The Greatest British Television Series Ever

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While streaming has largely led to people all over the world watching television regardless of nationality, British TV has its own flair beyond the accents of the characters which makes it stand out from the rest — unique humor which differs from the world (especially that of Americans), shorter seasons of television and the general ways in which the characters behave and the performances are crafted, as well as the dialogue, cinematography, and color palettes that give the audience a sense of Britishness.

MovieWeb is constantly searching for the best movies and TV shows to include on our lists, which were last revised on December 20th, 2022. So, if you're a fan of British television, here's a list of the top shows from across the country's history.

British television has been a favorite to Anglophiles and even casual fans for decades, and countless British shows have spawned massively successful American series, from The Office to Big Brother The best of these shows, whether they be comedies, period dramas, mysteries, or dark thrillers, all manage to reflect some aspect of British culture.

Despite the fact that we already have lists of the best British comedies and some of the best detective shows from Acorn in the U.S., K Obviously, a best-of list can only include so many shows (the following does not include news programs or the many hilarious British panel shows). Some of the most well-liked shows on British television, as chosen by viewers and reviewers alike.

18 Mr Bean

Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson Pictures, Universal

This British sitcom starring Rowan Atkinson as Bean has been a perennial favorite of comedy buffs for decades. The show centers on a childish protagonist who, because of his own naivety, tends to make complicated situations out of simple ones. Mr. Bean's success stems from the fact that it is a very straightforward sitcom, which modernizes slapstick and silent-era comedy in a way that is accessible to a wide audience.

This is how Mr. Bean provides the audience with some much-needed comic relief. The show became a worldwide phenomenon despite having almost no spoken dialogue. Rowan Atkinson has recently admitted that he hated playing Mr. Bean is stressful and exhausting, and as such, his next Mr Movie about Mr. Bean will most likely be an animated one. Meanwhile, Atkinson's new series Man vs. Bee gives the actor a chance to show off his comedic chops after a long hiatus.

Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, and the cast of The Office BBC Two

The Office, which originally aired from 2001 to 2003 and starred Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman, spawned the hugely successful American version starring Steve Carell. The plot of the British version is similar to that of the American (which largely recycled the plot of the pilot), but the tone of the show is decidedly darker and more cringe-inducing in the British version. Gervais' character, David Brent, is the obnoxious and naive manager of the Wernham Hogg paper company who agrees to be in a mockumentary about the workplace.

Tim Canterbury, played by Martin Freeman, is in the same kind of will-they-or-won't-they relationship with coworker Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis) as Jim and Pam in the American version. Despite only airing for 14 episodes, the show received numerous accolades and awards. Not only did it launch the careers of several of its stars, but it also shifted the sitcom away from traditional comedy and toward more mockumentary styles, making it more fitting for the modern era.

Only Fools and Horses BBC

Only Fools and Horses stars David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst as South London merchant brothers Derek "Del Boy" and Rodney Trotter, who try to become powerful millionaires through various get-rich-quick schemes that always go comically awry. The show premiered in 1981 to lukewarm reviews but went on to become a ratings phenomenon and fan favorite over the course of seven critically acclaimed seasons.

In 1996, the episode of the acclaimed program attracted a record-breaking 24 million viewers in the United Kingdom. Three million people watched its holiday special. Many of Del Boy's hilarious catchphrases from Only Fools and Horses have entered the English language as common expressions because of the show's impact on British popular culture. The comedy was voted Britain's Best Sitcom in a BBC poll in 2004, and it is still very popular today.

The cast of Skins all laying in bed together All3Media
Images from the Firm

Popular all over the world, the original British version of Skins inspired MTV to create an American version of the show. The success of Skins can be attributed to the show's ability to depict common adolescent concerns in a way that is both humorous and grounded in reality.

This show revolutionized the teen drama genre by presenting the difficult but truthful issues that many young people face but which adults have always avoided. This means that viewers who watched the show as children continue to consider it a classic.

The cast of Misfits E4

In the United States, you can watch Misfits, another unorthodox show about young people. S To the relief of many viewers, Logo in the United States aired the original version of Misfits rather than a remake. A group of juvenile delinquents gain supernatural abilities during their time in prison.

The comedic treatment of superpowers is what sets Misfits apart from other popular American superhero shows of the time like Heroes, Arrow, and Smallville. When it comes to satirical superhero titles, such as The Boys, Deadpool, and Peacemaker, this show was years ahead of its time. Despite its impact, Misfits was consistently entertaining throughout its entire run.

