I’ll admit that I’ve been fascinated by British culture for a long time. I’ve loved The Beatles as long as I can remember, and I’ll argue any day that much of the best music ever made has come from the UK. When other kids wanted to be superheroes, I wanted to be James Bond. But for too many years I thought British television consisted of stuffy period pieces about old people with old money. That’s what Masterpiece Theatre taught me until I discovered BBC America.
I first watched BBC America a few years back when they premiered Gordon Ramsay’s excellent food series The F-Word. I also discovered Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares long before the U.S. version premiered. As I watched those programs, I saw promos for other BBC America shows, and I began to explore. Soon I was hooked and now BBC America is one of my regular TV destinations.
And here are the five reasons why I love to watch BBC America on “the telly.”
5. Terrific Personalities
BBC America’s slogan boasts “The Best Names In British Television,” and I’ve been pleased to get to know many of them through their shows. There are plenty of amazing actors and actresses playing compelling characters on the network’s series.
– is a prime example of the great talents that BBC America has to offer. I’ve fallen in love with Romola Garai, who stars as the good natured yet determined news producer Bel Rowley. I appreciate Dominic West’s honest performance as news host Hector Madden, and I feel every bit of the nervousness in Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of reporter Freddie Lyon.
I’m also head over heels for Law & Order: UK’s Freema Agyeman, who plays Crown Prosecutor Alesha Philips, and Bradley Walsh is as good as the late Jerry Orbach at portraying the grizzled, jaded veteran detective on that show. The guys from Top Gear — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May — are fun and informative, and they’re more entertaining than the hosts of the U.S. version. And then there’s Gordon Ramsay. I truly think that even viewers who are turned off by his loud antics on Hell’s Kitchen would be impressed by his passion for cooking and great cuisine on The F-Word.
4. A Really Cool Website
I’m aware that it may be a bit strange to go on about a network’s website as part of the reason why I like to watch them, but let me explain. The more I watch BBC America, the more I’m driven to their website, which in turns makes me want to watch BBC America even more.
BBC America’s website is a comprehensive, well done source of information. In addition to the UK news and British celebrity gossip, the site has extensive pages devoted to each BBC America show, along with pages about shows that are no longer on the network and previews of coming attractions. Each page contains episode summaries, video clips, and information about the series’ characters and the actors and actresses who play them. Some of the pages even offer handy explanations of UK slang.
What really sets BBCAmerica.com apart are the blogs, which are must-reads for Anglophiles like me. The bloggers share tons of tidbits about British culture, and they often good-naturedly “out” celebrities that most people didn’t know were British. The blogs feature list posts (so near and dear to my heart) about British culture and its differences from and similarities to American culture. I’ve had fun learning about the UK from the BBC America website.
Next: Do TV seasons really need to be 22 episodes? Why not six?
3. Shorter Seasons
Let’s face it, series runs of American television shows can seem unbearably long. Twenty-two episodes (or more) can be
quite a commitment. As big a fan of 24 as I am, there were plenty of times when, in the middle of the season, I’d find myself saying, “Wait — what started this crisis?”
On the other hand, British series generally run six episodes a season. This phenomenon can be attributed to the smaller creative teams working on programs in the UK, as well as the longer length of shows, since British television series are not sponsored.
For the viewer, a short series run means that most episodes are packed with more drama, comedy, or action in a smaller span, or what one writer calls “satisfyingly concentrated quality.” The Hour can wrap up its espionage plot and love triangle in half a dozen episodes, while a comedy like Friday Night Dinner can guard against wearing its premise thin thanks to a shorter season.
A six episode season also eliminates some of the problems that many American series have: midseason periods that drag and become less interesting, high concept premises that stretch too much over 22 episodes, and bloated budgets that include high salaries.
When they’re done right, six episode seasons can be satisfying, yet at the same time leave the viewers wanting more. BBC America proves this with the best of their programs.
2. A Sampling Of The Best In British Entertainment In One Place
Imagine the top series, the brightest talent, the most intriguing miniseries all on one network. For me, such a channel would broadcast Friday Night Lights, 24, Seinfeld, Lost, and other series like them, along with classic Disney pictures, Alfred Hitchcock films, and James Bond movies (minus the Timothy Dalton ones). I’m sure you have you favorites you’d handpick too. In a lot of ways, BBC America is like that.
BBC America handpicks the best programming from Britain’s top networks — the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, and others — along with a couple of American gems thrown in. A few of the shows have American versions, such as Top Gear and Free Agents, while other programs like Doctor Who have had rabid cult followings for years.
The network offers programming blocks that cater to just about every taste. Wednesday night’s Dramaville block, hosted by Idris Elba, runs hour-long dramatic series. The Hour has already finished its run, and Elba’s own Luther is currently showing in that time slot. (State Of Play is coming in December! Woohoo!) A late Saturday night block called Ministry Of Laughs offers British stand up acts and comedy series like Friday Night Dinner and Outnumbered. Another block, Supernatural Saturday, delivers shows like Doctor Who, Being Human, and Bedlam.
Outside these blocks, of course, are other great shows like Law & Order: UK and the documentary series BBC America Reveals. The BBC even offers a nightly newscast on BBC America. Needless to say, the network offers something for just about everyone if you’re willing to look for it.
Finally: How is British culture different than America?
1. Different Culture, Same Language
I love to learn about different cultures, but I don’t know any other languages well enough to study cultures in their native
tongues, and I’m too lazy to follow subtitles. So BBC America gives me the best of both worlds — a unique cultural experience in the English language I understand.
BBC America provides a fascinating glimpse into modern British culture, along with some of the more recent history of the nation. Law & Order: UK has taught me a little bit about the British criminal justice system — how it’s both different and similar to our system in the U.S. (I think American lawyers would be less happy to sue if they had to wear those ridiculous wigs). I’ve also learned about the seedier side of London from Law & Order: UK, as well as some of the sad, harrowing consequences of the benefit culture that is ever more pervasive in the UK than here.
The F-Word has given me insight into the eating habits of the British people — Kebabs! Curries! — not to mention some of the most absolutely disgusting traditional English food. I’ve also learned quite a bit about the slaughtering process of farm animals in Europe thanks to Gordon Ramsay. I’ve marveled at the funky European cars from Top Gear. And I’ve enjoyed British musical artists like Duffy, The Kooks, and Adele perform on BBC America long before they appeared on any American programs.
There’s lots of history and information on BBC America as well. I’ve read up on various historical events in modern British history after hearing references to the events on shows or seeing politicians and prominent English personalities on The F-Word and other series. But I’m most impressed with what I’ve learned on The Hour. I knew precious little about Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal or the 1956 revolt in Hungary until I watched the fictionalized BBC coverage of those events on The Hour. The Hour has also taught me all I need to know about the dangers of government-run media. The exchanges between the news staff and their government liaisons make me even more grateful for our free press.
BBC America provides hours of entertainment every week. Compelling, fascinating, and fun, the shows on BBC America go a long way toward shattering the stereotypes of stuffy prestige programs that will wind up on PBS one day anyway. For me, along with countless others, BBC America has become a go-to destination for entertainment. Do any of PJ Media’s readers have other recommendations for what’s good from across the pond?