If you’re someone who goes through series on a weekly basis, episode by episode, and looks for more every day… I’m going to recommend you some British series that have become international hits (or should have done), and that you should watch. I really like films, but I’m even crazier about series… I’m hooked on dozens, many of them British.
A great way to improve your English is to watch them in original version with subtitles. The problem is that in the United Kingdom, the series format is different from what you might be used to. They tend to be mini-series with three to six episodes max in a season. So that means if you’re really addicted to one, you’ll be frustrated when you finish it so quickly.
But on the other hand, the quality and production level of each episode are much higher. This is a selection with a mix of series I like and some of the most recommended ones in the rankings. Here are the series you can’t miss:
One of my favourites, and still running. The fourth season is in the works. It’s a modern adaptation about the famous detective, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the protagonist. The version of Moriarty in the series is superb.
2. Black Mirror
Not a single episode of this series will leave you indifferent. There are three seasons of three episodes each. Still running.
The episodes have nothing to do with each other. They just have a related theme: new technology and its possible future consequences. All the plots are designed to make you think and wonder what you would do in each situation. If you watch it with friends, you’ll definitely have a lot to talk about.
The great Idris Elba gives a standout performance as a London police detective, solving cases as best he can… but in his own way. If you’re a fan of American detective series, this series will surprise you more than ever: as the policemen in the UK don’t carry weapons, they’re faced with dangerous situations but are unable to “take a shot” at the bad guy.
Naturally, he’s not a normal police inspector. Luther tries to be honest and do his job, but sometimes he breaks the rules and this causes him a lot of problems.
You can’t miss it. Highly recommended. Three seasons of four chapters each.
BBC, Netflix and ororo.
4. Peaky Blinders
Cillian Murphy plays a gypsy gangster in Birmingham in the twenties. Based on a real story: the Peaky Blinders were a family that controlled many of the cities businesses, trafficking drugs, alcohol, and other goods. They terrified people with their thuggish methods.
I can’t wait for the third season to come out. It’s produced by the BBC and you can find it on ororo.
5. Peep Show
As the friend who recommended it to me would say… this is a “demented” series. A comedy with very strange characters, shot from each actor’s point of view. You’ll find yourself in very strange and confusing situations that are guaranteed to make you laugh.
Eight seasons, with seven episodes per season. Available on Channel4 and Netflix.
6. Downton Abbey
“It’s the year 1912. Life in the estate of Downton Abbey (Yorkshire, England) changes when the future heir dies during the sinking of the Titanic. The new heir is a young middle class lawyer called Matthew (Dan Stevens), a distant cousin of the earl. This is because the earl Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and the countess Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern) have no sons, only three daughters: Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Sybill (Jessica Brown-Findlay), who can’t inherit. This change of fortune doesn’t please the members of the family or the servants, especially not the widowed countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), Robert’s mother.”
I don’t watch it, but it’s recommended on all lists of “best series”. It’s very popular in Europe.
Aired on ITV, you can watch it on ororo. Five seasons of eight episodes each, plus special episodes.
7. This is England
Based on the 2006 film of the same name, the protagonist is a young member of a group of skinheads and his nationalist friends. The TV version begins three years after the film with This is England ’86.
One of the funniest comedies in British TV history. Luckily, there’s no American version.
9. IT Crowd
This series is fairly well known. It’s about some geeky IT technicians in the basement of an office… you must have heard of it. And if you haven’t, you have to watch it! You don’t need to be part of the IT world to understand the jokes. 😉
10. The Inbetweeners
Not so long ago, the second film about these secondary schoolers was showing in cinemas. The series follows the comical life of this “gang” in England and their day-to-day problems. Sure to make you laugh.
11. Fawlty Towers
If you like Monty Python-style humour… you’ll love this hotel. Every episode makes me laugh my ass off.
It’s old but you can watch the whole thing on Youtube.
12. House of Cards (UK)
I’m a fan of Kevin Spacey and how he plays Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” in the American version. But like many American shows, it was based on an earlier British one. The original version of a show is often better, and this is true in this case too. In addition, you might learn something about how British politics works.
Three seasons of four episodes each. Available on Netflix.
13. The Office (original)
Another example I have to give about the difference between the US and UK versions of series… I can’t decide between the two. On the one hand, I’m a big fan of the American version and I devoured all nine seasons, but British humour is much more merciless and direct. Crazy – no topic is off-limits. I guess you can watch both; they complement each other well.
Two seasons of six episodes each. Available on Netflix and youtube.
14. The Fall
Gillian Anderson, famouse for playing Agent Scully on The X-Files. In this series she’s also a detective, and she goes to Northern Ireland to investigate a murder. One of those good police thrillers. 😉
Two seasons of five episodes each. Broadcast by the BBC, available on Netflix and Ororo.
I’m not crazy about it, but it has a big following. After an incident in London, a group of trouble young people acquire surprising abilities. I won´t say any more.
Five seasons of eight episodes each. Available on Netflix, Channel4, and Ororo.
A series with great international success based on the British secret service, the MI5. It’s made up of 10 seasons and this year they’ll release the film on the big screen.
The series follows a group of students in their third and fourth years of secondary school (different cast members every two seasons or so). It depicts problems with sexual relationships, drugs, eating disorders, abuse, etc. The problems of real life, right?
Available on Netflix, Channel4, and Ororo.
18. Life on Mars
I have it on my list of things I need to start. It looks very good and many people have recommended it to me.
A detective has an accident and wakes up in the past, in 1973 to be precise. He’ll have to redo his life, but with the advantage of coming from the future.
Two seasons of eight episodes each. Available on Netflix and Ororo.
19. Little Britain
It doesn’t show up on the lists of best series, but this one is one of my favourites. They’re short sketches about British stereotypes: chavvy girls, Scots, a gay man in a little town in Wales, an obese woman giving classes about getting thin… if you watch the first episode and you like it, you will love this series. A good way of knowing how the British make fun of themselves.
Available on Netflix and Ororo.
20. Doctor Who
What can be said about Doctor Who? It’s the longest-running series in the history of television… with more than 50 years under its belt… since 1963, this science fiction show is a UK and pop culture phenomenon.
Available on Netflix, Ororo, and BBC.
You can watch more British series in English with subtitles (in English) on Ororo.
Can you recommend us any others?
PS – Don’t forget about HOLA, an application you can use to get past the country restrictions on the Internet.