American TV junkies are no strangers to British actors on mainstream shows. From Damian Lewis, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of marine sergeant Nicholas Brody on Homeland, to Hugh Laurie, who starred as a pill-popping diagnostician on eight seasons of House, Britain’s top talent has scooped up some of the best TV acting roles across the pond.
What American viewers may be less familiar with, however, is watching great British actors in great British TV shows. While certain U.K.-grown series, such as Ricky Gervais’ seminal The Office and Idris Elba’s Luther, have made waves in the U.S., other British masterpieces have maintained a lower profile overseas.
Here are some of the best British TV shows, from reality shows to comedies, dramas to documentaries, including a mix of well-known favorites and under-the-radar series.
Best British comedies
This cult British sitcom, about the lives of two dysfunctional friends who share a dingy flat in the outskirts of London, won multiple awards during its run from 2003 to 2015. The series is shot in an unconventional style that reflects the first-person perspectives of main characters Jeremy a.k.a. ‘Jez’ (Robert Webb) and Mark (David Mitchell), as they blunder through life, falling in and out of love — and in and out of each other’s favor. Olivia Colman, the Murder on the Orient Express star who is set to take on the role of Queen Elizabeth in season three of Netflix’s The Crown, makes recurring appearances as Mark’s dreadful on-and-off girlfriend Sophie.
How to watch it: Season one of Peep Show is available on Hulu.
Gavin & Stacey
Before James Corden was hosting the Late Late Show and singing karaoke with celebrities in cars, he was the tracksuit-wearing painter and builder Smithy in Gavin & Stacey, which ran in the U.K. from 2007 to 2010. The show follows the long-distance relationship and then marriage of Essex-based Gavin (Matthew Horne) and Wales-based Stacey (Love Actually’s Joanna Page), but it’s really their respective best mates, Smithy (Corden) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) who steal the show with their initial hatred of and (spoiler alert) eventual deep feelings for one another.
How to watch it: Gavin & Stacey is available to watch on Hulu.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching the incredibly bland U.S. remake of The Inbetweeners, don’t let it keep you from off delving into the U.K.’s original version. Among the best British comedy TV shows, the three-season sitcom about four rather uncool male friends is a spot-on and hilarious depiction of life as a middle-class, suburban British teen with no bigger worries than navigating exams, relationships and irritating parents. If you enjoy the series, it’s worth checking out the spin-off movies too: The Inbetweeners Movie, which follows the group on a not-so-classy year-end celebration to Greece, and The Inbetweeners 2, which involves the gang on a gap year holiday in Australia.
How to watch it: The Inbetweeners is available to watch on Netflix.
Ricky Gervais is best known in the U.S. for The Office, his mockumentary-style series about life in a mundane British workplace, which made Hollywood stars out of Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook and was adapted into a successful U.S. version starring Steve Carell. But the comedian’s second series, the mid-2000’s Extras — one of several great British shows on Netflix — deserves recognition across the pond too. Extras, which stars Gervais and Ugly Betty’s Ashley Jensen, follows the lives of movie extra Andy Millman as he attempts to make it as a “real” actor. Multiple household names, including Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, Daniel Radcliffe and Samuel L. Jackson, make appearances, and the 2007 Christmas Special is an example of British TV at its very best: funny, intelligent and heartbreaking.
How to watch it: Extras is available to watch on Netflix.
Fleabag, written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge (one of TIME’s list of Next Generation Leaders), is a dark comedy of the very darkest variety. The story is centered around the life of a middle-class, self-absorbed Londoner attempting to run her own guinea-pig themed cafe and recover from the death of her best friend in a car accident. Not a single character in Fleabag, from her cold, uptight sister to her vile stepmother (played by the brilliant Olivia Colman), is likable — but that only adds to the award-winning show’s charm.
How to watch it: Fleabag is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
Best British dramas
If you’ve never seen an episode of ITV’s crime-drama Broadchurch then you’re in for a real treat. Starring Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Olivia Colman (sensing a pattern here?), one of the top British TV shows follows a mismatched crime-solving duo as they investigate the murder of a young boy in a sleepy British town. The first season in particular will keep you guessing until the end, and at just eight one-hour episodes, it’s the perfect length for a binge watch on a wet winter’s day.
How to watch it: Broadchurch is available to watch on Netflix.
The A Word
Season two of this British show (based on the popular Israeli series Yellow Peppers) recently hit the small screen following the success of the first season, which aired on the BBC in 2016. The series, which stars one-time Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, focuses on a young boy with autism and his family in a small, weatherbeaten town in the U.K.’s Lake District. Praised for its realistic depiction of autism (five-year-old Joe Hughes, wonderfully depicted by Max Vento, is no Rain Man), the series explores the reality of life for children with autism and the various struggles they face at school and at home.
How to watch it: The A Word is available to watch on Sundance TV.
