Category Archives: Lists

Summer British TV

Summer and Winter seem to be when the best of the British channels finally hits our shores. This summer is no exception. Just because Doctor Who is over, and Downton Abbey is months away, don’t despair! There are a lot of premieres in Summer and early fall. Starting in chronological order:

Family Trees

Family TreeChris O’Dowd’s new show on HBO started last month, and I have really enjoyed it so far! It’ll be running every Sunday through early July. Chris plays Tom, a somewhat depressed, slightly pathetic man living in London. His great-aunt dies and leaves him a trunk of family paraphernalia. He gets interested in his history, and goes about tracing his family lineage by finding out more about the objects in the trunk. It’s a very British show, so far, but later Tom does take a trip to the states to find out more about one branch of his family. It’s a hilarious show, very self-effacing and extremely odd. Tom’s sister, uses a monkey puppet to voice all her strangest and most offensive thoughts. She has conversations with this monkey all the time; she goes everywhere with the monkey. Tom also has a best friend, Pete, who is dumb as a post, and his dad is played by the always hilarious Michael McKean (of Clue and Spinal Tap fame). The show relies on awkward and embarrassing moments to make you laugh, which is a theme with British TV I think. Probably because awkward situations are the biggest fear of most English people.

Here’s a trailer (though I must warn you that it plays up the American part of the show far more than has happened in each episode yet):

In the Flesh

In the FleshThis is a miniseries that started June 6th. I’m not a zombie person, okay? I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but that’s about it. Okay, I’ve seen Zombieland. And 28 Days Later. And Shaun of the Dead…okay I’ve consumed more zombie books/movies than I thought. Still, it’s not a concept I’m particularly attracted to. On the other hand, this is only a 3-part miniseries, so I might as well give it a try. It aired in the UK and March, to generally positive reviews. These zombies are presented as a socially-marginalized minority, have been diagnosed with PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome), and have been rehabilitated with medication and cosmetics. It sounds vaguely like True Blood‘s approach to vampires. At least In the Flesh won’t be just another scary movie a la Dawn of the Dead. I’m willing to give it a try. My only qualm is that I’m not very good with gore. Even in comedy films like Shaun of the Dead, I’m horrified by the sights and sounds associated with…zombies eating human flesh. Particularly while said human is alive. But it’s on BBC America, so it can’t be too bad. Here’s the trailer:

On June 23rd, the second season of Copper premieres.

Copper trioI was on the fence about this show throughout the first season. The three characters I liked (conveniently pictured above) are all coming back, so I’m going to give it a try (new motto for me?). This show always seems to be on the edge, teetering on the precipice of me not wanting to watch it anymore. I dislike the violence and blatant corruption, but I like the fact that it is set in the 19th century, and I think it always has potential to be a really great show. I’m hoping this year, now that it is a bit more established, it will reach that potential. Here is the trailer:

Also, on June 30th, the twentieth season of Top Gear premieres in the UK. No word yet on BBC America’s air dates, but last season they were only about a week behind, so hopefully more info will be forthcoming.

In early July, PBS will begin airing Endeavour, a prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse detective series. I’ve only seen one or two episodes of Inspector Morse, so this wasn’t on the top of my Must-See list. But, I had second thoughts when I saw who they cast as Morse:

EndeavourAdd to the obvious appeal of…whoever this guy is…it’s still set in Oxford. Oxford is so picturesque, and so quintessentially English (it’s what we think of in America when we think of an English village) that I could watch just about anything that takes place there. Plus, I have a certain weakness for incredibly smart, rail-thin detectives, even when they are not played by Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s only 4 or 5 episodes, so I’m going to go ahead and watch. I hope not much will be lost on me for not having followed the original series closely. Trailer is here:

The same night Endeavour premieres, the biggest thing since sliced bread is set to hit BBC America.

BroadchurchDavid Tennant stars in Broadchurch and uses his Scottish accent, which is my favorite thing in the world. This show was a huge hit in the UK this Spring, and I’ve been waiting anxiously for it since. A second series has already been announced.

It’s a whodunnit murder mystery set on the Dorset coast. In addition to Tennant, Olivia Colman co-starred and co-produced the show, and Arthur Darvill (Rory!) also co-stars. This is at the top of my Must-See List, FYI. Trailer:

Since I will be thoroughly busy watching all of these shows, I’m glad there is a bit of a break before more begin. The next one starts August 18th. It’s called The Lady Vanishes.

The Lady VanishesPBS is airing this remake of a Hitchcock thriller about a woman who goes missing, and another who tries to alert authorities about the incidence, but is not taken seriously. Listen, I tend to think any remake of a Hitchcock film is just a terrible idea. Are they going to improve on his direction? No. Is the addition of color going to add more suspense and creepiness? No. Are there modern actresses/actors who could play these roles better than the likes of Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart? Hell no. But, this actually got pretty good reviews, so I’m going to watch and keep an open mind. I’ve never seen the original, so that should help. Trailer:

At the end of August, PBS is also airing Silk, a legal drama. Prepare your powdered wigs, we’re off to the Old Bailey!

SilkI don’t have a lot of info on this one, partially because the title is very hard to Google well. Apparently it deals with two rival barristers. PBS is airing it in 3 two-hour increments from August 25th-September 8th. Bonus-it features Rupert Penry-Jones, of Whitechapel. Less of a bonus–his character looks like a d-bag, judging by the trailer:

Next, starting September 3rd, the all important Idris Elba returns to my life on BBC America.

luther series 3You gorgeous man, you.

There’s not a proper trailer for this one yet (that I could find), but they made an ‘announcement trailer’

Judging by this video, I’m guessing the episodes for the new season will disturb me just as much (if not more) than the last two seasons. Don’t care. Idris Elba calls, and I must answer.

Last, but not least:

The ParadisePBS is airing this one on October 6th, and calling it The Paradise. It’s an adaptation of an Emile Zola novel, and was sort of squared off against Mr. Selfridge when it aired in the UK, because of the similar subject matter. The show revolves around the first department store in NE England. It looks a little more soapy to me, based on the trailer. But I plan to watch and compare. Bonus–Arthur Darvill is also in this one (briefly).

Beyond here, there be trailers:

I’m going to be a busy blogger over the next 3 or 4 months. Yay!

The other British Holidays

In December, I did a post on British Christmas traditions and Boxing Day.  Since this week was St. George’s Day, I thought I might explain some of the other popular (and less popular) holidays celebrated in the UK.   In addition to holidays we also celebrate in the US, like Halloween and Easter, there are a number of uniquely British holidays that we would be hard pressed to understand on this side of the pond. Cause what the fuck is Guy Fawkes Day, right?

