to find it faintly ridiculous, more of a haiku than an actual drama. It benefits from the presence of the veteran Robson Green (“Wire in the Blood,” “Touching Evil”) as Sidney’s sidekick, Inspector Keating.
Fast-Sprouting Acorn Challenges PBS' British TV Dominance
American viewers hoping to catch the last season of the hit British show Foyle's War will have to sign up for the boutique digital portal Acorn.tv. Emily Jan/NPR hide caption
American viewers hoping to catch the last season of the hit British show Foyle's War will have to sign up for the boutique digital portal Acorn.tv.Emily Jan/NPR
Today marks the return of a cult public television hit — Foyle's War. It previously appeared as part of PBS's big Sunday night Masterpiece lineup, but it won't be on TV tonight. For now, viewers will have to stream the show digitally. Acorn, the company that produces Foyle's War, has embarked on something of a Netflix strategy — raising the question of whether a niche pay portal can be a going concern.
Acorn has long sold videos and DVDs of the hundreds of hours of U.K. shows for which it holds North American rights. Now it's offering a digital streaming service that gives subscribers instant access to much of its extensive back catalog — and an advance look at programs it produces.
"We want consumers to think of Acorn TV as the primary destination for British mystery and drama television in North America," says Miguel Penella, the CEO of Acorn's corporate parent RLJ Entertainment. It's a brash claim for a market crowded by HBO, the BBC and PBS.
As Acorn expanded its ambitions, it bought a controlling stake in Agatha Christie's literary estate — and is now producing some of her mysteries for TV. The company is betting enough fans of British programs will add one more subscription to their virtual cart, along with Netflix or Amazon prime.
This season is to be the last for Foyle's War. Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle, a senior police official turned intelligence operative at the close of World War II, and his performance has inspired a near-rhapsodic response from critics. But the financing for this season of the show appeared in doubt — so Acorn decided to buy the rights and produce Foyle's War itself, earning much of the cost back from foreign broadcasters
American viewers who want to see it right now will have to pay $5 a month or $50 a year. "For us, it is simply an opportunity to bring our content to consumers in a different, new way," says Penella. Acorn's decision to stream programs itself illustrates how the lines separating distributors, producers, syndicators and networks have blurred.
Good for Acorn, says Rebecca Eaton, the longtime executive producer of Masterpiece — but she argues that PBS has a public mission, while Acorn has a business plan. "To use public broadcasting, to use public television as a platform and a showcase for programs they might acquire," she says, "that's pretty good advertisement for selling them on down the line."
Millions of viewers watch Masterpiece every week for free, and Eaton says her program endures through changes in viewer appetites because of its sustained quality: "I think there's a tremendous interest in high-end British drama," she says. "And I think you can lay that at the feet of Downton Abbey, Sherlock, a lot of the programs we've had on the air — and why wouldn't a business want to spin that particular stuff into gold?"
Acorn says it currently has just 116,000 subscribers, but that's growing. And Penella says its revenues more than justify the cost of producing and streaming shows like Foyle's War: "In recent years, with the convergence of television and the Internet, we saw for us an opportunity to develop a proprietary digital platform that would allow our consumers, our audience to access our deep library — anytime, anywhere," he says.
Foyle's War will run later this year on individual PBS stations, but not on PBS as a network. And if anything, the relationship between PBS and Acorn evokes the frosty rapport between the two matriarchs of Downton Abbey: the Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley. Collaborators, peers, competitors — in other words, frenemies.
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Years before Downton Abbey became a massive, multiple award-winning worldwide hit, before Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman became the Sherlock and Watson for the Internet age, and before Doctor Who turned 55+, there have been legions of British TV fans on this side of the pond.
To help longtime and newbie stateside viewers find TV shows from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Canada, we’ve put together this list of sources for where to watch series, specials, and made-for-TV movies from these territories. Check them out, watch something fabulous, and remember to bookmark, share, and visit this page regularly for updated information.
(Visit The Down Under TV Place for info about shows from Australia and New Zealand, and The Euro TV Place for details about original-language, English-subtitled shows from Europe.)
As an affiliate of Amazon and other companies, ads & affiliate links on this blog allow us to earn income from qualifying actions and purchases (at no extra cost to you).
BROADCAST AND CABLE
Before there was Acorn TV, BBC America, or Netflix, there was PBS for British programs. For more than 45 years, the public television network has been the home of Masterpiece in all of its incarnations, starting with Masterpiece Theatre, which brought us I, Claudius, the original Poldark, and The Jewel in the Crown (decades before Indian Summers), amongst other memorable programs.
Today, PBS brings us…
Masterpiece Classic period dramas, such as Home Fires, Victoria, and these titles:
Masterpiece Contemporary dramas, such as Endgame, Framed, Lennon Naked, The Song of Lunch, and these thrillers:
And, of course, Masterpiece Mystery whodunits, including the complete series of Inspector Lewis, Inspector Lynley, Wallander, and Zen, and what might be all of Sherlock (if the stars’ busy schedules can’t accommodate a fifth season). Recent fan favorites include Arthur & George and these titles:
PBS also offers exceptional British theatre and adapted works under its Great Performances banner, such as these adaptations of Shakespeare’s works:
Last but not least are the British programs independent of Masterpiece and Great Performances, including Call the Midwife, which returns with its 9th season in 2020; Last Tango in Halifax, which is also returning to telly in 2020 (on BBC in the UK, later on PBS in the US) with a new season after a 4-year absence; and the shows below.
Ways to stream PBS content:
PBS Video Portal — New episodes are usually available for a limited time (and for free) here, starting the day after their original broadcast.
PBS app — Select programs and episodes are also available with the PBS app for Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, and Xbox 360, as well as Android and iOS digital devices.
PBS Passport — This benefit of being a member of a PBS affiliate station allows you to stream select PBS content. You can access Passport by contributing $60+ per year to your local PBS station.
