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UK TV is the new British invasion

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | FEBRUARY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Anglophilia — the obsession with all things British — is not just reserved for Jane Austen aficionados and tiara-wearing Americans waking up at 6 a.m. to watch the royal wedding.

In fact, thousands of Anglophiles today are born on Netflix, PBS, and BBC America. Whether through some sort of Freudian love of the “motherland” or a dissatisfaction with our own pop culture, America’s British fever has expanded from airwaves and theaters to the small screen.

On Feb. 9, America celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first U.S. performance, an event which Anglo-fied American culture forever. But the Atlantic floodgate that brought us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Mumford and Sons, Adele, and, yes, even One Direction, has not closed. In fact, it has opened to an even more valuable import — British television.

It seems as if everyone has at least one English TV obsession, whether it’s the über-popular “Downton Abbey” or the campy classic “Doctor Who.” And these watchers aren’t just Tumblr blog hounds; Americans spent a whopping $779 million on British television content in 2012 — up 11 percent from past years — and according to the UK’s Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, that number is on the rise. We’re talking “Breaking Bad” levels of adoration.

These beloved Brit programs — most products of the powerhouse BBC — have started to take over the schedule of our own PBS, which pays millions of pounds for BBC products … even though it airs them months after the UK premières. U.S. extended cable networks have also nabbed Brit shows, such as HBO’s “Parade’s End” and Starz’s “The White Queen,” and the BBC America network reaches 70 percent of U.S. cable subscribers.

And when we aren’t absorbing UK TV, we’re repackaging it in an American context; NBC’s “The Office,” Fox’s “The X Factor,” Netflix’s “House of Cards,” MTV’s “Skins,” SyFy’s “Being Human,” and CBS’s “Elementary” are all based on British programs. The practice is so common it has been parodied in the BBC Two/Showtime comedy “Episodes,” featuring Matt LeBlanc.

But why should the United States, the entertainment capital of the world, take TV content from a little island more than 3,000 miles away? The easy answer is that the UK crafts some damn good artists. Take this year’s British Oscar nominees, including Christian Bale, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Michael Fassbender, Sally Hawkins, and Steve McQueen. That’s one big heap of classically trained talent.

In addition to the plethora of talented British actors, writers, and directors in the biz, there’s just something about a British accent that draws us Yanks in. We hear our familiar English but with an exotic, Old World twist, and we start to idealize this land of royalty and chivalry, sci-fi and secret agents, castles and magical boarding schools.

America’s British obsession may be due in part to our stereotypes or fantasies about our former colonizer, but that doesn’t make Anglophilia an unhealthy trend. You can be an American patriot while still entertaining a curiosity and appreciation for British culture — especially award-winning TV programs.

In addition, the give-and-take between United States and UK entertainers has never been stronger, and if that is the only working diplomacy our nations can manage at the moment, we’ll happily take it.

So even as we cheer against the Brits at the Winter Olympics, don’t forget to give their television gems a try, whether you binge on “Luther,” “Merlin,” “Misfits,” or Ricky Gervais’s countless projects. Side effects of watching such programs may include increased appetite for tea and scones, kidney, an involuntary British accent, and a pointed crush on an English actor.

But, as the British say, keep calm and carry on. And if symptoms persist, welcome to the American Anglophile Society.



I’d never ask you to give up your favorite American programs, but if you love television, there’s likely a British show out there for you. Here are some suggestions for finding just the right one.
 
IF YOU LIKE: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
YOU’LL LOVE: “Doctor Who”
With all the campy special effects, spunky characters, and recurring plot motifs you could hope for, “Doctor Who,” television’s longest-running sci-fi program, is sure to suck you in as thoroughly as Joss Whedon’s supernatural cult classic.
 
IF YOU LIKE: “The Mentalist”
YOU’LL LOVE: “Sherlock”
Of course, fans of other Sherlock Holmes adaptations —  “House” comes to mind — will take to BBC’s modern sleuth series, but “Sherlock” has enough clever crime-solving, intricate plots, and lovable characters to lure in any fan of smart, psychological television.
 
IF YOU LIKE: “30 Rock”
YOU’LL LOVE: “Miranda”
A cutting-edge comedy with the same autobiographical nature as Tina Fey’s NBC brainchild, “Miranda” is the product of British comedian Miranda Hart. Breaking numerous sitcom clichés, Hart pushes body image standards (à la “Girls”) and character dynamics to create one funny and relatable heroine.
 
IF YOU LIKE: “Game of Thrones”
YOU’LL LOVE: “Downton Abbey”
This might seem like a stretch, but besides its lack of swords and dragons, “Downton” has many of the elements that draw you to HBO’s fantasy series: a huge and complex cast of characters, political power-plays, beautiful sets and costumes, and a death count bound to depress you for weeks.


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