Claire Foy in The Crown Netflix

Peter Morgan's The Crown is a critically acclaimed historical drama that first appeared on Netflix. Queen Elizabeth II is the current monarch of the United Kingdom, and this show covers her entire reign while giving viewers a glimpse of life behind palace walls. Award-winning actors such as Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, Claire Foy, and Gillian Anderson, as well as up-and-coming performers such as Emma Corrin, elevate the drama to the next level.

The monarchical power structures of the royal family are among the most quintessentially British aspects of The Crown, which is also distinct in its use of multiple actors to chronicle multiple generations of the royal family. According to recent reports, Humayan Saeed will appear in season five of The Crown as Dr. Doherty, Princess Diana's trusted confidant. Khan Hasnat The fifth season is sure to be riveting, what with all the tabloid scandals and intense drama that occurred during this time in Queen Elizabeth II's life.

Simon Pegg and Mark Heap in Spaced Channel 4

Before video games, superhero movies, and manga became commonplace, mainstream, and successful, before Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright introduced the world to films like Shaun of the Dead, there was Spaced.

Directed by Wright, this groundbreaking film mixes horror, science fiction, and romance tropes into what is essentially a working-class sitcom about two people (Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson) and their friends (British comedy royalty Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Julia Deakin). Spaced was the first TV show for many of these people, and despite its short run, it is still remembered as a classic.

A person with a bunny head in front of a comic store in Utopia British Endemol Shine

Utopia is a paranoid conspiracy thriller about a shady government agency searching for a rare graphic novel that may contain incriminating evidence and scientific codes, and it is widely considered one of the most underrated television series of all time. and the devoted readers who become embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy after discovering the comics. Both seasons of the show are incredibly morbid and disturbing, but they also feature stunning visuals and sound design.

The plot twists and turns brilliantly, and the performances, especially those of Fiona O'Shaughnessy as the mysterious butt-kicking loner Jessica Hyde, Adeel Akhtar as the off-the-grid conspiracy-believer Wilson Wilson, and the great Neil Maskell as Arby, the intimidating, mentally disturbed assassin, are outstanding. The original British series Utopia from 2013 is a true masterpiece, and the American remakes have all failed, including one by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn and HBO.

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve (2018) IMG

The British spy drama Killing Eve is a diabolically good time, following an MI6 agent on the trail of a psychotic but oddly likeable killer named Villanelle. The sociopathic Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer, has an endearing quality that makes viewers root for her. As MI5 agent Eve Polastri, Sandra Oh is as dryly funny as ever but quietly intense as she becomes obsessed with finding the elusive assassin.

Despite the poisonous nature of Villanelle and Eve's relationship, the two lead actresses had undeniable chemistry and won every award possible for television. As it aired on BBC America, Killing Eve quickly became one of the network's most popular shows and is widely considered to be the most successful British television program to air in the United States in recent memory. The BBC premiered the final season of Killing Eve in February 2022.

Downton Abbey BBC

Downton Abbey, another period drama set in a sprawling mansion, has won numerous awards over the course of its long run and was once recognized by Guinness World Records as having the "highest critical review ratings for a TV show." The show chronicles an affluent family's daily routines and interpersonal dynamics as they experience major historical events like the Titanic disaster and World War One.

Downton Abbey does the popular trend of setting well-written fiction within historical realities (especially very English ones) better than any other show. Having Dame Maggie Smith in it is also a big plus.

Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder first season The Black Adder The World Wide BBC

Directed by Love Actually and Notting Hill's Richard Curtis, who also contributed to some of the best British comedies like Not the Nine O'Clock News, The Vicar of Dibley, and Spitting Image, and starred Mr. Bean, The Thin Blue Line), Blackadder is widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time. The series was broken up into episodes set in different eras, each of which followed the series' main villain, Edmund Blackadder.

Season after season, we watch as his scheming and arrogance remain constant despite being transplanted into increasingly ridiculous settings (the British Middle Ages of the 15th century, the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Regency Era, World War I). It's one of the earliest great British comedies and it's incredibly clever.

Peter Capaldi and the cast of The Thick of It BBC

Its creator (the great Armando Iannucci) and writers would go on to even greater success with the very similar American series Veep, making The Thick of It one of the most important television series of the 21st century. Peter Capaldi, the show's breakout star, would later become Doctor Who.