PBS Masterpiece channel on Amazon — This SVOD channel now features British programs that made their US debuts on PBS as well as those that first screened elsewhere in the States, such as Apple Tree Yard and Lovejoy. (For fans of non-English-language international TV series, the channel also offers shows from Walter Presents, which are shown in their original language with English subtitles.) It costs $5.99/month after the 7-day free trial period.
To see which British TV programs are premiering on PBS this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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Local PBS Member Stations and Independent Public TV Stations
There are 300+ PBS member stations in the US and its territories that broadcast the British programs provided by PBS. Many of them, plus independent public TV stations, also air additional UK TV shows that they purchase on their own, thanks to viewer donations. (Hint, hint.) Shows vary from market to market and station to station, but longtime favorites, from Are You Being Served and Keeping Up Appearances, to Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen, tend to show up regularly across many of the stations.
Many British TV shows premiere in the US exclusively on select public TV stations. (This means they are not PBS shows, although they air on some PBS member stations.) Series that made huge splashes when they debuted in local US markets include DCI Banks, Death in Paradise, Father Brown, and Scott & Bailey. Others that made their stateside premieres exclusively on public TV stations include:
A public TV station worth noting is WETA, which serves the Washington, DC metropolitan viewing area and is the only public TV station in the US with a digital channel dedicated to telly from the UK and other Commonwealth territories. It is WETA UK, and with it you can get your Brit TV on 24/7/365.
To see which British TV programs are premiering on public TV stations this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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BBC America gives US-based Anglophiles a number of British TV’s worldwide hits, such as British noir mystery-crime drama Broadchurch, gritty detective drama Luther, critically-acclaimed drama Killing Eve, and global sci-fi phenomenon Doctor Who.
To see which British TV programs are premiering on BBC America this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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Other Broadcast, Cable, and Satellite Channels
It used to be that shows from the UK and UK-US co-productions aired in the US just on PBS member and independent public TV stations, BBC America, and a couple of basic and premium cable channels, including A&E and HBO. That has changed in a big way. To wit: The shows below premiered on AMC, Discovery Life, FX, History, Lifetime, Ovation, Pop, (the now-defunct) Pivot, and SundanceTV basic cable channels, plus Fox and NBC, within the past several years: There were many more besides these.
And, of course, premium cable channels Cinemax, HBO, Showtime, and Starz continue to bring some of the finest UK productions and US/UK co-pros to the US, including the ones below. And more are on the way.
By the way, you can try any of these and other premium cable channels without going through your cable company by adding them through Amazon Channels, which gives you a 7-day free trial for each channel before the monthly subscription fee kicks in (and doesn’t charge tax the way cable does).
To see which British TV programs are premiering on broadcast, cable, and satellite channels this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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STREAMING VIDEO ON DEMAND & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD PLATFORMS, including SVOD (Subscription), AVOD (Advertising-Supported) , TVOD (Transactional)
Acorn TV is a subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service that offers TV programs from the UK, Canada, and Ireland, as well as Australia and New Zealand. And with the explosive growth in popularity of English-subtitled non-English-language programs, they’ve been adding more of these shows, too.
Its curated content currently numbers in the hundreds of titles and 1000+ hours of programming, which include shows that premiered in the US exclusively on Acorn TV, such as these Acorn TV Original series:
Other shows are currently available in the US only through an Acorn TV subscription, including:
New subscribers get a free 7-day trial, after which the subscription price is $4.99/month or $49.99/year for on-demand streaming. If you’re a member of Amazon Prime, you can add an Acorn TV subscription through Amazon Channels and watch Acorn’s shows through the Amazon Video interface.
To see which British TV programs are premiering on Acorn TV this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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Amazon Instant Video & Amazon Prime Video
With the name of the streaming game being exclusive content, so for Prime Video, Amazon has increased the number of its British program acquisitions and productions for its Prime Original series, in addition to exclusivity deals with distributors. Its Original and exclusive titles include these shows:
Back in 2016, Amazon began offering monthly subscription options for its customers to access Prime Video, then raised prices in 2018. Here’s the break-out as of July 2019: Amazon Prime membership: $119/year or $12.99/month ($6.49/month for the student 6-month trial, and $5.99 for the discounted monthly offering, which is available to qualifying customers with a valid EBT or Medicaid card) | Prime Video only subscription: $8.99/month (no access to Amazon Prime benefits)
To see which British TV programs have been added to Amazon Video this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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Apple Services (formerly iTunes)
Apple Services has a wealth of Brit TV program seasons and episodes available as digital downloads for purchase. While most can be streamed on VOD services, some downloads are exclusive to iTunes (at least for now). For Whovians, several multi-episode stories from the Classic Doctor Who series are currently exclusive to iTunes, including Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World starring Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord starring Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, and Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis starring Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy.
And in a first for BBC Worldwide, the historical drama Banished premiered in the US on iTunes.
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Best of British TV
Best of British TV, which is available exclusively through Amazon Channels, offers an eclectic selection of popular British comedies, reality shows, games shows, talk shows, and more. Here are a few of the programs currently available:
Members of Amazon Prime can add a subscription to the Best of British TV channel for $3.99/month after the free 7-day trial.
To see which British TV programs have been added to BOB TV this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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BritBox, the SVOD service from BBC Studios and ITV (the former being the commercial arm of the Beeb and the latter being the UK’s largest commercial broadcaster), launched in the US on 7 March 2017, with nearly 200 titles.
Available on the platform are new and classic Britcoms, mysteries, and dramas, plus documentaries, news and lifestyle programs, and long-running soap operas, as well as videos of UK events that were live-streamed in the US on BritBox. Some of the programs, including BritBox Original series, that premiered in the US exclusively on BritBox are:
Series that used to be on other US streaming platforms but are only on BritBox now include several beloved mystery series, such as:
A BritBox subscription costs $6.99/month (after the 7-day free trial), which gives you access to the ad-free content on the Web, Android and iOS devices, Apple TV (4th generation), and Roku. To watch BritBox through the Amazon Video interface, add the subscription through Amazon Channels.