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Guy Fawkes Day is also called Bonfire Night, and falls on November 5th each year.  The holiday commemorates the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ you may (but probably won’t) remember from history class. Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.  He and his co-criminals wanted to kill King James I and install a Catholic king. The holiday started with people celebrating James’ survival by lighting bonfires. It has evolved in the past 400 years, but often featured the burning of effigies. Effigies of Guy Fawkes were obviously the most popular,

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but people also burned effigies of the pope and the devil, making it a pretty anti-Catholic holiday in the 17th and 18th centuries. Children would usually make the Guy effigies and then collect money from neighbors (I’m unclear on why they deserved money, but for an enterprising child I’m sure it was a good deal). The holiday declined in popularity in the late 19th century, and in the 20th became more of Firework Night. One assumes that throughout the centuries, it has also been a holiday that involved heavy drinking.  But it’s mostly a holiday in decline, having lost all meaning with respect to government or religion.  One exception is Lewes, which has the (arguably) largest Bonfire Night celebration in Great Britain.

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Saint George's DaySaint George is the patron saint of England, so this is a holiday really only celebrated in England. It falls on April 23rd each year.  His flag, the white background and the red cross is the flag of England as well. (If you’re confused right now, I’ll help you by telling you that the Union Jack is the flag of the UK). The myth says that St. George (presumably known just as George when he was alive) was a Roman soldier in the 3rd century. As a Christian, he protested the Roman empire’s persecution of his faith, earning him some enemies in Rome and he was beheaded in 303 AD. Some time before his beheading, he slayed a dragon that was terrorizing a village in modern-day Libya. Since he never visited England, I’m a little unsure why he is the patron saint of that country, but he is also the patron saint of a lot of other countries and regions, as well as scouting, soldiers, archers, etc. etc.  Those patron saints are busy people. St. George, because he was a famous soldier, became a figure of admiration for European knights during the age of chivalry, and I think that’s how St. George was adopted as the patron saint of a country he’d never visited.

St. George’s day isn’t really ‘celebrated’ in England.  People might have a rose in their button-hole. Businesses might fly the flag of St. George. One website suggested excellent ways to celebrate might include ‘eating fish and chips’ and ‘going on a pub crawl’.  As far as I can tell, that’s how England celebrates days that end in y. People don’t even have the day off work, unfortunately. There are events for children, reenacting the story of St. George and the dragon, but not much more.  There has been a movement in recent years to make it a national holiday, and to bring it back as a big part of English culture, but I’m not certain they’ll come to much.

If you are going to choose a holiday to celebrate on April 23rd, I would celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday. Shakespeare was actually English, for one thing, and he was far more significant than St. George to the English identity and legacy.

May Day UKNext week, May will begin, and with it, May Day!
I remember being somewhat aware of this holiday growing up in the US, but I’ve never actually seen a maypole.  In the UK, they do dance around the maypole, covering it with ribbons.  They also engage in something called Morris Dancing, which seems to involve black-face.  I’ll pass on that. People dress up like weirdos, play the accordion, and dance around with black faces.

Morris DancerThe racially insensitive face paint doesn’t seem to be absolutely necessary, but looking like an idiot is clearly integral to the celebration. We have something similar here in Philadelphia, called the Mummer’s parade.

May Day, like Halloween, has its roots in Pagan traditions, and unofficially celebrates the beginning of good weather.  I like it. I think the spirit of it is similar to our Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of what we think of as summer. It is a national bank holiday in the UK, so no work! Yay! I would venture to guess that most people don’t engage in the celebrations the holiday was made for, but do take the long weekend to spend time outdoors and enjoy the spring.  I was in London for one of the nicest spring seasons they’ve had in a long time, so my experience is not perhaps representative, but I can say that warm days in London are worth more than any weather in any other place on earth.  If you don’t believe me, go sit in Hyde Park or along the Victoria Embankment on a sunny day.

The UK has a number of other ‘bank holidays’, meaning businesses are closed and few people work, that don’t have any inherent traditions attached to them.  The Spring bank holiday is the last week of May, the late Summer bank holiday is in August, and sometimes there are others for special occasions (the royal wedding in 2011, the jubilee in 2012).  These are pretty similar to our Memorial and Labor day holidays.  I think I like secular holidays best.  No haughty traditions, no need to see relatives if you don’t care to.  Just a day off work to do with as you like.

Remembrance Day is one of the more somber holiday on the UK calendar. Remembrance DayCommemorated on November 11th each year (but often celebrated on the Sunday nearest that date), it marks the armistice that ended World War I.  In reality, after so many other wars since 1918, the day becomes a catch-all for honoring service men and women who died during all the wars and skirmishes since that date.  People wear poppies in their lapels and wreaths are laid at the many war memorials throughout the UK.  One thing I noticed in my travels is that every small village has a monument listing the men they lost at war.  It’s sort of lovely and humbling to see them all, and think of how those deaths would have impacted the people they left behind–especially in small villages that must have been even smaller 100 years ago.

A more light-hearted ‘holiday’ is Red Nose Day.  I like this one.  Comic Relief is a charity that organizes Red Nose Day. There are lots of entertainers and local events to get donations, in addition to a national telethon. Whenever we have charity events in the US, we get celebrities to sing patriotic songs about suffering and overcoming adversity.  In the UK, they get them to make us laugh, and they do it every year.  I like that. J.K. Rowling’s two Hogwarts ‘textbooks’ (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Quidditch Through the Ages) were both written for Red Nose Day.

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So, thank you Comic Relief. If you’re wondering, it’s called Red Nose Day because they sell red noses for you to wear at shops for donations to the charity.

This year’s Red Nose Day brought David Brent into the spotlight again for the first time in 10 years.  Apparently, he’s a music agent now representing a young rapper.

