I want my BBC

Oh, TGWers, it’s that time again, time to leave the frosty midwest and come to the coast for the annual New Year’s Eve gathering. This time around, it was glorious (the censored photographic evidence just goes to prove it!). The downside: lots and lots of time in transit.

Fortunately, it’s easy to stay amused, especially with so many great shows to discover. The Boston-NYC Chinatown bus offers long viewing session opportunities, just right for the six-to-eight hour length of most British series. One trip down and back, and you’re done!

Are English shows really smarter, or do they just sound that way? Sure, the accents are a plus, but the writing rocks, too.

Skins proves a strong exception to the one-or-two-series-and-then-quit rule of a lot of the best British shows, yet the format allows for constant reinvention. It follows a group of friends through their sixth-form college (the two years of schooling that roughly correspond to end of high school in the U.S.). They party a lot, but aren’t precocious in the American sense, where most TV teenagers are played by actors pushing thirty. These are real kids, mostly nonprofessionals, acting the hell out of complex, ensemble-driven plots.

Most seasons consist of eight episodes, and eight kids make up the main group. Each episode is told from a different character’s point of view, so while the story arcs develop across multiple ranges of vision, we also get one deep look (but only one!) at each character per season. This format makes for brilliant, riveting TV; I wish an American series could adapt it in a way that wasn’t stupid and trusted viewers to keep up. (My So-Called Life sort of tried it way back when, with separate eps that featured Brian, Rickie, and Rayanne, but it was always Angela Chase’s world–the rest of them just lived in it.)

I have only gotten through the first two seasons (there are five to date), so it’s time to exchange one group of sixth-formers for another. But this show really got to me; I am not ready to move on quite yet. It’s that good.

One sort-of guilty pleasure is an action series called Strike Back, about John Porter, a disgraced soldier who signs on with a black-ops division of MI6 to try and redeem himself. Mission after ethically-dubious mission, he strives to do the right thing, even when it conflicts with his creepy boss’s orders. Two things save this show from its own formula: first, each mission gets spread across two hours, which allows it to be fully developed and granted feature-worthy production values, including exotic locations that give the stories verisimilitude. (British audiences don’t seem as terrified of subtitles as American viewers, thank goodness.)

The second thing that makes Strike Back so fun to watch is the presence of Jodhi May as Porter’s liaison in the field. Trust me on this one, guys. May is one of the finest actors working today, and she doesn’t choose bad projects. She won the Best Actress award at Cannes when she was twelve. She is endlessly versatile–films, TV, stage, costumes, accents, you name it. She could be our generation’s Meryl Streep, she’s so good. (Oh, did I mention that she has a literature degree from Oxford? Just sayin’.)

I saved the best (and most embarrassing) one for last: Lip Service. If you can set aside the strange concept (an L Word-type show set in Glasgow) and the god-awful name (seriously, is that the best they could come up with for a lesbian drama?), you will be pleasantly surprised. The show is sexy, incredibly funny, affecting, and wonderfully cast, especially with the luminous Laura Fraser in the central role. Fraser’s Cat Mackenzie has just gotten over her bad-girl ex (Frankie) and started getting serious with a responsible detective sergeant (Sam) when Frankie reenters her life. Which one will Cat choose?

Without giving anything away, I can tell you that I am firmly on the side of

Six hours of charming Scottish accents, ace storytelling, and great love scenes (did I mention the accents?) later, you’re ready for Series 2, coming in Spring 2012. I should get around to watching it this time next year, probably on the Chinatown bus back from New York.

2 responses to “I want my BBC”

  1. AWB says:

    I’ve been watching Misfits (obnoxious but clever sci-fi) and just caught up with Downton Abbey (marginally less guilty of a pleasure?). What is in the water over there these days? Soon all American TV will be 300 channels of semi-scripted reality shows about picking, pawning, and storage auctions.

  2. PB says:

    OK true confessions. My favorite TV show (true, true confessions, my only TV show) is BBC’s Merlin. A sort of Smallville meets King Arthur for the 6:30 on Saturday kid set. LOVE. I know I have probably confessed this before but I must concur with Rachel. Plus, to AWB’s point, when all on American TV is crazy rich women yelling at each other, give me Dr. Who and a dragon and a bunch of cute accents ANY day.