The Thick of It is a hilariously profane British sitcom that chronicles the blunders and missteps of various government agencies and political spin doctors as they stumble their way toward disaster and eventually illegal activities. The Thick of It's ensemble cast was wonderfully developed towards a dramatic and profound finale, and the show became notorious for its extremely imaginative and inventive (and constant) use of curse words.

Planet Earth BBC One

The stunning 2006 nature documentary series Planet Earth, narrated by the legendary broadcaster and historian David Attenborough, provides viewers with breathtaking images of the various biomes that make up the world, treating them to close-up footage of places like the Sahara desert. The rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest, Baltoro Glacier, and their environs. Listening to Attenborough's incredibly in-depth discussions of each of these incredible environments transports viewers there without them ever having to leave their living rooms.

Audiences and critics alike praised Planet Earth, and the show went on to win several major awards, including a Peabody, four Emmys, and the Royal Television Society's Science and History award. The Guardian included it in their list of the 100 Best TV Shows of the 21st Century, and the series went on to inspire numerous spin-offs and sequels like Planet Earth Part II and Frozen Planet.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag Studio BBC

Fleabag is a show about a young woman's attempts to deal with the hardships of life through sardonic debauchery and witty hedonism (and some epic fourth-wall breaks), and it's both hilarious and profound. The series is based on a one-woman play written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also stars in and produces it.

By breaking the fourth wall in a way that is psychologically and emotionally resonant rather than just a self-indulgent meta technique, Waller-Bridge helps the show connect with its audience by making the viewer the protagonist's best friend. In the second season, Waller-Bridge uses this metafictional device as a means of explaining her character's alienation and possible mental health issues, going even further than she did in the first. Inspiring a new generation of viewers to fall in love with British television, Fleabag is at once brilliant, devastating, and hilariously profane.

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders Studio BBC

The image of "smoke, booze, and (these) immaculately dressed men" that inspired Steven Knight to create Peaky Blinders came from the real-life notorious gang that operated in Birmingham in the 1890s. With this solid foundation, the show provides viewers with arguably the most exciting gangster story on television, second only to The Sopranos.

The audience's attention was immediately drawn to Cillian Murphy's Thomas "Tommy" Shelby because of his brilliant performance. The darkness of the show may be excessive for some, but Peaky Blinders is important for eschewing the fancy, overly costumed fluff of many British period dramas in favor of something real lurking in the heart of working-class, historical England; this is the England of the people not like the British nobility and royals that dominate British television

Cumberbatch and Freeman as Sherlock and Watson BBC

The role of Sherlock Holmes, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, has long been awaited with great anticipation by fans of mystery and crime drama. Martin Freeman's portrayal of Doctor John Watson brings Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's notorious duo to 21st-century England. The lively visual storytelling, updated setting and characters, and clever use of humor make this a fantastic retelling of the Sherlock Holmes canon. The version of Holmes portrayed by Cumberbatch, unlike Doyle's, is not your typical sleuth. Instead, he is aloof and considered psychotic, while Freeman's John Watson is a nervous war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Each episode of Sherlock is an epic with just the right amount of adventure, drama, and comedy, thanks to the show's stellar cast and their engrossing, modern takes on classic characters. The show made a star out of Cumberbatch on a global scale, and it's still considered a classic today.

Monty Python's Flying Circus BBC

Monty Python's Flying Circus was a groundbreaking and legendary series that used surrealism and absurdism to poke fun at ingrained social norms, political and religious hypocrisy, and elitist ideals. Monty Python, featuring the talents of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Micheal Palin, was known for its anthology sketch shows that embraced absurdity, controversy, and non-sequiturs. The Monty Python's Flying Circus set a precedent for the future of comedy and television long before Saturday Night Live, MadTV, and In Living Color.

The doctors in Doctor Who BBC

Doctor Who is a huge deal in the United Kingdom. This science fiction program has been on the air since 1963, during which time it has amassed an enormous following; after a hiatus of 15 years, the show returned in 2005 to widespread critical acclaim and widespread popularity. Doctor Who, with its time travel, alien Time Lords, and mysterious protagonist, is a completely original take on science fiction, British comedy, and the mystery genre.

Several entries for this show can be found in the Guinness Book of World Records, which is both interesting and not particularly surprising. Cute as it is to claim "Most Expensive Dalek" or "Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Doctor Who Characters," these records don't begin to do justice to the show's massive popularity and cultural impact. "

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