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Hulu brings a variety of shows from the UK and Canada. A number of them are Hulu Original series and premiere exclusives, including Cardinal, Harlots, My Mad Fat Diary, and National Treasure.
Other British series that are Hulu Originals or exclusives include the (fabulous) documentary Becoming Bond, comedy-drama The Bisexual, dramas Butterfly and National Treasure: Kiri, pre-apocalyptic crime drama Hard Sun, and reality series Love Island.
A Hulu subscription costs $5.99/month for the limited-commercials plan and $11.99/month for the commercial-free plan. Both include shows in HD and access on mobile devices and through media streaming gadgets and game consoles.
To see which British TV programs are premiering on Hulu/Hulu Plus this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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Netflix is the largest SVOD platform on the planet, with 148 million subscribers worldwide as of April 2019, inclusive of the 60 million subscribers in the US.
Given the kazillion dollars Netflix spends on programming, “the world’s leading Internet television network” acquires or produces a ton of it, from shows available elsewhere to exclusives, especially Netflix Original titles — the list of which is constantly growing.
British TV is a niche unto itself, and a subset of it is Scottish programs. Here are four of my favorite comedy series from Scotland, available in the US only on Netflix:
By the way, if you don’t already know this, you can now download many of Netflix’s titles. After years of not allowing downloads, despite the growing use of mobile devices to watch Netflix programs, they finally relented. (That Amazon has been allowing Prime members to download titles for years probably contributed to their decision.)
And you can still rent DVDs from Netflix (starting at $7.99/month). Certain programs from the UK, Ireland, and Canada in Netflix’s library aren’t streaming anywhere in the US, not even on Netflix. They are, though, available to rent on DVD, such as these titles:
As of this writing (July 2019), Netflix streaming subscription plans cost as follows: basic plan = $8.99/month (one screen at a time, standard definition only); standard plan = $12.99/month (up to two screens at a time in high definition); premium plan = $15.99/month (up to 4 screens at a time in HD or 4K Ultra HD).
To see which British TV programs are premiering on Netflix this month, check out our British TV Viewing Guide.
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Owned by Viacom, Pluto TV is a free, ad-supported, Internet-based TV platform whose content is accessible on its website and via its apps for Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, and PlayStation consoles.
In April 2019, Pluto TV did a deal with BBC Studios to bring nearly 1,000 episodes — totaling more than 700 hours — of content to Pluto TV audiences, much of which will come from the dedicated 24/7 channels for Midsomer Murders (channel 513), Doctor Who Classic (channel 77), and Antiques Roadshow UK (channel 78).
Content from the deal started rolling out in May 2019, when British TV titles began showing up on several Pluto TV channels. For example: episodes from the smash hit comedy series The IT Crowd on the TV Sitcoms channel (channel 255), and for kids of all ages episodes from Mr. Bean: The Animated Series on the Kids TV and After School Cartoons channels (on channels 520 and 526, respectively).
Then in July 2019, Pluto TV launched its dedicated British TV channel (on channel 175), which features episodes from the gripping reality series 24 Hours in Police Custody, intense action drama Ultimate Force, and the classic Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, amongst many other British TV programs.
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ADDITIONAL FREE STREAMING SITES & CHANNELS
Other ad-supported streaming platforms that feature British TV shows (whether a handful or many) include the EndemolShineInternational and WatchFreeFlix channels on Roku, IMDb TV, the Popcornflix website and Roku channel, Sony Crackle (home of the British crime comedy-drama series Snatch, based on the awesome film of the same name), and YouTube (despite copyright infringement, DCMA Takedown Notices, and account suspensions).
My favorite amongst them is Tubi TV, which has more shows from the UK than the lot above combined. Not only that, they have quite a number of shows from Down Under, as well as a dozen (more or less) original-language, English-subtitled series from Europe.
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Amid growing competition, PBS Distribution boosts investment in British dramas
As deep-pocketed rivals elbow into British drama, a genre that PBS signature show Masterpiece once had pretty much to itself, PBS and WGBH are increasingly relying on streaming revenues to fund big-budget productions.
To protect the Masterpiece franchise from soaring costs, producers at WGBH in Boston are turning to PBS Distribution to help meet the rising costs of the shows that Masterpiece viewers — and PBS Passport donors — know and want to watch.
Though some station leaders see the trend as a mixed blessing, Masterpiece EP Rebecca Eaton said PBS Distribution, a partnership between PBS and WGBH that manages digital and video licensing deals, is at the center of a strategy to “future-proof” the iconic PBS drama series.
The competition for British drama among subscription video-on-demand services triggered a nearly 100% increase in the cost of programming over the last three years, Eaton said. “I wish I could be reborn to be a really good British writer, because I would be set for life,” she joked, referring to the payments now commanded by top talents.
“There are more players in the space — most notably … Amazon and Netflix — but also more niche services such as Acorn and BritBox,” agreed Perry Simon, PBS chief program executive, in an email. “And these players all want more and more hours of content.”
Perry is a former GM of BBC America, where he commissioned Orphan Black and mobilized popular U.S.-U.K. co-productions like Luther, The Hour and Broadchurch. He left the cable network in 2015, just as the streaming media landscape went bananas. Since joining PBS last fall, he has described helping Masterpiece navigate the new world order for British drama as a top priority.
PBSd has already taken a big role in co-production deal-making for Masterpiece, Eaton said. She is also working on more traditional funding strategies, such as cultivating long-term corporate sponsors like Viking Cruises and Raymond James, identifying more major donors for the Masterpiece Trust and seeking out new or untapped talent.
For instance, in March, Masterpiece picked up Beecham House, a six-part series set in Delhi, India, at the turn of the 19th century. It was created by filmmaker Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice, Viceroy’s House) who had never made a period drama or TV series. “It’s the first thing like that she has done,” Eaton said.