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You may notice that there’s no national holiday for England or for the UK, the way we celebrate July 4th. St. George’s day is the closest they have.  N. Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s day, and Wales celebrates St. David’s day as almost national holidays. A time to celebrate their unique identity within the UK. Similarly, Scotland has St. Andrew’s day. England, though, does not have a firm origin story around which to rally at a specific time.  And if you think about it, it is impossible to say when England began to be England and ceased to be Briton.  The Romans invaded in the 1st century AD (CE), but the area was already occupied by native Britons.  Those people were gradually pushed further and further west, and are most closely related to the modern Welsh.  After the Romans left, there were the waves and waves of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian invasions.  England is named after the Anglo-Saxons, so did it become England at that point? You could argue that when England became a unified country is a date to be celebrated.  ‘Edgar the Peaceful’ united the country in the 10th century…and then it was promptly and thoroughly invaded, first by Danish vikings, then by William the Conqueror in 1066 AD.  Much of modern British tradition stems from William’s rule (coronation at Westminster abbey, for example) rather than from Edgar’s influence.  So the whole thing is a big ole confusing mess.  I suppose they could just pick a day, but that doesn’t quite have the same significance as our 4th of July, or other national holidays more closely related to a great story of overcoming oppression. Then again, our traditions dictate we mark this great date by having my idiot neighbors set off amateur fireworks in the parking lot across the street and everyone eating dead animals while sitting on picnic tables.  Not to mention, the Declaration of Independence was actually signed in the fall of 1776; John Hancock didn’t sign until November.
So, all holidays are utterly removed from the significance of the original day, and we should all feel free to celebrate whatever we like whenever we like. On that note, I’d better get ready to celebrate International Tuba Day next week!

Upcoming TV highlights

There are a whole score of new and returning shows on TV this month and next. I thought it might be a good time to discuss them.

First of all, the end of March marked the return of Doctor Who!

The Doctor and OswinAnd there’s a new outfit, a new TARDIS, and a new companion.  If you watched season 7, you already know Oswin.  Can I say already that I love her?  I love her.  She is super smart, she is a conundrum, and she is simultaneously friendly, playful, and not afraid to stand up to the Doctor.  Add to the wonderfulness of her character, she is a real enigma.  The Doctor doesn’t understand her, and he finds anything he doesn’t understand really mesmerizing.  It’s a totally different dynamic than the big brother relationship he had with Amy and Rory.  And I really like his new coat.  I feel like maybe I’m getting my expectations up too high.  Last season was a little disappointing for me, and I don’t want to get too excited and then be disappointed again. But…it’s probably too late.  I’ve seen the first episode and I really liked it, and I love their dynamic, and I’m really excited for what’s coming next.  Dr. Who is on BBC America on Saturday nights at 8 Eastern.

Orphan Black bannerPremiering that same night was the new series,  Orphan Black. Although this is on BBC America, it doesn’t actually seem to be a British show. It is set in Canada, I believe, though it is never explicitly stated.  The ‘main’ character, Sarah, is British, as is her best friend Paul.  Only the actors aren’t actually British, but whatever.  The show seems interesting; I haven’t made my mind up about it yet.  It begins with Sarah (a woman with questionable morals and a shady background) seeing a woman, Beth, who looks exactly like her, jump in front of a train.  She takes over Beth’s seemingly swanky life (wasn’t this the plot to that Sarah Michelle Gellar show, Ringer?), mostly based on the fact that the woman had money and nice clothes.  Remind me to never take over my dead clone’s life based on her clothing quality, because it just doesn’t turn out well.  She has to get to know Beth’s boyfriend (including possibly the most graphic sex scene I’ve ever seen on a non-premium channel), deal with a police inquest over a shooting in the line of duty (oh, Beth was a cop?) and a mysterious safety deposit box full of birth certificates.  Sarah proves herself to be pretty stupid in this first episode.  Her goal is to get her daughter back from whomever is caring for her, and to start a new life.  Her first plan is to steal heroin from her ex and sell it for $20k.  Her next plan is to have her best friend identify Beth’s mangled body as Sarah, and steal all of Beth’s savings.  It never occurs to her that her daughter might find out that Sarah has been declared dead, but of course that is what happens.  She seems to really lack the ability to think about consequences, but we know very little about her back story, except that she is an orphan.

This show is iffy.  Could turn out well, could be implausible and ridiculous.  I’m going to give it a few more episodes before I make a verdict.  It’s on after Doctor Who, Saturdays on BBC America at 9 Eastern.

Mr. SelfridgeThe last weekend in March was a big one for me! Also premiering, on PBS this time, was Mr. Selfridge, a proper British period drama about Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the eponymous store on Oxford Street.  I had no idea he was American, but apparently he emigrated from Chicago to open the world’s best department store in London.  It just finished airing in England, so kudos to PBS for getting it over here in less than 6 months.  They’re getting better!

Jeremy Piven plays a non-douchebag, which I didn’t approve of at first.  Have they seen Entourage?  I haven’t, I’ll admit, but his suits were too shiny for me to see him as a non-douche.  Right? Look at this picture and then argue with me:

Ari Gold

So, I’ll reiterate that I wasn’t sure about all this, but Jeremy Piven is really good!  It helps that the character is bombastic and grandiose. He needs to act that way because, as we learn in the very first episode, he is in deep trouble with money.  He needs a lot of money, press, and publicity to make his store a hit, so he has to be more confident than he is.

The show follows Mr. Selfridge, obviously, but it is also a Downton-esque ensemble cast of high- and low-class characters. There are: his wife, who meets a (very) handsome artist at the National Gallery; the shopgirl Agnes Towler who works in the accessories department and her struggles with her brother, her father, and her suitor; other employees in the store both friendly and not; Miss Love, the actress and potential mistress for Mr. Selfridge; ruthless investors in the store; and I’m sure there will be more in later episodes.

There were a lot of interesting dynamics between classes, like any British drama worth its name.  Add to that, the genuinely interesting concept of the first true department store.  Most shops prior to this time period, especially in England, did not have displays as we do now.  There were counters, and you would go up and ask to see a specific type of glove or hat, etc.  Or, if you were wealthy, you would have a dressmaker, milliner, etc., come to your house for a fitting in your own home.  The art and hobby of shopping wasn’t the same.  Ready-to-wear clothing wasn’t the same, either.  So seeing this revolution happen in the show is intriguing.  I found the first episode really entertaining and cannot wait for the next episode.  Hopefully the quality stays the same throughout.  My only complaint is that in the intro on PBS, Laura Linney was talking about the show and described it using the following words about Mr. Selfridge: “He was the first person to know what women really want.  They want to go shopping.”

Oh, Laura Linney.  Why?  Why would you say that? Who wrote that?  Blech.

