Downton Abbey has just reached US shores with its third and latest series and Doctor Who still remains one of the most popular British dramas to this day. Both series have thrown the stereotypes of boring British drama out spectacularly, but not everyone may appreciate the grandeur of the Crawley lifestyle, while others would affect Maggie Smith’s disapproving glare on the wacky science-fiction of Doctor Who.
So, apart from Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, what else has Britain to offer in terms of good TV? The following are some alternatives based on viewership tastes:
For the people who can’t get enough of Downton Abbey:
The latest version of Upstairs Downstairs starring Ed Stoppard and Keeley Hawes was Downton’s major competitor when it debuted. It was a major drama series in the 1970s and also when it was first remade. Many expected great things from the new writers and a strong new cast featuring Alex Kingston and Dame Eileen Atkins. However, despite the lavish London apartment setting, poor scripting produced characters which were hard to root for. But if you still can’t get enough of Downton, go ahead and enjoy another rich load of ostentatious escapism in Upstairs Downstairs.
For those who enjoy the idea of Time Travel and Crime together:
Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes
Time travel has been a wasted idea ever since we had Fringe and its like. However, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes are brilliant in conceptualizing time travel. Life on Mars involves a 21st century police detective, Sam Tyler (John Simm), who gets in a car accident but wakes up to find himself in the dark world of 1970s Manchester with a chauvinistic boss, Gene Hunt (played excellently by Philip Glenister). Mayhem ensues as both detectives clash over policing methods and cultural differences. If this plot sounds similar to the US series featuring Jason O’Mara, the Americans copied the Brits — and failed.
If you don’t like the mundane world of the 1970s, or you still can’t get enough of Gene Hunt, the LOM sequel Ashes to Ashes is a must-watch: the mystery surrounding the entire time travel premise will be revealed in this series. We once again see a feminist detective Alex Drake (Keeley Hawes) shot in the 21st century and somehow transported to the colourful and seedy world of 1980s London. Apart from the very funny cultural clash between two time-crossed detectives, the plot lines are incredible, giving viewers a unique glimpse into the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher. The music choices of the producers are fascinating, and I still have a playlist of all the songs played in both dramas.
Both shows gained a huge fan following and are a ratings and cultural hit in the UK when it was broadcast. Gene Hunt is now a household character, with his catchphrase, “Fire up the Quattro” being misappropriated by British Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and David Cameron during the 2010 General Election.
For those who prefer Scandinavian Crime:
Wallander is an award-winning drama starring Sir Kenneth Branagh as the depressed and alcoholic Swedish detective Kurt Wallander with Tom Hiddleston as one of his sidekicks in the first few series. Based on the popular Henning Mankell novels, Wallander displays the beauty of the Swedish landscapes, juxtaposed against the horrific crimes that Wallander investigates. Shakespearean giant, Kenneth Branagh, is excellent in this role, winning Best Actor acclaim at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) in 2010.
For those who really like Spy Dramas:
Move over James Bond, Spooks is possibly one of the best espionage dramas that Britain or even the world has ever produced. These spies from Military Intelligence 5 face life-threatening challenges every day, and there are no shaken martinis, and no megalomaniac villains wanting to destroy the world. The drama showcases a wide range of political and international intrigues affecting the UK and crisis situations abound, ranging from terrorist plots to enemy moles subverting the espionage group itself. One trademark of this show is that main characters can be killed off in any episode (similar to The Walking Dead) making for unpredictable and emotional plotlines.
This award-winning drama is known for its realistic portrayal of anti-terrorist activities in the UK, and is considered one of the greatest hits propelling stars like Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Richard Armitage into stardom throughout its 9 years on the BBC.
For those who love Mad Men:
Yes, we have men in smart suits; slick hairstyles; and retro vibes of the 50s and 60s, but comparisons between Mad Men and The Hour which has just finished its second season are quite unfair. The premises are different: the former is about public relations in the US and the latter about journalism in the UK. The Hour has a good cast in Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai and Dominic West, who portray somewhat idealistic journalists trying to make good news programming in a world of political corruption (which is ironic after the Jimmy Savile scandal). The Hour was compelling viewing in the first series but by the second, the quality and the ratings dropped. Despite the strong performances of veterans Peter Capaldi and Anne Chancellor in the second series, judging from the ratings it is unlikely to have the longevity of Mad Men.
For those who like Crime and Cheating without police interference:
Hustle is the British version of White Collar or Catch me If You Can minus law enforcement. It is about a team of con-artists who engage in highly intelligent and sometimes dangerous operations to cheat others of their money. The good thing about Hustle is that the hustlers are crooks that you would stand up for. They have character flaws and you sympathize with them, while feeling that their victims deserve to be ripped-off big time. You would also applaud their outlandish and incredible plans for relieving millionaires and drug barons of their ill-gotten gains. It is a classic example of teamwork at its finest.
To end off this entire series of recommendations:
For those who are history buffs or they really want one of the BEST British Dramas of All time…
AND those who are Daniel Craig or Christopher Eccleston fans:
Our Friends In The North
Our Friends In The North is one of Britain’s most critically-acclaimed dramas of all time, and one of the most successful UK dramas in the 1990s. Starring Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), Daniel Craig (James Bond!!), Gina Mckee and Mark Strong, this drama traces the lives of four friends in Newcastle over 31 years from the 1960s to the 1990s. This is a BAFTA-winning epic historical drama that is a must-see for history buffs and for Daniel Craig fans, nothing beats seeing him NOT as a James Bond, but as a cocky and later mentally deranged Northerner. It is one of the most excellent dramas that this reviewer has ever watched. It’s so good that I believe I would probably review this in another long and separate article (ed: promises, promises!).
If any readers have reservations about or suggestions to include in this list, please feel free to share your comments with us below!