Committing to projects earlier in the production cycle is another tactic that has “helped us to maximize our limited dollars,” Simon noted.
PBSd is investing funds from its over-the-top streaming deals to secure British dramas for broadcast along with the sweeping rights packages that make the membership streaming service PBS Passport so popular with drama fans, said Andrea Downing, PBSd co-president.
PBSd funds a slate of Masterpiece shows each year, she said, drawing on revenues it earns from Amazon Prime’s Masterpiece Channel. The two-year-old paid subscription service, priced at $5.99 a month, has become a go-to source of financing for Masterpiece’s costly costume dramas. PBSd quietly financed full seasons of three Masterpiece series this year — Victoria, Poldark and Grantchester, Downing said.
Those commitments marked the distributor’s biggest annual investment ever in the genre, she said, without specifying the total cost. Spokeswoman Jennifer Byrne said PBS doesn’t disclose production budgets.
“When Masterpiece and PBS are acquiring dramas, we are at the table telling them how much we can afford to invest in order to get the deals done,” Downing said.
British drama “is a very big audience and revenue generator for the system. We have to take good care of it,” Eaton said.
Ratings for Masterpiece are routinely double PBS’ prime-time average and were multiples of that during Downton Abbey, she said. “It’s always been cited as the main reason viewers become members of local stations,” she said.
Maura Daly Phinney, VP of membership at PBS SoCal, agreed.
“I talk to a lot of major donors, and, by far, that is the thing they are most committed to and really adore,” she said.
Netflix set off the great race for British drama among subscription streaming services in 2014 when it partnered with writer Peter Morgan and director Stephen Daldry on The Crown, a big hit that will unspool season three later this year.
The giant streamer, which also produced Happy Valley and has dozens of British dramas and procedurals on its menu, is close to leasing a big chunk of historic Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, as it ramps up its U.K. footprint, according to British press reports.
The Masterpiece hit Downton Abbey also cast a halo over British drama as the TV landscape exploded with new subscription video-on-demand services. Now Netflix, Amazon, Acorn and BritBox, along with cable networks AMC and BBC America, are competing with Masterpiece to secure top-quality productions.
“It’s not that we’re not getting invited in, but that others are being invited in as well,” Eaton said. “That’s driven the prices up for everybody.”
“We can’t get everything, we never could,” Eaton said, ticking off her biggest regrets — Broadchurch and Killing Eve (BBC America), Happy Valley (Netflix) and A Very English Scandal (Amazon).
PBSd’s Downing was stung by losing Vanity Fair to Amazon.
“If Netflix and Amazon lean in, we will not get it,” she said. Netflix alone will spend a reported $15 billion on content this year.
BBC and ITV, Masterpiece’s longtime partners in presenting period and contemporary dramas to American audiences, are struggling too, Eaton said. Big productions and top talent are migrating to big streaming services. “That is not good for BBC and ITV,” she said. Just like Masterpiece and PBS, she said, “They need to fill their air.”
Masterpiece Channel conundrum
Despite the volatile market, Masterpiece still had more dramas lined up than available broadcast slots this year, Eaton said. Her team delivered the traditional mix of returning series and new shows, including the one-off miniseries Mrs. Wilson and Les Miserables.
In the cluttered SVOD market, Masterpiece is a valuable brand that stands for one thing only — British drama. That’s rare, Eaton said. “There is a lot of really top-notch British drama being made,” she said. “In all this confusion, our challenge is to continue to be the curator we have a reputation for being.”
PBSd’s heightened role in financing drama is not without its critics, however — especially those concerned about the popularity of Amazon Prime’s Masterpiece Channel. Local stations have no way to identify and connect with subscribers who live in their communities.
One station fundraiser expressed worries that revenue gains from the channel will be short-lived and will undercut efforts to improve PBS Passport, which is driving membership growth at local stations. He asked to speak without attribution because he didn’t want to offend PBS.
“The Masterpiece Channel disintermediates stations and it is competition,” he said. “I am very conflicted. Revenue in the near-term is undoubtedly important. Long-term, it could hurt us.”
Downing was unequivocal that the Amazon Prime channel is crucial to the survival of PBS’ British drama franchise — on the air and on Passport. “Without the Masterpiece Channel, we would not be able to secure rights for Passport,” she said.
“I try to look at this from a system perspective and not get too territorial about only what is good for local stations,” said Daly Phinney. It’s important to “keep in mind we are an ecosystem,” she said.
Tom Rieland, GM of WOSU Public Media in Columbus, Ohio, and a member of the PBS board of directors, said revenues from streaming services are “something to be monitored.” But, he added, “It’s a whole new world, and we have to get used to these issues.”
PBS’ Byrne noted that the Masterpiece Channel offers only a subset of the broad slate of the content found on Passport. And it does not provide pre-broadcast binge-viewing opportunities that PBS Passport members enjoy.
British drama is the backbone of marketing for PBS Passport, boosting views, activations and new donors for the streaming service.
Station-based fundraisers testify to this, and data analysts continue to compile statistics that back it up. The latest come from the CDP Analytics Engine and WETA in Washington, D.C.
CDP data collected from 69 stations for the 12 months that ended April 30 showed British dramas dominated a top 10 ranking of programs watched by the most Passport members. Masterpiece titles included Victoria, Poldark, Downton Abbey, The Durrells in Corfu, Endeavour and Unforgotten.
WETA’s analysis of its own streaming data from January to April showed that most Passport-acquired members watched a British drama after making their first donations. Masterpiece’s Les Miserables and Mrs. Wilson also ranked among the top 10 titles that these new members watched.
The first show that Passport members stream is a strong indicator of what motivated them to donate, said Jeff Regen, WETA’s VP of membership, marketing and development.
“If you know anything about Passport you know that drama is number one,” said Andy Trimlett, director of on-air and digital fundraising at PBS SoCal. “It’s sort of a joke. What’s doing well that is not drama is almost more interesting.”