The Spies of WarsawAttention all Doctor Who fans! David Tennant is returning to our TV screens!  For a limited time only!  This is a two-part mini-series on BBC America, about a WWII era spy.  It begins in 1937, in Poland, France, and Germany.  David Tennant stars as Col. Mercier, a French ‘military attaché stationed in Poland. He alone sees the war coming, where his comrades don’t want to admit what is happening in Europe.  I don’t know much about the plot yet, but the NY Times called describes it almost as a whodunnit, more like a Christie novel than Casablanca, which it seems to want to be.  There is a love triangle, but the upcoming War is the real story of the mini-series.  Also according to the Times, despite the weaknesses in Spies of Warsaw, “there is nothing more satisfying than a prewar espionage story that shows, up close and told-you-so, how most of Europe slept through Hitler’s rise.”

It’s playing on BBC America on April 3rd and 10th, but I’m quite certain they will replay it several times over the next month or two.

Although I didn’t watch it, I should mention that the second season of Call the Midwife also premiered at the end of March. It airs every Sunday night on PBS, and is also available on their website.

Also coming soon on PBS is something I’m really excited to see: The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThis aired last year in the UK.  Set in 1952, it follows four women who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park (the main center for decryption/codebreaking in the UK during WWII).  If that wasn’t bad ass enough, it’s also a murder mystery. Police are overlooking a pattern in the killings, but these code-breaking badass ladies in their cardigans are smart enough to see it. It’s only a 3 part mini-series, but it sounds awesome. I love to see women in period pieces that have more to do than just swoon and get married.  The Bletchley Circle premieres on PBS on April 21st.

Looks like it’s going to be a great spring for us anglophiles!

The Best British Holiday Films

I was sick a few weeks ago, just a 24-hour thing. I took the day off from work and spent it watching British holiday films, of which there are a surprising amount.  I seem to own most of them, despite not liking holiday movies most of the time.  So I thought this would be a great Christmas post.  Here are my favorites:

Love Actually

Love Actually posterI’m hoping you knew this one would be on the list.  How could it not?  First of all, let’s consider the cast.  Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson. Also, not even listed on their little poster is Martin Freeman and Joanna Page.  Yes please! I love so many of these actors. Not to mention that I love them together.  Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman were together in Sense and Sensibility; Hugh Grant and Colin Firth were in both Bridget Jones films.  They work well together and its lovely to see them in the same film.  This movie isn’t perfect. All of the interrelated characters are sort of vaguely coexisting, but the bonds and relationships between them are too tenuous and unimportant to make a really cohesive whole.  And the part I really dislike is when Colin goes to America–to Wisconsin of all places–and encounters some sort of mythical America that does not and has never existed.  American women do, undoubtedly, enjoy British accents. I know this first-hand. But Denise Richards, January Jones, Eliza Cuthbert, and Shannon Elizabeth don’t all share a bed in a house in Wisconsin.  Sorry, men.  That is not reality. But, leaving that bit alone, everything else is wonderful. Hugh Grant dancing around No 10 Downing Street? priceless.

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Colin Firth speaking broken Portuguese and receiving broken English answers to his proposal? Adorable.  Martin Freeman doing anything at all? Yes.  Love this movie.  Makes me feel all happy and warm inside, like a great pair of fuzzy socks.

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Bridget Jones’ Diary

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I loved this book and I love the movie too.  It takes place over the course of an entire year, so it is not a Christmas movie in the traditional sense. More of a Rom-Com with Christmas at its beginning and end.  But there is something delightfully Christmas-y about the entire thing. The book is based roughly on Pride and Prejudice, so the fact that they got Colin Firth (the definitive Mr. Darcy) to play Mark Darcy is fabulous.  Especially because we get to see him like this:

Mark Darcy sweaterThis is a very goofy film, and Bridget is no match for Lizzy Bennet.  Still, she is endearing and real, and that is always reassuring around Christmas time, when your pants are a little tighter and all of the food is so inviting.

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The Holiday

The Holiday poster

Here’s the problem with the Holiday: When people ask me if I like it (as happens constantly in my life) I don’t know what to say.  It’s clear to me that the movie was written by and for people who have never had a single real problem in their lives.  The two main characters, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, are desperately unhappy with their lives.  Kate is stuck in one of those drawn-out unrequited love stories where you just can’t get over the person who broke your heart.  Cameron Diaz is a workaholic who acts like her parents getting divorced is the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being.  These aren’t fun things, but considering the tragedies that can come up within one human life, they are not bad.  And Cameron Diaz sits there talking about her parents’ divorce and how terrible it was, to a man whose wife has died and who is raising two daughters on his own. I just didn’t have much sympathy for their ‘plight’ because their problems were so negligent in the grand scheme of things.  Not to belittle anyone’s experiences with divorce or a bad breakup, but I think we can all agree there are worse things that can happen in the world.  So the movie bothers me every time I watch it.

On the other hand, I watch it at least three times a year.  There must be something I like about it.  Kate Winslet is adorable, and Jude Law is fabulous in it.  I love Jack Black, but I know he is a very polarizing actor, so some may hate him.  I find Cameron Diaz is a pretty good actress, but the fact that she is a 5’10” size 4 makes it very hard to accept her as an everyday woman.  If they had made her intensely neurotic or something, I would have been more capable of accepting it. I’ve seen her do convincing performances before (In Her Shoes is a great example) but this isn’t one of them.  But with Jude Law in almost all of her scenes, it’s easy to get through her parts of the movie.  It’s an easy movie to sit through and to imagine what a change of location could do to your life.  Plus, Kate Winslet’s cottage is possibly the most adorable thing in the history of the world:

Rosehill Cottage

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Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol 2

Small confession–I haven’t actually seen this one.  How did I make it through my childhood with so little exposure to Muppets? I watched a lot of Sesame Street, but never made the jump to the Muppets.  Why?  Possibly something to do with the absence of Oscar the Grouch from the Muppet gang.  I dunno.  At any rate, I’m putting this on the list because I’ve heard such good things from so many different sources that I’m confident that when I finally do see this movie, I will love it.  Also, it makes me happy to think of it because I once had a conversation with my boyfriend about A Christmas Carol and the ghost of Marley. My boyfriend claimed there were two Marleys.  I immediately asked if this was due to the Muppets Christmas Carol, because that’s the only version of A Christmas Carol he was likely to be familiar with.  He confirmed this movie as the source of his knowledge, and that ‘Marley and Marley’ were played by Statler and Waldorf, the two old men.  Brilliant bit of casting.

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At any rate, whenever I think of this movie now, I chuckle because of that conversation.

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Obviously, I haven’t seen all of the Christmas movies or even all of the British Christmas movies in the world.  Let me know which ones you recommend!

Upcoming British TV

You may have noticed, if you’re one of the 3 people who regularly read this blog, that content about British TV has been lacking lately.  That’s natural, given that it is summer and there isn’t much of anything new on.  But fall is approaching fast and there are a lot of good shows coming back, and a lot of new shows that look awesome.  So here’s a primer on what to expect over the coming months on TV.

