Is British TV Underrated?

That all depends on what you class as ‘British TV’ and what does that even mean? Is there a bad connotation attached to the word ‘underrated?’

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America has given us a long list of greats when it comes to TV, covering a wide array of genre and form, from The X Files to Dallas, Cheers to Charmed and Twin Peaks to Seinfeld. And we cannot argue that the profundity of Hollywood has sent the film industry straight into our hearts, minds, and, of course, our pockets. In the face of film, TV always tended to drop and play around in the shadows, with a crossover between the two, in terms of story, cast and crew, just not being feasible and/or desirable. But now, TV has risen out of those shadows and made its own majestic mark in the showbiz, entertainment world, striding alongside film, shoulder to shoulder, stealing its actors, actresses, directors and producers, re-building film’s failed attempts into shows followed so intently by audiences it becomes part of their daily life to catch the latest episode. Now lets not diminish the power of the movies just yet, everyone wants to be a big-time, a-lister movie star, but what will they always remember? Where they got their start. For most of the latest crop, and even some from the past who always found their way back, that start was in TV! Just look at Julia Louis-Dreyfus; found fame on Seinfeld, went on to star in her own sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine which was cancelled after a very successful five seasons and once again rose to undeniable, unbeaten fame with the still going strong, Veep. She had film roles in between her TV, but always came back, that’s true loyalty to an industry still trying to flourish in the background of Hollywood. There are many more actors and actresses like Louis-Dreyfus, and because of them, the incredible talent in the writer’s rooms, and most notably in this era, the different viewing platforms, TV has risen to become one of the biggest, baddest industries across the world.

 

But, is it all because of American TV? Not a chance.

 

Some would believe it to be so, especially with most of Britain’s talent jumping ship and finding work across the pond, but that’s their prerogative, a person has to build their career somehow. Even writers, directors and producers have to join forces with their American counterparts in order to make their dreams a reality. It’s all part of the big rat race that is showbiz, and, to put it simply, life. This article isn’t predicated on picking at America’s successful TV industry and all the people behind it like a ratty child throwing their toys out the pram. No, it’s about the other successful TV industry and the many other people responsible for doing it – British TV. It is transcending boundaries and pushing past limits to create and present great stories, characters and messages to its viewers. Some examples are; Midsomer Murders, Peaky Blinders, Prime Suspect and Spooks, Goodness Gracious Me, Cold Feet, Only Fools and Horses and Absolutely Fabulous. These shows all represent Britishness – a way of life Britons can identify with, stories that most can discuss with friends or at parties and say; ‘did you see the latest Cold Feet? That reminded me of the time I…’ or even ‘just re-watched the first series of Spooks, it puts things into perspective…’ They are all still talked about, watched and enjoyed, but if you were to mention one of these names to someone abroad, would they know them straight off the bat? Maybe not these examples, but I can bet any money that if a person dropped these show titles, they would know: Downtown Abbey, The Night Manager, The Crown, Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Office, and why is that? Two words. US backing. So the moral of this article is that British TV has become lost to the power of the American dollar, and the solely British TV of today, like Mrs. Browns Boys, Citizen Khan, Mount Pleasant, Victoria, Death in Paradise and Vera, are going unnoticed by most of the world despite being brilliant in their own right. Thus, wouldn’t you say British TV is underrated?

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Victoria (2016-present)

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Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)

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Spooks (2002-2011)

We can’t fault those British TV shows that are backed by the States because they are brimming with all the good things TV has to offer; immersive storylines, identifiable characters, socio-political and cultural messages the world needs to have thrown in their faces. And a bonus perk is that these American-backed British shows are winning in the critical acclaim race, with The Golden Globes, SAGs and Emmy’s opening their doors to these British actors/actresses and creators by awarding them with the highest honours. Claire Foy is a recent Golden Globe winner for her work in The Crown, as is Tom Hiddleston for The Night Manager, and in the past years we have seen Wolf Hall win best Mini-series. We know it’s not all about accolades and critics and ratings play a big role in the success of a show, and from pulling in a viewership of 1.6 million, The Night Manager brought a surge of 70% since its premiere. So there work is obviously good as its applauded by the bigwigs and the people tune in to watch. But it’s not completely British, and the ones that are just seem to be hovering in and out of the shadows. Whether they want to come out of the shadows or not, whether they want America to shuttle them towards the limelight or not, they are definitely deserving of worldwide recognition, slots that are being filled up by other shows, and all because they have a foot in its success. Does that sound slightly nepotistic?