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What is PBS Masterpiece?
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While Acorn TV and BritBox usually get the bulk of the British TV channel attention, PBS Masterpiece has quietly been building a fantastic channel that's well worth your time and attention – especially if you enjoy mysteries and dramas. They don't have as many individual titles as some of the other services, but they make up for it in having a lot of big-name, recent dramas.
You can get PBS Masterpiece HERE.
First off, let's clarify exactly what we're talking about here. There's the long-running Masterpiece series that showcases British mysteries, but this is something slightly different. PBS Masterpiece is a channel you can subscribe to through Amazon, much like you might subscribe to BritBox or Acorn. You'll need an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription as a prerequisite, but that's not all bad news. There are more than 360 British TV shows on Amazon Prime, and you get access to them when you subscribe.
PBS Masterpiece should also not be confused with PBS Passport. PBS Passport is a form of online access you can get through the PBS website and Roku app in exchange for a minimum $5 monthly donation. Passport is tailored to your local market, and some are definitely better than others.
Endeavour – Endeavour is the youngest, hippest entry into the Morse TV trio (the other two being Inspector Morse and Lewis, of course). Endeavour takes us to 1960s Oxford, where Endeavour Morse is a young detective just starting out. While most British mystery fans will be well-acquainted with this one, it's worth noting that PBS Masterpiece is the place to be if you want the latest season quickly.
Though it's certainly not a requirement to enjoy the show, Endeavour is best watched after Inspector Morse, as it's really interesting to watch him develop the traits we recognize from the earlier series. Watch it HERE
The Trouble with Maggie Cole – 2020 – Dawn French brings us this new comedy-drama about the dangers of gossip. She plays Maggie Connors, a seaside village busybody who likes to ignore the saying that “those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones”. Watch it HERE
All Creatures Great and Small – 2020 – This remake of the much-loved classic 1930s-based Yorkshire veterinary series is based on the books by James Herriot. Newcomer Nicholas Ralph plays James Herriot, while Samuel West (Mr. Selfridge) plays Siegfried Farnon. Though Dame Diana Rigg played Mrs. Pumphrey in Series 1, her recent death has led producers to put Patricia Hodge (Miranda) in the role for Series 2. Watch it HERE
Prefer to watch the classic version? You can find it HERE on BritBox.
Excalibur: Behind the Movie – 2020 – The 1981 film Excalibur is still considered by some to be one of the finest adaptations of the Arthurian legend. It also launched the careers of several well-known Irish and British actors including Ciarán Hinds, Liam Neeson, Sir Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, and Gabriel Byrne. This documentary takes a look back at the masterpiece. Watch it HERE
Inspector Lewis (or just Lewis) – Inspector Lewis was a lovely parting gift after the departure of Inspector Morse. In Lewis, Kevin Whately returns to play Morse's former sidekick once more – except this time, he's the DI and his sidekick is DS James Hathaway. The show is no longer in production, but if you haven't seen it yet, it's a must-watch. Watch it HERE
Elizabeth is Missing – 2019 – Glenda Jackson stars as a woman trying to solve two mysteries while suffering from dementia. Her only friend has gone missing, and she’s not sure what information she can trust. Watch it HERE
Breathless – 2013 – Set in early 1960s England, this series looks at the lives of hospital staff who take great risks to help troubled young women by performing illegal off-site abortions in their spare time. Watch it HERE
Baptiste – 2019 – This spinoff from the series The Missing sees Tchéky Karyo returning as Julien Baptiste, a clever detective who agrees to help the Dutch police look for a missing sex worker in Amsterdam. Tom Hollander (Rev) and Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife) also appear. Watch it HERE
The Chaperone – 2018 – With a screenplay by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), this period drama focuses on Norma Carlisle, a middle-aged woman charged with chaperoning the teenage Louise Brooks, not yet a flapper icon and sex symbol. Watch it HERE
Beecham House – 2019 – Set in 1795, this period drama depicts the lives of a former East India Company soldier who’s determined to create a safe home in Delhi for his family. Critics have dubbed it “The Dehli Downton”. Tom Bateman (Vanity Fair) and Lesley Nicol (Downton Abbey) star. Watch it HERE
The Child in Time – 2018 – Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars in this film about a man struggling to find purpose after the disappearance of his daughter. It’s based on a novel by Ian McEwan. Watch it HERE
Us – 2020 – This four-part dramedy is based on English author David Nicholls’ novel by the same name, and it sees a man trying to win back his wife’s love over the course of a dream holiday in Europe. Tom Hollander (Rev) and Saskia Reeves (Close My Eyes) star. Watch it HERE
The Windsors: A Royal Family – 2018 – This four-part documentary offers an in-depth look at Britain’s current royal family, including interviews with friends, aides, and family members. Watch it HERE
World on Fire – 2019 – This miniseries shines a light on the lives of ordinary people from Poland, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom during the early years of World War II. The large and talented cast includes Helen Hunt (Mad About You), Lesley Manville (Mum), and Sean Bean (Game of Thrones). Watch it HERE
Wuthering Heights – 2009 – Charlotte Riley (Press) and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) star in this two-part adaptation of Emily Brontë‘s classic novel. Watch it HERE
Mrs. Wilson – Mrs. Wilson is fascinating because it's not just a true story, it's a true story about the grandmother of Ruth Wilson, the actress playing the title role. Alison Wilson was widowed in 1963, only to realize her husband had been leading a secret life. Iain Glen (Jack Taylor) plays her departed husband, a foreign intelligence officer with more than one “Mrs. Wilson” in his life. Miniseries. Watch it HERE