Doctor Who premiered last Saturday, and another episode was just on last night.  I have grown to really love 11, though I still prefer 10 and probably always will consider him the best Doctor ever.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, skip this bit as you are not a Whovian and won’t particularly care.

I have to say that these last two episodes have seemed rather lackluster to me.  There were some plot holes in the Asylum of the Daleks, and I saw the twist coming fairly early on.  Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was a bit better, and I love Mr. Weasley as Rory’s dad.  Something just seems off with both episodes so far, and I can’t tell if it’s the show or it’s me.  I suspect, however, that it is not me.  They’ve jumped right in as though there’s been no gap, and I could have done with a bit of a slow submersion.  I do love Karen Gillan, though, and she has been awesome as always.  I think it’s the writing or the direction to blame, but I”m having trouble putting my finger on why or how.  It’s almost like the episodes start too quickly and keep going too quickly for you to be emotionally invested.  And then they’re over, and you still aren’t particularly invested.  It’s missing some of the emotional scenes that you find in other episodes, and so far there hasn’t been anything particularly scary.  A bunch of rusty old Daleks and Filch? After the weeping angels, it takes a lot to scare me anymore, but they’re not even trying!

So why is this on my list of what to look forward to this fall? Because it’s Doctor Who! I will continue to watch it, and hopefully it will get better.

Downton Abbey

There are two trailers out right now for the third season. This one:


And this one (which I prefer):


Maggie Smith is divine.  And Shirley MacLaine as the American grandmother? Wonderful. I cannot wait to see those two in action together.

Okay so here is the big problem with Downton Abbey, and I cannot believe that in the 21st century it has come down to this.  On ITV in the UK, it premieres this month. Next week, I believe.  When will it be on PBS? January.

January?! This is ridiculous.  Why cant the studios just get together and decide to air it at the same time? Or shortly after?  As far as I know, there is no legal way for Americans to get their hands on the show before it airs on PBS or comes out on DVD (which might happen first, to be honest).  I would honestly pay to watch it, but I don’t think there is a way to do so.  Whose idea was that? I realize that ITV can’t broadcast here, and they are a British only channel, but this is ridiculous.  I suppose now I know how it feels for Brits who want to watch the latest episodes of our shows. But honestly, there should be a way to get it through iTunes or something. I am honestly not going to wait until January. I refuse.

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And a similar thing is happening with Parade’s End.

This was actually a joint venture between BBC and HBO, which means they have equal rights to air it (in my non-expert legal opinion).  This aired during August in the UK (I only know about it because I caught the last 20 minutes of one of the episodes while I was in London).  HBO hasn’t even announced an air date for the US.  BLARGH. Why do they do this to me?

In case you haven’t heard of it either, let me describe.  This was originally four novels by Ford Maddox Ford, and has been adapted into this mini-series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.  The plot revolves around a wealthy couple, and it is set in the early 20th century, so there are naturally comparisons with Downton Abbey. The husband is sent off to fight in the trenches in WWI.  There’s a love triangle somewhere in there. I didn’t want to read much else because I don’t want to spoil the fun of actually watching it.  If that ever happens.

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So, will anything actually be on soon for us unlucky Americans?  Yes! Thank god.

   Judging by the press photos, this one is about women who ride around on bikes in matching outfits.  Okay, actually, it’s titled Call the Midwife and I am quite excited about it, despite being horrified by the idea of childbirth and by the presence of nuns.

The show centers around a group of midwives in 1950s Britain, and it was a huge hit there. Smashed all sorts of ratings records.  It even beat Downton Abbey in the ratings. So, I’m definitely going to give it a try.  It airs on PBS, starting September 30th.

Richard Hammond’s Crash Course is also returning this fall (October 15th).  It appears they have abandoned the need to associate him with vehicles, and the show has devolved into him simply encountering as many ridiculous and possibly embarrassing Americans as possible.  There is, thought, a really cute trailer.

Another one coming down the pipeline this fall:

Spies of Warsaw

This is another period piece, a WWII-era drama set in Poland (obviously). It stars David Tennant, and that’s about all I had to know before I decided to watch it.  No firm release date yet, that I can find. I believe it comes on when The Hour and other Dramaville programming returns, which would be November, I think.

So it’s set to be another year of British cultural imports.  I do want to add, however, that as much as I joke about being forced to wait for a long time to watch British shows, I am just joking. Of course I hate the waiting, and I don’t see a need for it when we’re perfectly capable of downloading everything anyway.  But as I learned on my trip to London last month, the TV in England is really terrible.  What? What am I saying?! This is a blog about British TV, among other things, so how could I be committing such blasphemy?  I never had a TV when I lived in London, so I had little experience with it.  At my hotel, though, we did have a TV. I didn’t sit down to watch it at any point, but before bed or in the morning I would switch it on, and I was shocked by what I found.  There are only 10-20 channels, and some of them are only available at certain times of the day.  They play a lot of American programming, from old episodes of sitcoms (Frasier of all things) to really terrible American movies that wouldn’t even be shown here (Bowfinger…really?).  Then there seems to be some sort of 24-hour Big Brother channel.  Mix that in with Coronation Street and East Enders, which seem to be less slick and less attractive versions of our soaps, and that’s about all of your choices. Of course, there’s always BBC news, right?  They do news incredibly well there. But, you soon realize that it runs on a 10- or 15-minute loop, especially in the morning.  It’s not fun. If I lived there, I don’t think I’d bother having a TV at all.  So when I complain about having to wait for these mini-series, I do not mean to imply that I would rather switch places with them. They have to wait a long time for our shows as well, and well, we just have a lot more options here. Plus, no TV tax here, always a bonus. So, take the complaining with a grain of salt, and everyone let’s try to be patient, and pretend we aren’t illegally downloading these things. We certainly wouldn’t do that.

American stereotypes, according to the British

In this post, I shared some of the most popular and (for the most part) totally nonsensical, blatantly untrue stereotypes that seem to never go away about England and its citizens.  Since I never turn down the opportunity to offend all people equally, I’ve decided to turn the tables.  What do the Brits (and the rest of the world) think of us? Are they right?  This time I can be honest without fear of any retribution. After all, I’m an American, and that gives me the right to say every disparaging thing about our country that I can think of, if I’m so inclined.  So, here we go!

