Ok, time for yet another installment in my ever-growing number of pointless lists! First off, my picks for top 5 British TV shows. You’ve no idea how difficult this was! I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if I’d actually seen large amounts of British TV, not just the stuff that trickles across the pond.
1. The Office/Extras
I’m cheating a little bit by putting these together. They are both written and starring Ricky Gervais, so it is justified, but I love them enough that they might deserve individual spots on the list. Too bad, though, because I don’t have enough room for that! I think the Office was my first introduction to British TV, and I have to admit it took me at least two watch-throughs to understand what the fuck they were saying. The accents are thick, but the show is also completely full of utterly unintelligible cultural references that I still don’t get. But the parts I could understand were hilarious. I can only guess how much funnier it is if you have any idea what they’re talking about. Luckily, the DVD provides a slang glossary that explains some of it.
Ricky Gervais’ David Brent is hilarious in the show, but of course my heart belongs to Martin Freeman (who is becoming a common fixture on this blog), as Tim.
Extras is a bit more easy to digest for an American audience (though I hear they actually changed some of the scenes for the American audience), and has a mind-boggling amount of guest stars. Just to name a few: Ben Stiller, Vinnie Jones, Kate Winslet, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L Jackson, David Bowie, and, most importantly, Daniel Radcliffe in possibly the most hilarious scene ever on tv.
As with the Office, my favorite character on this show is not Ricky Gervais. Stephen Merchant is a very odd looking fellow, especially with the ludicrous glasses and hair he has in this show. He looks a bit like a stick insect with a turtleneck and thick spectacles.
It doesn’t help that the guy is something like 12 feet tall. But anyone who has seen Extras, or played Portal 2 knows how awesome he is. Plus, he co-created the Office and Extras with Ricky, so I like that he gets to be on camera in this show.
It’s interesting to think about Ricky Gervais’ shows. He always has himself as the central character, and he always plays a semi-terrible person, surrounded by much nicer characters. This simultaneously makes me think he is an incredibly egotistical, but also very self-deprecating person. Whatever his motives, his shows are hilarious.
A couple of disclaimers before I explain my love for Doctor Who: 1-I have only seen the newest incarnations of the show, and don’t really have much desire to go back and watch the episodes from the ’70s, 2-David Tennant is the only Doctor for me, 3-The production values on the show are terrible, the effects are terrible, occasionally the music is terrible–I acknowledge all of this, and love the show anyway.
Here’s a show that makes almost no sense, on the face of it. The concept is ridiculous: time traveling alien with two hearts and one sonic screwdriver travels through time/space (usually ending up in England, for some reason) with human companions finding and solving catastrophes that usually have something to do with aliens. Many of these aliens look like ‘pepper pots‘ or cheesy 50s robots.
Add to that some truly low-budget effects and Billie Piper’s annoyingly overdone mascara, and it should be a terrible show. But it’s not. It’s witty, funny, adventurous, light-hearted, occasionally moving, and always worth watching. Also, it’s a bit uncanny that the show can have had 11 different actors portray the eponymous Doctor and still have you believe that he is the same person. Rather ingenious, the way the writers worked that into the character’s back story. I’ve watched through three doctors now, and while Tennant will always be my favorite, I liked seeing how each one brought a new idea to the same frantic and infectious energy at the core of the show.
3. Fawlty Towers
A classic British show from the ’70s starring John Cleese and his actual (then) wife as Mr. and Mrs. Fawlty, who run a small hotel on the English seaside. Basil Fawlty (Cleese) is a cowardly misanthrope who is constantly yelled at by his controlling wife, and he, in turn, takes out his anger on Manuel, the Spanish waiter with limited English skills. It was voted one of the best British tv shows of all time, and is actually more popular now than I think it was when it originally aired. It’s a slapstick, over-the-top sort of show, which took me a while to get into, I confess. It’s certainly not the sardonic, mockumentary style of humor you’d find in the Office. It’s totally different, and more in line with the traditional British sitcom. There are only twelve episodes of the show (2 six-episode seasons), so you can polish off the whole series in a few days’ time. The show gets better with each episode, and by the end of the first season, I was hooked. If you’re in the mood for something silly, Fawlty Towers is perfection.
What’s this? Martin Freeman again? I’m sensing a theme. If you recall, I’ve already done a few posts about this show and my love for it. As such, I won’t repeat myself. I will say, however, that this show is about to overtake Fawlty Towers, and maybe Doctor Who, in my long-term estimation and adoration. It is a paragon of everything you can do with TV drama.