Churchill’s Secret – 2016 – Set during the summer of 1953, this film sees Michael Gambon portraying Winston Churchill as he recovered from a life-threatening stroke. Watch it HERE
Flesh & Blood – 2020 – When a widow finds unexpected romance with a retired surgeon, her family’s reactions are mixed. A web of lies and secrets brings chaos and eventually, murder. This one’s full of crazy relatives, dark secrets, and for good measure, a nosy neighbor played by Imelda Staunton. Watch it HERE
Far From the Madding Crowd – 1998 – This television movie is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel of the same name, this time starring Paloma Baeza (A Touch of Frost) and Nathaniel Parker (Inspector Lynley Mysteries). Set against the backdrop of rural southwest England during Victorian times, it follows the life of Bathsheba Everdene and the people she knows in her small farming community. Watch it HERE
As Time Goes By: Reunion Specials – 2005 – This much-loved British comedy returns for two final episodes in which Jean Hardcastle is very much hoping for grandchildren. If you already watched the regular seasons on BritBox, you'll definitely want to check these out. Watch it HERE
Arthur and George – 2015 – Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) stars as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When he finds himself outraged at an injustice against an Anglo-Indian solicitor, he uses his own fictional detective's methods to get justice for the man. Watch it HERE
Lovejoy – Though it's a bit dated now, Lovejoy is a fun little series about a man with a unique talent for discerning the value of antiques – a “divvy”. Lovejoy's life is chaotic and driven by no real long-term plans, but it's enjoyable. Along with a few friends and an occasional enemy, the series moves nicely between adventure, mystery, drama, and comedy over the course of 6 seasons. Ian McShane stars. Watch it HERE
A Room with a View – 2007 – Elaine Cassidy (No Offence) stars alongside Rafe Spall (Desperate Romantics) in this story about a young Englishwoman in 1912 who finds love on a trip to Italy. Watch it HERE
Rebecca – Emilia Fox and Charles Dance star as the new Mr. and Mrs. Maxim de Winter in this 1997 adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's classic gothic suspense novel. Diana Rigg plays Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper still loyal to her dead mistress, Rebecca. Watch it HERE
Deep Water – 2019 – Anna Friel (Marcella) stars in this miniseries about three mothers struggling with challenging moral and ethical problems. Watch it HERE
Cobra – 2020 – This political drama sees Robert Carlyle (Hamish MacBeth) playing the role of British Prime Minister Robert Sutherland as he deals with a national emergency and the impossible decisions that go along with such a situation. Victoria Hamilton (The Crown) plays his Chief of Staff. Watch it HERE
The Crimson Field – 2014 to 2015 – At a busy WWI field hospital in France, a young nurse named Kitty tries to escape her past. A number of British TV favourites appear in this short-lived series, including Kevin Doyle (Downton Abbey), Suranne Jones (Gentleman Jack), and Hermione Norris (Kingdom). Watch it HERE
The Escape Artist – David Tennant stars in this three-episode series about a junior barrister whose specialty is getting clients out of very tough spots. Unfortunately, this means his hands aren't entirely clean when those clients re-offend.
Sophie Okonedo (Mayday) stars as his courtroom rival, Maggie Gardner. Watch it HERE
Death Comes to Pemberley – 2014 – Three episodes pay homage to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, bringing us into the home of Elizabeth and Darcy after six years of marriage. As they prepare for their annual ball, tragedy brings the festivities to a halt. Watch it HERE
Van der Valk – 2020 – This reboot of the 1970s series will see Marc Warren (Beecham House) as Commissaris Piet Van der Valk. Set in modern Amsterdam, it’s a major departure from the original Nick Freeling novels. Watch it HERE
Van der Valk – 1972 to 1992 – Based on the novels of Nicolas Freeling, this series features Barry Foster as Piet Van der Valk, a Dutch policeman with an unorthodox approach to his investigations. Seasons 3 & 4 arrive October 8th, 2021.
Grantchester – In the village of Grantchester, a clever vicar assists a local police detective with his investigations. James Norton stars as vicar Sidney Chambers, and Robson Green plays DI Geordie Keating.
Sadly, as most British mystery fans will know, James Norton isn't able to stay on forever. Later in the series, Tom Brittany takes over for him in the role of Reverend Will Davenport, a former inner-city chaplain.
Watch it HERE
The Great Fire – 2015 – This four-part series is a dramatisation of 1666’s Great Fire of London. The fire went on for four days, leaving nearly 90% of the city’s population homeless. Watch it HERE
Guilt – 2019 – After two Scottish brothers cover up a hit and run accident, their lives begin to implode. Mark Bonnar (Catastrophe) and Jamie Sives (Game of Thrones) star. New in September. Watch it HERE
Great Performances: Macbeth – 2010 – Sir Patrick Stewart stars in this acclaimed adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play”. Watch it HERE
Great Houses with Julian Fellowes – 2015 – This two-part series sees Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) guide us on a tour of two of Britain’s great homes, Burghley House and Goodwood House. Watch it HERE
Henry and Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History – 2014 – Historian Dr. Suzannah Lipscomb tells the story of the love affair between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Watch it HERE
Les Misérables – Victor Hugo's epic tale of love and poverty in war-torn France returns to the screen in this 2018 adaptation starring Olivia Colman, Dominic West, and Lily Collins. The 6-episode miniseries takes a deeper dive into some characters who have traditionally gotten a bit less screentime (like Fantine), making the progression slower and more grueling – but also much more dramatic.