1. We’re fat

I just did a google image search for ‘stereotypical American’. In addition to the lovely image above with the exposed belly fat and the hamburger, I saw this, one:

Far more depressing than the cartoon, because it’s real.  And no one can pretend that this stereotype isn’t true.  According to a Telegraph article, the global average human adult ways about 137 lbs.  I am considered a normal weight for my height, but I am about 15 lbs over that.  The US is the third most obese country on the planet (our average weight is around 180 lbs), beaten only by Micronesia and Tonga.  So the stereotype is true; more true for our country than the vast majority of them.  Of course that doesn’t mean every American is fat. But, we just can’t deny that this is true of our country as a whole, which means it must be true for many of the tourists from America visiting countries like Britain.  But, let’s put it in a bit of context. The UK is actually number 10 on the list, with their average at 167 lbs. So at a whopping 13 pounds lighter than we are, I would say there’s not much difference between our two countries, when it comes to the ravages of obesity. And I’ve seen how busy the McDonald’s is on Oxford Street (for just one example), and I’m fairly certain that not everyone in that restaurant is American. Conclusion: It’s true, but it’s also true for the UK, so they can shut up.

1a-All we eat is hamburgers and hot dogs.  This is patently untrue, obviously. We also eat tacos, barbecue, and delivery pizza. I’m joking, of course.  There are tons of different types of restaurants in the US, and in large cities you can find any kind of cuisine you want. On the other hand, there are areas in the country, largely in the rural areas, some suburbs, and and particularly in poorer inner city areas, where there is an absolute culinary wasteland. You can’t find anything that’s not a chain restaurant without some real effort. I grew up in the Midwest, and though I don’t know if my situation was typical, I didn’t have anything that would be described as ethnic food until I was about twenty. No Chinese food, no Italian that wasn’t spaghetti, not even authentic Mexican food. That’s not something you would encounter in the UK, that’s for sure.  They eat a lot of Indian food, and Chinese and other East Asian cuisines are very popular as well, mostly due to the Imperial history of the country. On the other hand, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, etc., are very popular there as well.  They also seem to enjoy American-style fried chicken, but I never found any Mexican food that a Mexican would actually recognize.  Lots of foods that we take for granted as staples, like barbecue, chili, pancakes and a lot of breakfast foods, I didn’t see once while I was there.  The cuisines are just different, and I never saw any reason to think one was better or worse than the other. In both cultures, you can find interesting and wonderful restaurants where you can try something new; in both countries you can find absolute trash to eat. And in both countries there are people that prefer the great restaurants, and people that prefer the trash.

2. We’re rude. 


There are a few components to this stereotype.

2a. We are loud–I don’t think that I’m the best person to comment on this. Anyone who has ever met me knows that I am one of the more quiet people in the world. I know people have a hard time hearing me, and when I have to speak louder than I’m naturally inclined, I feel like I’m making a spectacle of myself. My dad’s failing hearing causes me to be mortified whenever I am out with him, because not only do I have to yell, but so does anyone else he needs to converse with.  So, obviously, it’s not true of all Americans, but only a moron thinks any of these stereotypes (or any stereotypes) are universally true.  But, I do think I am in the minority in my mumbling soft-spoken ways. People here are loud, and it generally doesn’t occur to them that they should be ashamed of it. It’s not rudeness in the traditional sense, just a sort of lack of self-awareness. An article in the New York Times had a British perspective on the difference in decibels between the two cultures:

Granted, these visiting Americans often seem to have loud voices, but on closer examination, it’s a little subtler than that. Americans have no fear of being overheard. Civic life in Britain is predicated on the idea that everyone just about conceals his loathing of everyone else. To open your mouth is to risk offending someone. So we mutter and mumble as if surrounded by informers or, more exactly, as if they are living in our heads. In America the right to free speech is exercised freely and cordially.

2b. We don’t speak the language–Obviously this is more about us in countries other than the UK, but since we seem to have a lot of problems with their slang, it’s nearly true there too.

This is, I have to say, true. Totally true.  I speak Italian pretty well (though my skills are starting to atrophy), but most people I know don’t speak another language at all.  You have to really want to speak it well and remember it in order to move beyond menu ordering levels in foreign languages. Most people take Spanish or French in high school, and you learn so laughably little that there is no way to function in another language in another country. I took Spanish for four years, but I wouldn’t presume to say I speak it. (Though I will happily tell anyone that listens about the time I successfully asked where to find some Chuck Taylor’s in Barcelona, and comprehended the answer…well, I found the shoes anyway). For the most part, we don’t need to be fluent. When we travel internationally, the fact that we don’t speak the language is not in itself rude, nor do I think it’s particularly unusual.  There is more of a focus on foreign languages in Europe, because international travel is more common, but that doesn’t mean every British citizen speaks 5 languages. The rudeness lies not in our not speaking the language, but in our expecting others to speak English.  This is a rampant behavior.  There is no reason to assume that other countries are filled with English speakers.  I mean, if someone comes from France or China and assumes you speak French or Chinese, wouldn’t you find that to be…moronic?  My advice: If you’re going to a foreign country, learn some basics–hello, goodbye, thank you, please, some food info, 1-10, etc.  Make an effort to use them.  Before I went to France, I learned to say those basics, plus “I’m a vegetarian”. It took about two days to learn those and remember them. I can’t say I stunned anyone with my French, but they really do give you points for trying.

2c. We don’t know the customs–I’ll discuss this separately under the heading of our general ignorance.

Just a note that these accusations of rudeness tend to come out when we travel, more than when people travel here.  Most visitors to America from the UK have, I think, a generally positive and possibly surprisingly positive impression of Americans in our natural habitat. Which just means that these stereotypes must be pretty rampant, and are naturally not as true as they seem to be to people who haven’t been here.

3. We’re uber-religious and love guns

Obviously neither of these are true for me (a running theme of this post), or large chunks of the American populace.  But think about the sort of people you know who are very religious, and fit into your own stereotypes of rednecks.  Wouldn’t they be the sort of loud, obnoxious morons that would draw a lot of attention if you put them in the middle of Piccadilly Circus? People for which these are true do stand out when they encounter other (different) cultures.  I think most people know that our gun control (or lack there of) laws are incredibly lax compared to Britain and most of Europe. We also have a lot more gun violence than those countries.  The police don’t even carry guns in the UK (with a few exceptions). That’s all you really have to know to see why we seem like gun nuts to them. As to religion, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, 73% of UK citizens describe religion as not important to their lives; only 27% described it as important. In the US, that ratio was nearly flipped, with 65% describing it as important and only 35% say it isn’t important. I remember when I was going to the UK, I said something to my Dad about the UK not being very religious. He informed me that I was totally wrong, because of all the hullabaloo with Henry VIII and the Catholic church.  I had to point out to him that things had changed in the last 450 years.  Compared the UK, the US is more religious on average. Some states, like say Alabama and Mississippi, according to a Gallup poll, rate religion as far more important than even the rest of the country (those states rank it as similar importance to countries like Iran, where the religion and the government go hand in hand).  This should surprise no one who has lived in the US for any length of period, but to the UK citizen, they seem to think of us all that way.

