Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Love Affair with British Telly

Stop what you're thinking. You read that title and are thinking of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," aren't you? Or perhaps, "Upstairs Downstairs?" "Coronation Street?"

Not that these shows weren't brilliant (although----eek, I admit---I never liked Monty Python! Stop throwing tomatoes at the computer, please. I'm nothing if not honest).
Of course I love "Keeping Up Appearances" (Patricia Routledge's Hyacinth Bucket was nothing short of pee-in-your-pants hilarious). And "Faulty Towers." And one of my absolute fave dramas (with a genre-busting performance by Helen Mirren) is "Prime Suspect."

But let's move forward, shall we? To some of the best series television I've seen. Thanks to my obsession with Netflix, it's been a TV series rental extravaganza around our place. And here are some gems you will not want to miss:

The Royle Family

Thanks to my wonderful friend from London, Jeanne, we were introduced to this sweet, funny, modern take on "All in the Family." Well, not literally All in the Family, but for us Americans, it's an appropriate reference. Meet the Royles, a Manchester clan who cluster around their own telly and share life's ups, downs and sideways. Such subtle beauty takes a lot to achieve. It's a picture perfect cast that becomes so easy to get lost in. Denise's (Caroline Aherne) scratchy little voice is never less than endearing, as she whines to her Mam (Sue Johnston) about this (her soon-to-be husband, Dave (Craig Cash) and that (her brother, Antony's (Ralf Little), slights and insults). At the helm of it all, the bigger-than-life, riotously raw patriarch, Jim (Ricky Tomlinson). I dare you not to fall in love with this family.

The bad news? Only Seasons 1 and 2 are available here in the US, through Netflix.

Just thinking of this brings a big goofy smile to my face. Meet Tim; his housemate Daisy; Marsha, their unique landlady; and Brian, the tortured artist downstairs. Sounds cheesy, doesn't it? It isn't. It's dairy-free. Hilarious and creative, this is Simon Pegg at his best. From Tim and Daisy's adventures, to their deeply suppressed attraction, it's bring-on-the-diapers-because-I-will-pee-in-my-pants funny. Jessica Hynes delivers another comedic masterpiece in this series (we first encountered her in "The Royle Family" and were delighted to see her in this).

The bad news? Only 2 seasons (7 episodes each) were made, from 1999-2001. There are legions of fans, on both sides of the Atlantic, wanting more, more, more.

Let me preface this by saying that I love sci-fi. Time travel? Count me in. Space adventures? Unexplained phenomena? Bring it on. I grew up watching reruns of "Lost in Space" and still love that show (the original 1960s TV series, not the 1998 film).

If you can admit to sharing any of these feelings, you'll probably grow to love "Primeval" as much as I grew to love it. "Grew" as in-----you must get past the cringe factor right from the start. Maybe a low budget is responsible for sparse settings and the small supporting cast (as in government building situations, which should be crawling with suits, uniforms, and the like). But once you get beyond this, you find yourself sucked into this world of anomalies ----and wondering why they didn't just name the damn show, "Anomaly." I was predisposed to liking this series, since Juliet Aubrey is in it. (If you've never seen her in "Still Crazy," please stop reading this now and go rent it.)
It's light-hearted, sci-fi adventure fare, with lovable characters and some unintentional silliness that keeps it as addictive as was "Land of the Lost." (er...that's the original, 1970s TV series, not the current remake).

From the opening episode, when the infinitely lovable Gwen (Eve Myles) accidentally sees a strange group of black coated people bringing a recent murder victim briefly back to life, you are hooked. Like Primeval, only grown up, "Torchwood" is all adult. With various sci-fi adventures mixed in with Captain Jack Harkness' (John Barrowman) sultry proclivity for handsome men, it's a nonstop thrillride.
Some episodes are brilliantly creative (especially those that rely on more intellectual weirdness), while others almost fall into the silly-special-effects-monster category. Still, I'm glued.

Gavin and Stacey
Like "Torchwood," this series is also shot in Wales. It looks so pretty there...but I digress. There's nothing ground breaking here in story. We follow a loving couple as they connect via telephone (they work for the same company: she's in a Wales branch, he's in London), fall in love, get married. But their respective best friends, Smithy and Nessa (played by writers James Cordon and Ruth Jones) are the real gems here. Says Nessa, "...all I want to do is go out, get shit faced, and have a curry or a fight down Caroline Street." Yep, she got me with that one.

I'll post more as we discover them. Know of any other must-see, British TV? Let us know, here at Salty Popcorn Reviews. Ta for that. Cheers.

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