No expense was spared in this production, and it shows. It's well worth a watch. Watch it HERE
Henry IX: Lost King – 2017 – Many have called Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales the best king England never had. Though bright and promising, he died at the age of 18 from typhoid fever. This documentary looks at the achievements in his short life, along with what might of been, had he lived. Watch it HERE
Vienna Blood – 2019 – Set in 1900s Vienna, this three-part drama follows brilliant English doctor Max Liebermann as he studies under Sigmund Freud. When Liebermann encounters Austrian detective Oskar Rheinhardt, they forge a partnership to take on some of Vienna’s most deadly and disturbing cases. Watch it HERE
The Widower – 2015 – Reece Shearsmith (Inside No. 9) and Sheridan Smith (Gavin & Stacey) star in this miniseries about Malcolm Webster, a man who worked as a nurse and also happened to be a serial killer. Watch it HERE
Jamaica Inn – 2014 – Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) stars in this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel about a young woman who moves in with a Cornish aunt and uncle, only to quickly discover unsavoury activities in her new home. Watch it HERE
Indian Summers – 2015 – This drama dives into live in a social club during the final years of British colonial rule of India. Watch it HERE
The Forsyte Saga – This 2002 adaptation of John Galsworthy's novel follows the life of an English family over 34 years stretching from Victorian England to World War 1. Miniseries. Watch it HERE
Inside the Court of Henry VIII – 2015 – This documentary takes a look at why things were so terribly chaotic and brutal inside the court of Henry VIII. Watch it HERE
Unforgotten – Cassie and Sunny use modern technology to get to the bottom of very cold cases. This recent crime drama is based in London and stars Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar as Cassie and Sunny.
Each series focuses on a new case, with connections unfolding over the course of several episodes. Watch it HERE
The Jewel in the Crown – 1984 – This award-winning television serial is set during the final days of the British Raj in India during and after World War II. The series is based on Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet novels. Watch it HERE
Jekyll & Hyde – 2015 – Set in 1930s London, this variation of the classic story sees Robert Jekyll living in London, a sensitive young man trying to find his way independent of his foster family. Unfortunately, be begins to feel the influence of a powerful darkness that's outside his control – and he realises his parents had been trying to protect him all along. Young Robert has inherited his grandfather's curse, and he's soon drawn into Hyde's dark and unsavoury world. Tom Bateman stars as Dr. Robert Jekyll. Watch it HERE
The Long Song – 2018 – Based on Andrea Levy’s 2010 novel about the end of slavery in Jamaica, this miniseries sees Tamara Lawrance playing a slave and Hayley Atwell playing the plantation owner. Watch it HERE
16 of the Best British TV Shows to Binge This Winter
American TV junkies are no strangers to British actors on mainstream shows. From Damian Lewis, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of marine sergeant Nicholas Brody on Homeland, to Hugh Laurie, who starred as a pill-popping diagnostician on eight seasons of House, Britain’s top talent has scooped up some of the best TV acting roles across the pond.
What American viewers may be less familiar with, however, is watching great British actors in great British TV shows. While certain U.K.-grown series, such as Ricky Gervais’ seminal The Office and Idris Elba’s Luther, have made waves in the U.S., other British masterpieces have maintained a lower profile overseas.
Here are some of the best British TV shows, from reality shows to comedies, dramas to documentaries, including a mix of well-known favorites and under-the-radar series.
Best British comedies
This cult British sitcom, about the lives of two dysfunctional friends who share a dingy flat in the outskirts of London, won multiple awards during its run from 2003 to 2015. The series is shot in an unconventional style that reflects the first-person perspectives of main characters Jeremy a.k.a. ‘Jez’ (Robert Webb) and Mark (David Mitchell), as they blunder through life, falling in and out of love — and in and out of each other’s favor. Olivia Colman, the Murder on the Orient Express star who is set to take on the role of Queen Elizabeth in season three of Netflix’s The Crown, makes recurring appearances as Mark’s dreadful on-and-off girlfriend Sophie.
How to watch it: Season one of Peep Show is available on Hulu.
Gavin & Stacey
Before James Corden was hosting the Late Late Show and singing karaoke with celebrities in cars, he was the tracksuit-wearing painter and builder Smithy in Gavin & Stacey, which ran in the U.K. from 2007 to 2010. The show follows the long-distance relationship and then marriage of Essex-based Gavin (Matthew Horne) and Wales-based Stacey (Love Actually’s Joanna Page), but it’s really their respective best mates, Smithy (Corden) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) who steal the show with their initial hatred of and (spoiler alert) eventual deep feelings for one another.
How to watch it:Gavin & Stacey is available to watch on Hulu.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching the incredibly bland U.S. remake of The Inbetweeners, don’t let it keep you from off delving into the U.K.’s original version. Among the best British comedy TV shows, the three-season sitcom about four rather uncool male friends is a spot-on and hilarious depiction of life as a middle-class, suburban British teen with no bigger worries than navigating exams, relationships and irritating parents. If you enjoy the series, it’s worth checking out the spin-off movies too: The Inbetweeners Movie, which follows the group on a not-so-classy year-end celebration to Greece, and The Inbetweeners 2, which involves the gang on a gap year holiday in Australia.
How to watch it: The Inbetweeners is available to watch on Netflix.
Ricky Gervais is best known in the U.S. for The Office, his mockumentary-style series about life in a mundane British workplace, which made Hollywood stars out of Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook and was adapted into a successful U.S. version starring Steve Carell. But the comedian’s second series, the mid-2000’s Extras — one of several great British shows on Netflix — deserves recognition across the pond too. Extras, which stars Gervais and Ugly Betty’s Ashley Jensen, follows the lives of movie extra Andy Millman as he attempts to make it as a “real” actor. Multiple household names, including Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Daniel Radcliffe and Samuel L. Jackson, make appearances, and the 2007 Christmas Special is an example of British TV at its very best: funny, intelligent and heartbreaking.
How to watch it:Extras is available to watch on Netflix.
Fleabag, written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge (one of TIME’s list of Next Generation Leaders), is a dark comedy of the very darkest variety. The story is centered around the life of a middle-class, self-absorbed Londoner attempting to run her own guinea-pig themed cafe and recover from the death of her best friend in a car accident. Not a single character in Fleabag, from her cold, uptight sister to her vile stepmother (played by the brilliant Olivia Colman), is likable — but that only adds to the award-winning show’s charm.
How to watch it: Fleabag is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Best British dramas
If you’ve never seen an episode of ITV’s crime-drama Broadchurch then you’re in for a real treat. Starring Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Olivia Colman (sensing a pattern here?), one of the top British TV shows follows a mismatched crime-solving duo as they investigate the murder of a young boy in a sleepy British town. The first season in particular will keep you guessing until the end, and at just eight one-hour episodes, it’s the perfect length for a binge watch on a wet winter’s day.