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The Crown (2016-present)

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The Night Manager (2016-present)

This may sound like an ‘axe to grind’ article against America and its TV industry but it is actually a call for the hidden gems of British TV to be understood and recognised as primetime players in the big game that is entertainment. And one way that it has already happened is through the art of streaming, where Netflix UK & Ireland stream a wide array of inherently British TV shows, for instance, The Thick of It, Top Boy, Skins, Benidorm, Outnumbered, Blackadder, Whitechapel, the list is endless. It is a big step, but it makes you wonder if all these shows are on the US Netflix, or the European version, and the people who get to watch need to have a subscription, so is it a big step after all?

To counter my own point, is it better for these shows to remain as they are, because if they were to lose their underrated status, would they still be those very British TV shows they started out as? If the whole world knew about them, and they became high-ranking entertainment shows, would the market of British TV cease to exist as just that, British? A market of its own? These conversations tend to strike a chord, but they are also a double-edged sword. So what is the right answer? Is there a right answer? No, there is just an opinion, a POV, and this article is mine. I believe the un-Americanised British TV is underrated, but I also don’t have a solution that won’t taint its reputation as good, solid entertainment, so maybe being underrated is its power, its tool to be a constant in the industry even after its airtime has concluded, because they are the ‘indies’ of TV, the hidden gems that just need to unearthed by the lovers of Television. I mean, even America must have its own version of this; it can’t all be surplus ratings, prestigious honours and huge fan-followings.

There has got to a balance.

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Magic re-set & revisited…

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As a major Potterhead, I have been anxiously awaiting the next great from J.K Rowling and she did not fail to amaze. Despite alluding to the world in which the great wizard Harry Potter was born, Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel to those films. It stands on its own ground with the wizardry of London travelling across the Atlantic to another metropolis that is New York City. And better yet, its set in 1926, the prohibition era which means for some dazzling Gatsby-esque historical context that addresses, not only a different domain of magic, but into the unknown wonders of the past. This new insight into the wizarding world Rowling so lovingly bestowed upon us mere muggles is all but one strand of the appeal audiences have for this film. We have new magical lingo, fresh character perspectives and a very grown-up tone. So a word of advice to those kids who grew up with the students of Hogwarts, myself included, buckle up, its time to understand the mature shade of witchcraft and wizardry.

There is always the issue of subconscious repetition when you read an authors next novel or watch a directors next film. I went in with this packed in the back of my head hoping to encounter Newt Scamander’s journey with a fresh perspective and honest curiosity. Rowling didn’t disappoint in terms of imagination for a story forever tethered to another magical world. Although the story beats partially fell flat in my eyes as missing the – for lack of a better, more befitting word for Rowling – magic it so deserved. I had the same feeling after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the story is the same but the people different. A man/pseudo-hero arrives, encounters a problem, tries to fix it but finds another, deep-seeded, relevant to the whole world kind of problem which may or may not be resolved and thus paves the way for the second film. So do we bite, or do we shun it, as ‘been there done that?’ I believe it would be the former, as this generation of filmgoer’s just loves a teasing story about the battle against evil, which ends up forging a film series they can commit to. Having said that, the first film in a franchise almost always is labeled as contextual – we need to familiarise ourselves with a new magical setting and characters need to be introduced, but not wholly developed, so we can begin the journey with them, as well as start to form our own perceptions of them. So, is Rowling just toying with our emotions and deliberately keeping us in the dark about the question marks attached to this story? Like they say, you don’t reveal your game plan in one hit, you have to ease your audience in to then make the shot that will leave them wanting more. And in all honesty, I want more…

