PBS Masterpiece’s 'All Creatures Great and Small' Proves Uplifting Programming Is Not Dead


These days, right? 

Like pretty much everyone I know, I am struggling with a COVID-era hangover that shows no signs whatsoever of subsiding. My interpersonal skills? Stunted. Faith in my fellow man? Toast. Airline Travel? No way in hell. And the way people are behaving behind the wheel nowadays, I feel unsafe just driving down the road to the grocery store. Not that there’s much there, mind you. And of course, there’s the impending World War III thing and all the joy that comes along with it.


So what to do? Well, there’s the ‘curl-up-in-a-ball’ thing, which is handy for a respite, but too much of that can make one way strange(r), way fast. There’s the “go-to-the-bar-at-breakfast-time” thing, which I tried and which nearly resulted in irreversible disaster. Resist that one. I could cite other unhealthy options, but you get the point.

On the other side of the coin, there’s what I’ll call the “relentlessly-immerse-yourself-in-pleasing-things-thing,” which for me, at least, has proven to be very helpful. Just make the decision to take time every day to expose yourself to things that innately warm your heart, lighten your load, and fuel your imagination. Things that get you out of what seems like paralyzing darkness that surrounds. Set yourself up to be reminded regularly that beauty, calm, and inspiration are all hiding in plain sight.

Believe it or not, such things exist in the realm of television, though you have to know where to look, as approximately 97% of all programming is, as I am sure you will agree, utterly ghastly and even disturbing. Pre-COVID, I had pretty much given up on television altogether, save for my nightly shot of Jeopardy!, which for years was the sole reason I kept a cable subscription and the only thing for which I would actually turn on my television. 


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But all the time indoors got me to explore again. After summoning the courage to wade through the utter how-low-can-you-go crap crowding my dial which previously left me afraid of my dial, I rediscovered old friends like Aerial AmericaAntiques RoadshowBiography…and found comfort in the uplifting and often educational escape they provided from the noise and drama that is our modern day-to-day.

And then there’s The One

A few nights ago I found myself perched on the couch, a bit puzzled to find myself wiping away a tear as the credits rolled on the Season 2 finale and the 14th overall episode of PBS Masterpiece’s newest broadcast adaptation of James Herriot’s famed based-on-true-stories literary work, All Creatures Great and Small. With a deep breath, I remember shaking my head, marveling at how a television show could be so cathartic. Vulture calls the series “Blissful escapism,” the Boston Globe dubs it “Lovely and comforting.”  Similar accolades have poured in throughout the first two seasons. One friend simply referred to the show as “oxygen”—a clever and perfect summation with which I wholeheartedly concur. And this oxygen is available to all on broadcast television. 


The late, great Andre Leon Talley nearly stole the film in the 2009 documentary The September Issue in a scene during NYC Fashion Week where he laments the “bleak streak in America…famine of beauty! The famine of beauty honey! My eyes are starving for beauty!” 

Talley was talking of fashion of course, but the sentiment is easy to arrive at in today’s America. Famine of beauty in all its forms. All Creatures Great and Small brings the beauty in a big way—from the rolling countryside beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and the charm of the village of Grassington, where the series is filmed, to the nimble beauty of Ben Vanstone’s gentle and heartwarming writing to the beauty that is the outstanding casting and acting, which is positively ideal. (I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to point out that I am positively smitten with the elegant and twinkly-eyed Rachel Shenton in her role as farmer’s daughter and Herriot’s love interest Helen Alderson. Yes, this is one of those shows where you can easily crush on the characters, which makes it all the more fun.) In keeping with Herriot’s narratives, people are kind to one another in the series. Animals, which of course are ever-present, are cherished and passionately nurtured. Brotherly love and community spirit abound and an undertone of romance—in sweet, innocent form—is ever-present. One big gigantic respite.


I’ve not made it through one episode in the first two seasons without shedding a tear or several for all things beautiful, good, civil, and wholesome, which seem so far gone. It is television that is good for the soul. Comfort television. Thankfully, Masterpiece’s masterpiece was recently renewed for two more seasons. If you’ve not seen it, seek it out. For uplifting programming is not at all dead. You just gotta know where to find it. 

(Oh! And one more thing. I am absolutely planning a trip to Grassington and The Dales. I just have to see it with my own eyes. Check out the show, and perhaps I’ll see you there.)



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