Although Misfits is about a group of juvenile delinquents who obtain special powers after they’re caught in a supernatural thunderstorm, to call it a sci-fi series would be to miss its most compelling elements. While the series does focus on the various characters’ individual abilities (one, for example, learns he can turn invisible, while another can read minds), the relationship between the five complex lawbreakers is the most gripping aspect of the program, which won Best Drama Series at the 2010 BAFTA TV awards.
How to watch it: Misfits is available to watch on Hulu.
This Emmy-winning series is a contemporary reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. Sherlock stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the iconic detective and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson. While Sherlock Holmes traditionalists may shy away from the show’s take on such an iconic character, this modern retelling is fun, energetic and packed with brilliant performances — particularly from Cumberbatch, who inhabits the character like he was born to play him.
Line of Duty
There are four seasons of this fast-paced BBC police anti-corruption drama, and while each works on its own, it’s advisable to watch them in order. Season one, arguably the best of the four, focuses on the fall from grace of Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (portrayed by Lennie James), whose life begins to unravel shortly after he wins the prestigious Officer of the Year award. The hit show is one of the BBC’s most watched in a decade and it’s not hard to see why: Line of Duty is thrilling, addictive and full of surprises.
How to watch it: Line of Duty is available to watch on Hulu.
Best British reality shows
Made in Chelsea
Made in Chelsea is low-brow TV at its finest. If you’re a fan of shows like Real Housewives, then this take on ‘structured reality’ will be right up your alley. Set in the affluent area of Chelsea, west London, the show follows a group of intimidatingly posh 20-somethings as they brunch, party, date and argue passionately (spoiler alert: there’s a LOT of drink-throwing and avocado toast). The BAFTA-award winning show is now in its 14th season and shows no signs of slowing down. (Reality TV junkies may spot a familiar face making an appearance in season six onwards: The Hill’s Stephanie Pratt, doing what she does best, U.K.-style.)
How to watch it: Made in Chelsea is available to watch on iTunes.
First Dates is exactly what its title advertises: men and women meet at a French restaurant in the heart of central London for a blind date and either hit it off or make a swift exit. The producers attempt to match individuals with someone who will be well suited to them, but of course the dates do not always play out as expected. The show, which will break your heart and moments which will make you cringe in equal measure, culminates with an interview with the couple about whether they’d like to see each other again — while sitting side by side. Not awkward at all.
How to watch it: An American version of First Dates is on NBC, while the British show can only be seen by perusing YouTube clips.
What some Americans might not know is that Britain excels at producing weird reality TV series. Gogglebox is a great example of this: the whole show is centred around real British families sitting down and watching real television programs together. The premise may sounds slightly on the dull side but in actual fact Gogglebox is reality TV at its very best. Whether they are debating Brexit after watching the 10 o’clock news or enjoying the finale of Britain’s version of Dancing With the Stars, the electric group of characters featured on the show, from posh couple Steph and Dom to bickering best pals Sandra and Sandi, are guaranteed to make you laugh.
How to watch it: Gogglebox is tricky to watch in the U.S., but curious viewers might find clips on YouTube.
The Great British Bake Off
Better known in the States as The Great British Baking Show, The Great British Bake Off is competitive cooking at its very best. The good-humored reality TV show features 12 contestants competing in a series of technically-complicated cooking challenges, with one baker heading home each week. Fans of the PBS spin-off are advised to check out the original Bake Off, with its infamous white tent, cute cutaway shots of lambs, tears, cake-based controversies and the most lovable contestants imaginable (shout-out to Val).
How to watch it: The Great British Baking Show is available on Netflix.
Best British documentaries
Blue Planet II
Sixteen years after The Blue Planet hit the small screen, the groundbreaking British nature documentary is back. Like the original series, its foray into the depths of the ocean is narrated by the legendary presenter Sir David Attenborough, who, at 91 years old, is better than ever at getting viewers of all ages excited about wildlife. This series, which has received rave reviews, features an octopus using shells to make a suit of armor, fish that change their sex and a cuttlefish hypnotizing its prey. The show has also helped spark debate about the catastrophic impact of plastic waste on the world’s oceans.
How to watch it: Blue Planet II is coming soon to BBC America.
Louis Theroux: Dark States
Three documentaries made by esteemed British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux (a cousin of The Leftovers star Justin Theroux) recently launched on the BBC, each one a dark and powerful look at a different crisis the U.S. is currently facing. Heroin Town explores the widespread dependency on opiates that has resulted from an overdependence on prescription painkillers; Murder In Milwaukee focuses on spiraling gun crime and homicide rates in the midwestern city; and Trafficking Sex is a look at human trafficking in Houston.
How to watch it: Much of Louis Theroux’s back catalog is available on Netflix, and it’s likely that Dark States will eventually air on BBC America.
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