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Moving on to the way she writes, rather than what, Rowling has a certain knack for creating a character the audience understands and embraces wholeheartedly. And just when we are besotted or repulsed by them, and pine for more, she takes her pen (*coughs* quill) puts it back into the pot and leaves the tale for another day, or year. We meet Newt the magic zoologist, a walking enigma, in all his beast-keeping glory and are delighted by his character right off the bat. He is an awkwardly sweet introvert, who would rather spend his time with animals instead of humans, one being Pickett, a Bowtruckle with whom he has a strong attachment, so much so that giving him away was a tear-jerking moment in the film. (Don’t worry, they were reunited.) His love for the freedom of these creatures and the affection he holds to their companionship is a beautiful and eye-opening lesson of morality in a world, both fictional and real, where they are quickly ceasing to exist. Newt leaves us with a possible revisit to the Big Apple but not without throwing down a few enigmas about his time at Hogwarts, his Lestrange love affair and his future role in the Grindelwald era of dark magic. Is he our new wizarding hero?

Rowling opens the door into Newts heart just a tad with the spark between him and the American witch Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein, a character matching Newt’s moral alignment and heartfelt duties. Although beneath the surface, she is a solemn character forced into the basement level department of the Magical Congress because she simply fought for the marginalised. She is a hero in her own right, it just needs to be recognised, rather than spurned. Along with Newt and Tina, the sweet but short-lived – one aspect of magic we hope loses its vigour – relationship between Queenie Goldstein and No-Mag Jacob Kowalski. Theirs is a budding love story ripped away so cruelly by the Magical Congress that we hope will resurface in the remainder of the franchise. Jacob’s memory of the miraculous adventure he embarked upon with his new wizard and witch buddies had to be retracted in the obliviating rain as Queenie left him with a warm goodbye kiss. The building of character relationships in this film springs the story into action, as no good versus evil story is complete without a group of people bound by the love of friendship and/or companionship. And together this awesome foursome will continue to catapult us into the escapist world of magic and all its journeys and transformations.

The creatures themselves were as captivating and entertaining as the human characters, and rightly so for the title is dedicated to the magnificence and mischief spilling out from Newt’s case. They are the purpose of this film, the title says so, and they assist the journey the characters take for the story to reach its peak, and thus continue to until the franchises end. We start with the inherently naughty Niffler who just cannot stop peeking out the case in search of money, jewels and pretty much anything he can stow away in his body. The list is as long as it is mesmerising; Occamy, Murtlap, Billywig, Thunderbird, Swooping Evil and Graphorn are just some featured in this first installment. Though, I have to say the fantastic beast I swayed towards was the Demiguise, the cute, fuzzy-haired, sloth-eyed, and invisible, seeing eye into the future who was having a little shop in Macy’s where Newt et al arrived to retrieve the Occamy. And without the Erumpent, we would not have been graced with the wonderful thing that was Eddie Redmayne performing a mating dance in the middle of Central Park.

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Now, we know Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel to those films. And neither is it remotely about Harry and his friends, but rather it revolves around a much greater force to be reckoned with. Mr. Newt Scamander, everyone’s favourite magic zoologist, is key to this five-film deal, but as you see in the epic stand-off of the climax, a beloved character and his long-standing feud is to become the primary focal point of this narrative. In most simple phrasing, Scamander presents himself as the subtle helping hand in the background of two great wizards and the contextual uncovering of what is to come in the next few years. Is it the case, or are we going to see much more from Newt in the coming films? Will he be our new hero to save the world from a dark lord, or will he remain the introverted underdog on the sidelines? We will have to wait and see, all we know is that four more films are in the works and we will most certainly be getting answers about the film’s contextual build up, both overt and covert. But how do you say? A young Dumbledore will be gracing us with his presence soon enough…