Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ten of a Kind: Great British Television Shows

This week's Ten of a Kind focuses on British television shows that I have enjoyed watching! And so, in no particular order... here they are -- with a video clip (if I could find one) -- after the jump!

1. Monty Python's Flying Circus
This very well could be my favorite British television program of all time, and I'm sure that most of you reading this don't find that surprising. Why do I love it? Because not only is it hilarious, it showed many people just what kind of things you could really do on television... it broke the mold! For the clip, here's Musical Mice:


2. Fawlty Towers
Ah, John Cleese's sitcom, which he did after TV production of Python ended. Why do I love this show? Probably any of us who find ourselves frustrated at our inability to deal with people not behaving to our expectations can relate to Basil Fawlty. Obviously, Basil wants Fawlty Towers to be an excellent hotel, but unfortunately he hasn't a clue how to manage that, and nobody that works for or with him seems to share his perspective. Actually, Basil probably is his own worst enemy, as you can see from this clip:

American versions of Fawlty Towers have been attempted twice, with no success.

3. The Prisoner
The first non-comedy entry on this list is this cult classic from Patrick McGoohan. Full of symbolism, nothing is as you would expect it to be. The opening sequence of each episode is eminently quotable... "That would be telling." "I am not a number, I am a free man!" Remade (very badly) a year or so back, and completely missing the point... thank goodness the original show is still available to watch, with its struggle of the individualist against the group mind! Here's the iconic opening:


4. Red Dwarf
This show has been a favorite of mine since I first saw a marathon of it back in the 90s. A sci-fi sitcom, the program ended up making changes almost every season. In the first season, it was just the adventures of David Lister (the last human being alive), Arnold Rimmer (a hologram of Lister's dead bunkmate), Holly (the ship's self-aware computer, a bit dotty), and the Cat (the evolved humanoid cat whose ancestor was Lister's cat Frankenstein) on the Jupiter Mining Ship Red Dwarf as they made their way back to Earth. Lister was the sole human survivor of a radiation leak thanks to being in stasis, being kept there until the radiation levels were safe again. As the show progressed, Kryten the android was added to the cast, and other characters would recur here and there. The final season (at least, so far) was kind of a letdown, but the series as a whole is still definitely watchable! Here's a clip from the first episode, in which Lister discovers what's happened to the ship. Sorry you'll have to wait through the commercial before watching:

Before you ask, no, I've not seen the American Red Dwarf pilot.

5. The Avengers
The US had The Man From Uncle and I Spy; the UK had The Avengers and Danger Man (see below). Fortunately for us, both of the UK shows had releases on American TV. The Avengers was really unlike any other spy show made... there was a lot of character humor in each episode, and was probably the most stylish of any other spy show around. Patrick McNee starred as John Steed, paired up with Honor Blackman (Cathy Gale), Diana Rigg (Emma Peel), and Linda Thorson (Tara King), depending on what season it was. The first several seasons were filmed in black and white, with color coming in partway through the Diana Rigg seasons. It was with the Diana Rigg episodes that the US was first introduced to The Avengers. I'd imagine that for most Avengers fans, their favorite partner for Steed depended on which season they first started watching. Definitely Diana Rigg was most fans' favorite co-star, but I liked Linda Thorson, too. And let's not even think about the awful Avengers movie that was made about 10 years ago, shall we? Here's the first part of the episode "The Town of No Return":


6. Blackadder
Black Adder is a very unusual situation comedy, in that each season, the characters are more or less the same, except that it's in different historical time periods. Well, two of the characters are the same... Blackadder and Baldrick. The remaining characters tended to vary from season to season, although with several actors usually lasting through two seasons. Hugh Laurie (House) was in several seasons himself, and when I started watching House, I did not realize it was the same actor! Here's a classic clip from the third series (the first in which Hugh Laurie was a regular, although he'd appeared in a previous season's episode), in which Blackadder takes advantage of a superstition that two actors have:


7. Danger Man
Before "The Prisoner," there was Danger Man (known in the US as Secret Agent). Patrick McGoohan played John Drake, and thanks to some clues spotted in "The Prisoner," many fans believe that Number Six was John Drake, or was supposed to be. For many people, this series is best known for its iconic theme song, "Secret Agent Man," by Johnny Rivers. Here's a clip from one of the episodes:


8. Are You Being Served?
Probably the most traditional of the British sitcoms that I like to watch, "Are You Being Served" gets shown a lot on PBS. This show takes place in a department store, with the main characters being the salespeople. I think it's hilarious... and after watching the clip below, I think you will, too:


9. At Last, the 1948 Show
Nearly all of the Pythons were on this program, which many feel is a direct precursor to Monty Python. The title has nothing to do with the show, naturally! Here's a clip that shows you the Pythonic roots evident:


10. Coupling
I had to do a bit of thinking and rethinking before deciding what show to put on the tenth position of this list. I'm sure that most of you figured Doctor Who would be here somewhere, and perhaps I would've picked it if I'd been writing this on a different day. There's also "The Thin Blue Line," "Doctor in the House," and several other shows I could've considered... perhaps if I do a second Ten of a Kind, I'd pick some of them! Anyway, "Coupling" is kind of a British version of "Friends," except that it's more about romantic relationships than Friends was (most of the time, anyway). NBC tried to do an American version of this show some time ago, and failed miserably. Below is a clip from one of the episodes that I find very funny!

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