12 Underrated British Shows Worth the Watch

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have to mI was raised on British television, and while most current British TV shows are available on some streaming sites, there are many lesser-known treasures from yesteryear. Here are some unmissable British shows for any discerning TV lover.

1. Sherlock (2010 – 2017)

Sherlock
Image Credit: Hartswood Films.

Before Benedict Cumberbatch won award after award, he rose to fame on the BBC’s fantastic Sherlock, a modern remaking of the Arthur Conan Doyle books. Along with Martin Freeman’s strong foil character, Dr. Watson, Holmes relives Conan Doyle’s famous novel collection but in current-day London. In my opinion, Cumberbatch has yet to channel a character better than Sherlock — this show cannot be missed.

2. Detectorists (2014 – 2022)

Detectorists
Image Credit: BBC Four.

Available on several streaming sites, Detectorists charts the misadventures of two humble metal detectorists who live in a country village. Their exploits involve a cast of lovable misfits who share their passion for finding local treasures — bottle tops, mostly. The chemistry between the buddies, played by Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones, is central to a laid-back narrative and dialogue discussing BBC Radio or trashing academic historians’ darling and medieval English monk, the Venerable Bede.

3. Fawlty Towers (1975 – 1979)

Fawlty Towers
Image Credit: BBC.

Unlike their cash-machine American counterparts, British comedy shows follow a six-episode, 30-minute runtime format. This method means the writing has to be spot-on, and no show expresses this brilliance more than Fawlty Towers. Starring Monty Python alumnus John Cleese as an eccentric hotel manager on the Southern English coast whose crackpot schemes land him in trouble. Cleese is in the role of his career, though a fleeting one — 12 episodes and two seasons is all they ever produced.

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4. Blackadder (1982 – 1983)

Blackadder
Image Credit: BBC.

A British comedy stalwart series, Blackadder follows the fictionalized account of the Blackadder family line, enacted through different stages in British history and represented by Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), playing a character adjacent to the ruling class. From the first season’s late Medieval period through the Elizabethan and the Regency eras to the final series set during World War One, Blackadder’s irreverent blend of one-liners and slapstick is timeless. Furthermore, the series, written by Cambridge University’s “Footlights” club member Ben Elton, features an ensemble cast of high-caliber British acting talent.

5. Peep Show (2003 – 2015)

Peep Show
Image Credit: Objective Productions.

British comedy hit its stride in the early ’00s when Channel Four and BBC2 battled for the best comedy shows. While BBC2 had The Office, Channel Four had Peep Show. The show’s premise: two unlikely best friends and roommates bumble through life in North London, interacting with various quirky characters as their lives develop — mostly for the worse. Much of the show is shot from first-person perspective, with the guys’ invasive inner monologues providing much of the laughs. Peep Show is a modern British comedy at its best.

6. The Thick of It (2005-2012)

Photo Credit: BBC.

This comedy explores the intricacies of the British government with a dry humor that is understated but is surely worth the watch. You will be immersed in a satire that prods the folly of many preemptive decisions made in the government.

7. Luther (2010 – 2019)

Luther (2010 - 2019)
Image Credit: BBC Studios Drama Productions.

Idris Elba played one of the coolest Wire characters in Stringer Bell. Subsequently, his acting credits post-Wire are impressive, but he found arguably his best character in 2009 when he became Luther, a London detective with a dark streak. Luther’s film noir aesthetic blends seamlessly with the macabre narratives, depicting London’s brutal underbelly of borderline criminals — and personable serial killers.

8. Have I Got News for You (1990 – )

Have I Got News For You
Image Credit: The London Studios.

One of the longest-running panel shows on British television,  Have I Got News For You, delves into the news and current political affairs. Rather than discuss the news with the solemnity it craves, long-serving panelists and opposing captains Ian Hislop and Paul Merton welcome two guest teammates and a host each week to unpack recent news scoops. They frequently mock guests, who sometimes might be recently disgraced or former politicians.

9. Mi-5 (2002-2011)

Photo Credit: Kudos Film & Television.

In the crowded arena of spy thrillers is the British television show MI-5. This show explores the gritty world of British intelligence, with complicated moral decisions that have to be made by operatives of MI-5. It is released in the UK under the title Spooks. Hermione Norris won multiple awards for her role as Ros Myers, and Peter Firth for his role as Harry Pearce.

10. I’m Alan Partridge (1997 – 2002)

I'm Alan Partridge
Image Credit: BBC Two.

Steve Coogan is famous in America for starring in comedy movies; in Britain, Coogan is best known as his alter ego and most prolific character, Alan Partridge. Partridge is a former television presenter (look up Knowing Me, Knowing You, with Alan Partridge) who is separated from his wife and living in a motel on the Norwich ring road. I’m Alan Partridge doesn’t have an arc but just follows Partridge to work as an early morning local radio host and back to the motel where he interacts with (usually upsetting) various odd characters as his life deteriorates.

11. Red Dwarf (1988 – )

Red Dwarf
Image Credit: Paul Jackson Productions.

Obsolete science fiction fans will enjoy Red Dwarf, a low-budget BBC2 comedy series set in the deepest limits of outer space. The protagonist, a hapless Earthling named Lister, is part of a spaceship crew consisting of an opinionated hologram, a too-cool-for-school humanoid cat, and a well-mannered android who gradually gains self-awareness over the show’s 12 seasons.

12. The League of Gentlemen (1999 – 2017)

The League of Gentlemen (1999 - 2017)
Image Credit: BBC Two.

This cult-favorite British sketch show melds comedy and macabre horror inspired by classic British Hammer Horror movies and science fiction shows. The series revolves around several mainstay characters’ storylines, with scenes that will creep viewers out as much as entertain them. Cast member Mark Gatiss is famous for many small parts in giant movies, usually writing them himself; I still prefer The League of Gentlemen all day.

 

 

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

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