How to watch it: Broadchurch is available to watch on Netflix.
The A Word
Season two of this British show (based on the popular Israeli series Yellow Peppers) recently hit the small screen following the success of the first season, which aired on the BBC in 2016. The series, which stars one-time Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, focuses on a young boy with autism and his family in a small, weatherbeaten town in the U.K.’s Lake District. Praised for its realistic depiction of autism (five-year-old Joe Hughes, wonderfully depicted by Max Vento, is no Rain Man), the series explores the reality of life for children with autism and the various struggles they face at school and at home.
How to watch it: The A Word is available to watch on Sundance TV.
Although Misfits is about a group of juvenile delinquents who obtain special powers after they’re caught in a supernatural thunderstorm, to call it a sci-fi series would be to miss its most compelling elements. While the series does focus on the various characters’ individual abilities (one, for example, learns he can turn invisible, while another can read minds), the relationship between the five complex lawbreakers is the most gripping aspect of the program, which won Best Drama Series at the 2010 BAFTA TV awards.
How to watch it:Misfits is available to watch on Hulu.
This Emmy-winning series is a contemporary reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the iconic detective and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson. While Sherlock Holmes traditionalists may shy away from the show’s take on such an iconic character, this modern retelling is fun, energetic and packed with brilliant performances — particularly from Cumberbatch, who inhabits the character like he was born to play him.
How to watch it:Sherlock is available to watch on Amazon and Google Play.
Line of Duty
There are four seasons of this fast-paced BBC police anti-corruption drama, and while each works on its own, it’s advisable to watch them in order. Season one, arguably the best of the four, focuses on the fall from grace of Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (portrayed by Lennie James), whose life begins to unravel shortly after he wins the prestigious Officer of the Year award. The hit show is one of the BBC’s most watched in a decade and it’s not hard to see why: Line of Duty is thrilling, addictive and full of surprises.
How to watch it: Line of Duty is available to watch on Hulu.
Best British reality shows
Made in Chelsea
Made inChelsea is low-brow TV at its finest. If you’re a fan of shows like Real Housewives, then this take on ‘structured reality’ will be right up your alley. Set in the affluent area of Chelsea, west London, the show follows a group of intimidatingly posh 20-somethings as they brunch, party, date and argue passionately (spoiler alert: there’s a LOT of drink-throwing and avocado toast). The BAFTA-award winning show is now in its 14th season and shows no signs of slowing down. (Reality TV junkies may spot a familiar face making an appearance in season six onwards: The Hill’s Stephanie Pratt, doing what she does best, U.K.-style.)
How to watch it:Made in Chelsea is available to watch on iTunes.
First Dates is exactly what its title advertises: men and women meet at a French restaurant in the heart of central London for a blind date and either hit it off or make a swift exit. The producers attempt to match individuals with someone who will be well suited to them, but of course the dates do not always play out as expected. The show, which will break your heart and moments which will make you cringe in equal measure, culminates with an interview with the couple about whether they’d like to see each other again — while sitting side by side. Not awkward at all.
How to watch it: An American version of First Datesis on NBC, while the British show can only be seen by perusing YouTube clips.
What some Americans might not know is that Britain excels at producing weird reality TV series. Gogglebox is a great example of this: the whole show is centred around real British families sitting down and watching real television programs together. The premise may sounds slightly on the dull side but in actual fact Gogglebox is reality TV at its very best. Whether they are debating Brexit after watching the 10 o’clock news or enjoying the finale of Britain’s version of Dancing With the Stars, the electric group of characters featured on the show, from posh couple Steph and Dom to bickering best pals Sandra and Sandi, are guaranteed to make you laugh.
How to watch it:Gogglebox is tricky to watch in the U.S., but curious viewers might find clips on YouTube.
The Great British Bake Off
Better known in the States as The Great British Baking Show, The Great British Bake Off is competitive cooking at its very best. The good-humored reality TV show features 12 contestants competing in a series of technically-complicated cooking challenges, with one baker heading home each week. Fans of the PBS spin-off are advised to check out the original Bake Off, with its infamous white tent, cute cutaway shots of lambs, tears, cake-based controversies and the most lovable contestants imaginable (shout-out to Val).
How to watch it: The Great British Baking Show is available on Netflix.
Best British documentaries
Blue Planet II
Sixteen years after The Blue Planet hit the small screen, the groundbreaking British nature documentary is back. Like the original series, its foray into the depths of the ocean is narrated by the legendary presenter Sir David Attenborough, who, at 91 years old, is better than ever at getting viewers of all ages excited about wildlife. This series, which has received rave reviews, features an octopus using shells to make a suit of armor, fish that change their sex and a cuttlefish hypnotizing its prey. The show has also helped spark debate about the catastrophic impact of plastic waste on the world’s oceans.
How to watch it: Blue Planet II is coming soon to BBC America.
Louis Theroux: Dark States
Three documentaries made by esteemed British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux (a cousin of The Leftovers star Justin Theroux) recently launched on the BBC, each one a dark and powerful look at a different crisis the U.S. is currently facing. Heroin Town explores the widespread dependency on opiates that has resulted from an overdependence on prescription painkillers; Murder In Milwaukee focuses on spiraling gun crime and homicide rates in the midwestern city; and Trafficking Sex is a look at human trafficking in Houston.
How to watch it: Much of Louis Theroux’s back catalog is available on Netflix, and it’s likely that Dark States will eventually air on BBC America.
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And given that on New Year's holidays, the mother planned to go to rest with Igor for a couple of days, it was possible to establish communication. In general, after my 19th birthday, after my mother left, I invited a nerd to visit. Unencumbered, we played play-stool, ate chips and other nonsense, considering that he was still in school, it was only me who drank beer.
Then we went to visit him, then we walked. In general, communication could be considered productive.