The Top British Telly Americans Can Stream Right Now

Still: Netflix
Still: Netflix

Talk to any British expat in the US and ask them what they miss most from home, and it’s likely to be one of three things: free healthcare, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, and British TV. Specifically, Brits like me miss iPlayer, the BBC’s free service that allows you to stream BBC TV shows—if you’re in the UK. If you’re not, you can only access radio programs, which is great if you miss Radio 4 but not if you want to stay caught up on Doctor Who or The Great British Bake Off. Instead, expats have to resort to illegal streaming sites or VPNs to access many of their favorite shows.

Which is why, when I heard about BritBox, a British TV streaming service designed for Americans, I sat up straighter in my big American pants. Was it true? Would I finally be able to get iPlayer in the US?

Not quite. BritBox, a $6.99-a-month service from the BBC and ITV that launched today, isn’t exactly iPlayer for Americans. It’s more like Netflix, but only for British stuff and shows that are available “as soon as 24-hours after UK broadcast,” according to the BBC’s press release. Unfortunately, however, right now, it’s focused on archives of older shows, like Miss Marple, Blackadder, and The Office.

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But luckily, BritBox isn’t the only destination for English television. In fact, there are plenty of great shows to be found on other streaming platforms, like Netflix and Hulu. So allow me, Gizmodo’s resident tea-swilling, meat pie-loving Brit, to recommend some of the most brilliant British telly available now on popular streaming services. If that’s quite alright.


The Great British Bake Off

I resisted The Great British Bake Off (known in America as The Great British Baking Show, which, ugh) for a long time because things that are popular and loved by well-adjusted people tend to alienate me. But last year, in search of something comforting during the darkest point of election season, I finally gave in, and I have never looked back. The pacing of the challenges is enough to keep you hooked but slow enough to be relaxing, the contestants are uniformly sweet and likable, and hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins are thoroughly adorable. (Plus, judge Paul Hollywood looks like a cross between Alec Baldwin and Guy Fieri.) Only three of the seasons are available right now, but they’re cracking good ones. (Netflix)

Still: Netflix
Still: Netflix

Father Ted

Father Ted doesn’t quite have the American penetration of The Office or Peep Show, but it’s just as good. The show is about three priests, living on an isolated island off the coast of Ireland, and, like all the best British comedies, is largely about how awful and stupid their main characters are. Ted is obsessed with getting away from Craggy Island, preferably via fame and fortune; Father Dougal is too stupid to tell whether a cow is small, or merely far away; Father Jack is a disgusting drunk. It only feels a little dated, and unlike so many sitcoms, the quality remains consistent right to the end. (Hulu)


The Thick of It

A darker but funnier predecessor to HBO’s Veep, The Thick of It is another of Armando Iannucci’s brilliant contributions to our otherwise garbage world (along with I’m Alan Partridge and The Day Today). The show follows a fictional low-ranking government department and its venal, hapless staff, who spend most of the day trying not to fuck up and throwing biting insults at each other. It’s worth watching just for the Machiavellian Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi, but every episode in its short run is wonderful. Don’t miss the outtakes when you’re done, too. (Hulu)


The Office

You probably already know that the original version is good, but it is. It’s very good. Watch it, or I’ll put your stapler in a jelly. (Netflix)


Peep Show

Another obvious-but-entirely-necessary pick, Peep Show is required viewing for those with a strong enough stomach to handle joining Mark and Jez in the most awkward, claustrophobic situations. The penultimate season dips a bit in quality, but it’s worth watching all nine. Once you’ve watched the whole run, watch the appalling pilot of the American version to understand why some things should not be transported across the Atlantic. (Hulu)

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Still: Hulu
Still: Hulu

Green Wing

One of the most original and quirky comedies out there, Green Wing, which first aired in 2004, is entirely unique and extremely funny. It’s set in a hospital but it’s more about surreal situations and a top-shelf love story than medicine. (Netflix, Hulu)