4. We’re ignorant of world events, politics, etc.

This map isn’t very accurate, of course. It’s hyperbole.  Also, no idea why Antarctica is filled with Aliens. I would go with Penguins. And Polar Bears, according to some people (I’m looking at you, boyfriend). But, it is absolutely true that a lot of Americans are entirely ignorant about most of the world. I like to think of myself as pretty informed; much more so than your average American, but probably less so than I should be.  However, I have no problem admitting that I am pretty ignorant compared to a lot of only moderately-informed Brits.  Why?  The news!  The news there takes a much more world-conscious approach than ours.  The BBC news is amazing compared to ours. And not just compared to stuff you know is absolute nonsense, like the Onion or Fox News, but compared to actual news like CNN.  I’m not saying that Britain doesn’t have its share of muckraking rubbish (News of the World!), but you can easily be exposed to much more comprehensive news stories about (gasp!) other countries! And not just other countries that they’re currently at war with, but actual other countries that are just existing independent of us.

So how dumb are we?  Well, most people in this country couldn’t pass our own citizenship test–according to a Newsweek quiz.

Newsweek also reports that: In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland, and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs. The Europeans clobbered us. Sixty-eight percent of Danes, 75 percent of Brits, and 76 percent of Finns could, for example, identify the Taliban, but only 58 percent of Americans managed to do the same—even though we’ve led the charge in Afghanistan. It was only the latest in a series of polls that have shown us lagging behind our First World peers.

I’m not certain why the US is so insular in its education, news, concerns.  Part of it must be a certain degree of geographical isolation. Even in the 21st century, we’re just far as fuck away from a lot of other countries.  (But is Canada this way?  They have the same geography, but a totally different level of status in the world. Any Canadians reading this, let me know.) Then there’s also, undoubtedly, a mean kid attitude that comes from being the biggest guy on the playground. We don’t have to care, so we make less effort to do so.  But I wish we would. I have no arguments with this stereotype; it’s true.

5. We dress badly

There are a few factors that make a big difference with this one.  First of all, it absolutely has to be acknowledged that Americans dress in a far more casual manner in every possible situation than most of Europe. We just do. We are much more likely to wear shorts, jeans, old clothes, baggy clothes, and things that cost under 20 dollars at Walmart, than I think anywhere else in the world.  I am guilty of dressing fairly casual–I like jeans, what can I say? I enjoy a dress or skirt too, but I live in jeans. We are also one of the fatter countries, which, unless you put in a lot of effort to still look good, can make it a lot harder to look stylish. As a country, we have absolutely no concept on how to buy clothes that fit us properly. I wonder if this is because it’s so hard to find a tailor here?  Anyway, combine it all and no matter if we’re in our Sunday best, we’re going to look less stylish and less professional than a lot of Brits, even in their casual wear.

Europeans in general tend to wear darker colors and more professional clothes in all situations. They tend to be thinner. The climate means they are more likely to layer their clothes (the climate cannot explain why when Americans are cold they often don a sweatshirt with screen printed horses and the Brits put on a cashmere v-neck pullover). They put more effort into how they look, and I’m not really sure why that’s a cultural norm in Europe and not here.

On the other hand, I have noticed the same sort of general poshness when wandering around NYC and especially Washington, D.C. that I found in London.  When you have groups of intelligent, reasonably affluent, educated people living together, you’re going to have some well-dressed people.  It just seems that those well-dressed people are more prevalent in the UK than here.

I think the stereotype is reinforced by the fact that the majority of Americans visit the UK in the summer on vacation–re: they are wearing shorts or capris, sandals or trainers (tennis shoes).  Undoubtedly, our vacation clothes are our worst. Some of this is necessary–I am not going to be walking miles and miles in London in my work flats, even if they are flats. I am bringing trainers. Some of it is unnecessary. I do not need a bum bag (fanny pack); I do not need to wear a shirt with an American flag on it.  No one needs to wear an American flag shirt, come to think of it.  That brings me to the last item on the list:

6. We’re overly patriotic

This is a matter of opinion, because a lot of people will tell you that we have a right to think our country is the greatest in the world, etc. etc. etc. We have a really great history, and they ingrain that shit into your head for the first 10 years of school. I can’t remember learning anything in history class until I was in …possibly high school that involved anything other than the American Revolution, and maybe something about the Civil War.  We are taught more about the revolutionary war than I think anything else as children. People know about the founding fathers, etc., even when they don’t know who the current VP is.  And it is a great story. It’s a really noble story.  But! We have a habit, starting with the revolutionary war, of white-washing over all the facts.  We have deified those men so much that even nearly 250 years later, we’re still doing it.  A book called ‘The Jefferson Lies‘ was published by Glenn Beck’s favorite historian that was pulled by the publisher (I know, right, what a loss to the world)  because it was full of untrue rubbish.  The point of the book was to show that Jefferson was a devout orthodox Christian.  This about the president who made his own bible which contained no references to Jesus being a supernatural being with any sort of powers–he was just a man in Jefferson’s rendition, and the tales of the New Testament change from God myths to morality tales.  I would like to know how David Barton, the author, addressed the whole slavery issue in this book, but my guess is he ignored it.  Anyway, I digress.  We glaze over the unpalatable parts of our own history and embrace the myth and the idea of America.  And we embrace it on our clothing.  I have no arguments for this; I don’t understand it.  Obviously, I am not this way, or this would be a blog about how great American culture is.  The only thing I can say is that we aren’t all like this.  I swear, we aren’t.

So, after this incredibly long look at stereotypes of Americans, the sad thing I must conclude is that a lot of them are true.  But, like any stereotype, they are only true of some part of the population, and adherence to them can vary wildly from place to place. America is a huge country, especially compared to the UK, and you won’t find the same people in Portland that you find in Atlanta, for example, same as you won’t find the same people in London that you find in Belfast. The moral of the story is that there are idiots everywhere, and there are smart, thoughtful people everywhere.