5. The Inbetweeners
This show is, without a doubt, the sickest thing I’ve seen on TV in a long time. But, as it’s about 16-18 year old boys, that makes sense. It is painfully embarrassing to watch, shockingly foul-mouthed, and absolutely hilarious. It taught me at least 5 new, incredibly awful words for female genitalia, unfortunately. That’s the sort of show it is. I didn’t want to like it, what with absolutely every other line being horrifying, but it is too damn funny to ignore. Plus, the knowledge that absolutely all of these boys are completely clueless makes their slightly misogynistic tendencies more bearable. There was also a movie, which I saw thanks to a multi-region dvd player–I don’t think it was ever released in US theaters or on format 1 dvd. If you doubt how funny this is, a scene from the movie should clear it up:
Honorable Mention: Top Gear, Downton Abbey–It was very, very difficult for me to pick just 5 shows, and as I have already talked about these two on this blog, I’ve left them as honorable mentions rather than putting them in the top 5. Nonetheless, they are awesome.
British Music–if the tv shows were hard to choose (and they were), this was like choosing between my children…if I ever had them and was faced with a Sophie’s Choice type situation… The point is, this was really hard. The only easy choice was number one…
1. The Beatles
I’m fairly certain that anyone who has spent more than half an hour with me knows this is my favorite band of all time. I can’t even begin to discuss the amount of influence the Beatles have had on my life, or on music in general. There’s nothing I can say about them as musicians that hasn’t already been said. What I can say about my personal love for them, is that it all has to do with my mom. She loved the Beatles and played 60s and 70s music almost exclusively when I was growing up. As a result, I went into middle and high school knowing all the lyrics to I Am the Walrus, while other kids were really into N Sync. Not to imply that I was some sort of cool music kid, I was not cool in any way, but I do appreciate that I was exposed to this sort of music from an early age. It is much more in keeping with my views on music and on the world, and every time I hear a Beatles song, even if it’s one I’ve never heard before, it’s the aural equivalent of nostalgia. It sounds like home to me.
2. David Bowie
I got into Bowie late in life…Or late in life so far. I think I was 24 or 25 before I set out to listen to some of his stuff. It was never on the radio when I was growing up…Too old to be on the top 40 stations, too new to be on the oldies station. And, where I grew up, we had those two kinds of stations, plus a lot of country music and some religious crap. So I wasn’t directly exposed to Bowie until I set out to listen to his stuff. Wow. Within about a day, I was in love. I think I had probably heard his stuff in other contexts, in movies and commercials, but never in its original form. To this day, Suffragette City is one of my favorite songs ever. The best thing about Bowie is that his songs have variety–Suffragette City doesn’t sound anything like Changes or China Girl. My biggest annoyance with today’s music is that you can put on any song on someone’s album and it will sound identical to every other song. The only distinctions are slow or fast. But back in the day, musicians felt like they could experiment with something new if they wanted to. I think it was even expected. This means that you can find something to listen to by the same artist, even if you’re in a vastly different mood. Which means there is a Bowie song for every occasion. He even wrote a special song for Extras!
3. The Rolling Stones
When I was young and first formulating my opinions on music, as we all do in our early teens, this is what the Stones looked like:
Not something any teenager associates with being cool, or being alive for that matter. They all look like the Cryptkeeper. But, take a look at how awesome they were in their heyday.
It’s a bit like looking at pictures of your dad when he was young, and realizing he was not always interested in mortgages or the price of a good recliner. Anyway, I still dislike most of the Stones later catalog, particularly ‘Love is Strong’. But their early stuff is just amazing! Enough to make up for most of the stuff they put out in the ’90s, and almost good enough to overcome Keith Richards’ appearance in that Pirates of the Caribbean movie! My particular favorites are Paint it Black, Sympathy for the Devil, and Beast of Burden.
Like many of my generation, my first introduction to the music of Queen was during Wayne’s World. Thank God for Wayne and Garth. Queen was an amazing band, and Freddie Mercury was a seriously stunning frontman. Google frontman, and the first result is a Wiki article on lead singers with a picture of Freddie Mercury. That says it all.
Like David Bowie, Queen have the capacity to sound radically different depending on the song you’re listening to. Another One Bites the Dust sounds nothing like Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and nothing sounds anything like Bohemian Rhapsody. Seriously, has there ever been a song that is as fun to sing as Bohemian Rhapsody? If you think you can argue with me, watch this:
5. the Clash
What can you say about such an important band? They were one of the first punk bands ever? They were one of the best punk bands ever? A lot of people have heard of the Clash but might not be familiar with their songs. Only, I’m sure you’ve heard them, even if you didn’t know it at the time. I’m sure everyone has heard Should I Stay Or Should I Go, but it doesn’t sound like a punk song when you hear it, and I don’t think I knew it was the Clash until later in life. The Clash isn’t a mainstream band, by any means, but it is not something so esoteric that you can’t appreciate the songs without a music degree. And in terms of influence on later musicians and on the direction of music at the time, they were hugely important.
I am aware that this list has been full of men. I am not someone who thinks women cannot be great musicians, but I am someone who listens to older music, and there were a lot less of them back then.
Honorable Mention–Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Amy Winehouse, the Streets, the Who
What kind of ridiculous list has Led Zeppelin as an honorable mention?! Good God. I’m too exhausted to continue! I was going to torture you all with my favorite bits of British history, and other factoids of a comparatively useless nature, but I will desist. Maybe next time.