Blackadder

Possibly the all-time best British sitcom, there are only 24 episodes of the historical sitcom Blackadder (though you shouldn’t bother with the first season), but each is a classic. It aired in the ‘80s and features young versions of legends like Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, and Stephen Fry. The last season, set in the First World War, is legendary in the UK for its devastating final scene. Start with Season 2, set in Elizabethan England, and try not to watch all of it in one night. (Hulu)

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Still: Hulu
Still: Hulu

Fleabag

This recommendation comes straight from my British and actually-still-in-Britain mother, so it’s very authoritative. A little like Peep Show but with a female lead, Fleabag is extremely funny but only kind of a comedy—it’s also heartbreaking and bitingly honest. (Amazon Prime)


QI

One thing Britain does well that America barely does at all is the panel show, which boils down to getting several funny people together to sit around and make jokes. Possibly the best example of this genre is QI, which stands for Quite Interesting, where quizmaster Stephen Fry—who has sadly left the show—asks questions that are designed to elicit interesting conversation. Points are awarded for being interesting as well as correct. It’s kind of pretentious, extremely British, and very good to fall asleep to. There are only three seasons out of a total of 14, unfortunately, but it’s enough for Stephen to soothe you to sleep for a good while. (Hulu)

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com

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DISCUSSION

The Thick of It was one of my favorite British shows ever. i always recommend it to people. For those who don’t use Hulu, i recommend “In the Loop” on Netflix as a good way to get into the feel of the show and it’s type of dark/off beat comedy (Gandolfini figuring out troop casualties on a princess calculator in a girls bedroom) see it’s worth it for them to go watch the real series on Hulu. (lots of the same actors but few, except Capaldi, playing the same characters). Speaking of Capaldi, his facial expressions made him born to play that role.

Missing from this list though are 2 BIG omissions. Doctor Who (referenced in the beginning but not listed) and Top Gear. Love them or hate them, these are 2 of the Biggest Shows Britain has ever given the world. Rebooted Doctor Who Seasons 1-9 are on Amazon Prime, as well as Top Gear 2002 reboot (the only one so far that matters) seasons 2-17 and 18-22 on Netflix.

In addition, i watch many British panel shows “illegally” on Youtube. I would watch them on a pay service if Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or Full Screen picked them up (all of which i actually subscribe to). Among my favorites are The Great Big Quiz of the Year (and its few specials), Would I Lie to You, 8 out of 10 Cats, 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown (even better) and Room 101. You can also find older episodes of QI which after watching the recent ones mentioned above, you will want to see more of.

Outside of those here are some other great British shows/mini series to check out:

Amazon - Torchwood (also on Netflix), Downton Abby and Mr Selfridge (Both shown on PBS but made by iTV and defiantly British),

Hulu - MI5 (makes my top 10 list, think 24 but more drama and suspense and a little less action but still enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. More realistic feeling overall and some great stories), Rev, The F Word, Jame’s May Toy Stories, A bit of Fry & Laurie, and Lark Rise to Candleford.

Netflix - Sherlock, Black Mirror, An Idiot Abroad, Great British Castles, Luther, Broadchurch, Foyles War, Joanathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, To the Ends of the Earth, Long Shadow, Call the Midwife, Ripper Street, Casanova and once you have been watching all of them, end with Very British Problems - since now you will be able to understand most of them....

Overall Britain has some really great TV for such a small market vs the US. As more and more america’s embrace this often smarter, wittier and less over dramatized TV style, hopefully more of these gems will not just be made available to US residents but also more will be produced. One thing UK TV lacks is shows with long running seasons. Whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable, the only thing i know is I want more! Why? Because most US TV is awful today, the same stuff catering to the same people often times aiming for the lowest common level in order to appeal to the masses. Want to see just how bad american TV can be? Go watch “kitchen nightmares” on both the UK and US versions. You will notice real quick how shallow and over acted it is. This is just a bad reality show yet the differences are astounding. The UK version is much more watchable because it’s not trying to pump up drama and cliffhangers every 3 minutes. Instead focuses more on what the show is supposed to be about, helping people who are struggling in real life, and not the high school level peep show fox turned it into. In the end, all i can say is start wanting more British TV, it’s just on a higher level than so much of the crap we are offered daily...