How Classy Is Your TV Taste?

Sedate and witty, Brit TV dramas go mainstream in the U.S.

Posted Jun 21, 2012

tv remote
What is this world coming to? You can't even be an elitist American lover of British TV anymore. Suddenly some of the good stuff is being carried by super-warehouse Costco.

Used to be I'd get blank looks (or huh?s from some of my Facebook pals) when I'd mention my recent favorite shows, like Garrow's Law, Trial & Retribution, Murphy's Law, and George Gently. While those may not yet be stacked in warehouse aisles between massive packages of underwear and candy, here are some popular titles they do carry (or have carried): Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, Poirot and Foyle's War. (The latter is brilliant, by the way, even if you don't go catatonic with delight at Michael Kitchen starring in anything.)

So what's going on with popular taste? It appears to be broadening to include what used to be mainly of interest to Anglophiles. But it's also probably that American commercial television has dumbed down so much, has gotten so full of so-called reality and competition-type shows that those craving crisp scripted drama, and the appearance of real history or real detecting have decided to look to other countries.

And with so many channels, and TiVo, and Netflix, those "other" choices are more available. (To be sure, dopey shows come from Great Britain too, and some Americans adore them, even those with laugh tracks and wit consisting solely of put-downs and embarrassing overacting.)


You may not yet find the following at your local big store (check out Acorn Media for these and many more):

Monroe. Series 1 is just out on DVD, with another series commissioned. I wasn't a House watcher, but James Nesbitt (Murphy's Law) plays a darkly witty and acerbic brain surgeon. The personal lives of the docs and their patients are part of the drama. Despite a couple of odd cinematic choices (some trivial aspect of each change of scene is zeroed in on rather needlessly), it's an engaging, and even educational, series. You'll probably get used to the accents. The first 2-Disc set contains 6 episodes (274 minutes).

George Gently. Martin Shaw plays serious and careful detective Gently in 1960s rural Britain, with his younger easy-going sidekick John Bacchus acted playfully by Lee Ingleby. Series 4 of these full-length mysteries is just out in DVD (July 2012).

Garrow's Law. You won't only watch for the costumes, but for what seems like real history about early court systems (in this case, 18th century England), which had little respect for prisoners' or workers' rights, or women's rights, for that matter. Barrister William Garrow is poor, principled, and appealing. The tentativeness and persistence with which he pursues his love interest is the stuff of many romances of far less quality. Series 3 out in August.


Here are two additional DVD sets of particular interest to those who enjoy reading, writing, and thinking about big ideas:

In Their Own Words. Great thinkers and novelists in their own words, featuring archival BBC interviews and recordings of Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, and much more. Boxed set of 6 episodes.

Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas – Writers. Debuting on DVD last year, this 16-episode (and lots of bonuses) 4-volume boxed set features interviews with such diverse and celebrated writers as Toni Morrison, Derek Wolcott, Tom Wolfe, Isaac Asimov, Carlos Fuentes, and many more.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Susan K. Perry