Just what is it about English television?
While I do believe that today’s best fictional experience can be found in American TV series, I enjoy the English stuff in an entirely different way. The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black, Transparent – all brilliant, but also challenging.
Downton Abbey, Call The Midwife, Doc Martin? A night with these casts of characters and I sleep like a baby. Why? Because these are comedy/dramas of manners?
But I think it’s something else. For example, I have loved watching Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley. It’s a crime drama, complete with mayhem. Why then does it give me the same sense of peace?
I think it comes back to the American fixation on beauty. Beauty and teeth, perhaps.
American TV shows tend to require a uniform physicality of their casts. I mean, hello Jesse on Breaking Bad. Best-looking methhead I ever met! The Sopranos, with James Gandolfini sadly ballooning to his death and Steve Buscemi honing those teeth for Empire Boardwalk, makes do with the fewest possible pretty people. But I find the actors, while not beautiful per se, still physically larger than life. Exaggerated.
My theory, wholly unproven and surely unprovable, is that Americans need the people we see on screen to be larger than someone we might meet on the street. We then require suffering and irony in our often inhumanly-beautiful humans, in order for them to feel real to us.
On the other hand, British television embraces the imperfect, the just like you and me. The British shows I happen upon enjoy their slightly schlubby heroes and heroines. With that seems to come sentimentality. Maybe we allow more rose-coloring to the more approachable – pointy teeth, patchy skin, irregular balding, and all?
Who knows? Maybe it’s just the plummy British accents and the voice classes traditional in British training.
In any case, I highly recommend Hidden Valley, which you might not have heard of – yet. And another from the inestimable Ms. Lancashire, sporting the worst hair ever on a leading actress, Last Tango In Halifax. A story of two people in their 70s, childhood almost sweethearts, meeting again and falling in love in their 70s, well, it doesn’t get much more happily sentimental than that.
In a good way.
Have a wonderful weekend everyone, with all the milk of human kindness you deserve, and some rose-colored glasses, if needed.
Amazon links are affiliate. Text corrected to get Ms. Lancashire’s name right, thanks to Shefaly Yogendra for the heads up.