I embrace and welcome any arguments people want to make, or if anyone has stereotypes to add to my list, let me know.

Trip to England–what to see?!

After my last post, which turned out to be far more controversial than I expected, I’ve decided to go for a less contentious topic.

I am going back to England for the first time in 3 years, and am in the midst of deciding what to see.  I’ll be going in August, so thank god the Olympics will be over and the crowds might have dispersed a bit.

There are certain things that I think every tourist should see, and certain things I think are overrated.  So I’m going to share my personal recommendations, but would also love some ideas for attractions and events that are off the beaten track.

I’ve already made a post outlining my favorite parts of the UK, and I do hope to go back to some of them. But first things first, what’s worth seeing if you’re new to London, only there for a short time, want to see as much as possible, etc.

My top 5 recommendations to See/Do:

1-Parliament and Westminster Abbey

The lines are very long in the summer, but I have to say it’s worth it. These are, arguably, the two most important buildings in the country, and they are right next to each other. One has seen the coronation of 36 different monarchs, dating back to William the Conqueror in 1066. The other has seen the gradual shift of power away from the monarchy (and the clergy) to the hands of the Lords, and then to the hands of the Commons.  I was particularly happy to see Poet’s Corner inside Westminster Abbey, where writers from Geoffrey Chaucer to Elizabeth Gaskell to Ted Hughes are interred or memorialized. I do, however, recommend going in the off-season or early on a weekday, if possible.

2-British Museum

My favorite part about (most of) the museums in London is that they’re FREE. Not because I don’t value learning or museums in general, but because this takes off the pressure to see everything in one day, in one go.  Which means if you have 20 minutes, you have time to see the Rosetta Stone, the second best collection of Egyptian artifacts (Cairo is, logically, a bit better), pieces off the Parthenon, as well as the same artifacts that inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats to write some of their most famous poems.

3-Albertopolis–

This is an area of South Kensington so called because almost every important building you see was created by Prince Albert, or in his memory. If you don’t know, Albert was Queen Victoria’s husband. He urged the purchase of this area of London with the profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, and tons of public buildings were erected on it. It’s a major cultural center and there is truly something for everything. Attractions include the Albert Memorial, the Science Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the Royal Albert Hall.

4-The Royal Parks–

I can’t narrow it down to just one, but there are lots of parks in London. The Royal Parks refers to the areas technically hereditary property of the crown. These were hunting grounds for the monarchy back in the day. My favorite’s include Hyde Park, St. James’, and Regent’s, but really the point of these parks is just to have some green space in the city. It’s a really green city, with small parks and squares dotted around everywhere. On the first proper Spring day, you see people in droves, sitting in the grass with their shoes off, reading or sleeping or eating picnics. It’s lovely.

5-The South Bank.

None of the individual attractions of the South Bank are my favorite things in London, but if you add them together, along with the view of the Thames, the street performers, and the Saturday flea markets, it’s an awesome atmosphere. Skip the lines and just spend the afternoon walking. If you start from the Tower Bridge, you can walk past City Hall (called Darth Vader’s helmet b/c of its shape), past the reconstructed Globe theatre and the Tate Modern museum (worth a glance, even if you don’t get modern art), past Waterloo station and into the ‘culture complex’ which contains the National Theatre, galleries, festival halls, dining, the British Film Institute, past the Eye, the aquarium, and all the way to Westminster Bridge with its infamous views.  After that long walk, take in dinner and then hit a show at the National, or walk a few blocks to the Old Vic.  Trust me, that’s a good day right there.

Honorable mention–St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millenium Bridge, Chancery Lane and the Royal Courts of Justice, Kensington Palace, Hampstead Heath.

My top 5 to AVOID:

1-The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace

I think the palace is worth a look, but I fail to see the attraction of crowding around tons of people to watch a very sophisticated shift change.

2-A show in the West End

When people talk about London theatre, I’m always interested. I took a theatre course while I was there, with the Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington. It was awesome.  But we went to see real theatre, not the musicals on the West End. I admit that I dislike musicals in general, but that is not the only reason this is on my list.  First of all, they are too expensive. About the same price you would pay for a Broadway show in NYC.  But if you go instead to the Old Vic (or the New Vic), to the National, or to smaller theatres in Soho, you can see amazing plays with some real substance for much less money. If you’re under 25 (I think it’s 25), you can get tickets for free or £2-4 online to see shows at the National. And you can see big names there. I saw a play at the Old Vic with Richard Dreyfuss; I saw one at the National with Gary Cole, who I love.  You can see 3 or 4 of these plays for what you would pay to see a West End musical like Billy Elliot or Oliver.  Plus, a lot of the West End shows are just a London cast of an American musical, and why not just see that at home if you’re so inclined?

Piccadilly Circus

This is the London equivalent of Times Square, and appeals to me just as little as its American counterpoint.  A bunch of tourists taking pictures of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not building and the Anteros sculpture.  Tons of shops with trite souvenirs for sale.  Pass.

4-Madame Tussaud’s

I don’t really mind MT’s, and I had to go get my picture taken with the Beatles, but the lines are so incredibly long that it is in no way worth it.  It’s also a bit pricy, after you wait for several hours to get in.

5-The London Eye

I do like the London Eye, so it hurts me to put it on the list. But if you go to London anytime between April and September, the lines are incredibly long.  It’s nice to get to see the city, and they offer some cool private party options if you wanted something special, but for the money and the lines, it’s not worth it just to go on a Ferris wheel. If you’re there in the off-season, then go for it. Otherwise, give it a pass.

Honorable mentions–Harrod’s (way too crowded, way too expensive, not even owned by a Brit anymore). Trafalgar Square (soo crowded.  If you’re going to go, go in off-hours or in the winter. Tower of London (the Tower is worth a look, but no way was I going to wait in the line to see the Crown Jewels).

So, I have seen all of these things, and am going back to a city as a tourist where I used to live.  I’m not sure what to see or do.  There are things I missed the first time around. I never got to go inside St. Paul’s cathedral.  There are things I want to see again–The Camden market, for example.  Decisions! I have a lot more money this trip than during my time there as a student, so I plan to eat some good food and enjoy myself a bit more this time.

I’m also really pleased to say that, this time, I’m going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! So excited.  I cannot wait to see the next big star doing some sort of weird anti-establishment play like Hamlet if he was a transvestite prostitute whose pimp was killed by his business partner, etc. Plus, Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world and I am so thrilled to go back.

If anyone has any suggestions for what to see, where to eat, what crazy performances I should see in Edinburgh, I’d love to hear them.