British TV Mini-Reviews vol. 1 A – H

Previously published on my Live Journal on: 06/09/2009

Note: This is an older review (first of three), previously posted to my Live Journal and now hosted on Dreamwidth. This review consists of a series of mini-reviews of various British TV series I have watched and that are in my personal DVD collection. Some of these may also have complete reviews on BitchwithWiFi. I’ve decided to copy it as is, silly asides and all. I did correct typos and formatting. Enjoy!

In prep for a panel I might do at next year’s Mediawest (a Midwestern Media Fan Convention) I wrote up brief summaries for all the British TV in my DVD collection. Keep in mind I also collect US TV and US film on DVD. Actually, I’m guessing I have around 200 films on DVD and all but a couple are American films. I do really like British TV though – so, although I have American stuff, yeah, my collection is heavily weighted to British TV. I might post just a list of my American TV shows (possibly not annotated – as most should be well known.) Because the list is long it will be posted over several days. Doctor Who and it’s spin-offs will be posted separately. (Update: Because of the plethora of DC Comics based TV right now, this is no longer true of my collection as a whole. I probably now have an equal amount of US and British TV.)

Vocabulary Guide:

British-American Usage Chart

Programme – Series
Series – Season
Part – Episode
Serial – Story or Episode (for Doctor Who or Sapphire & Steel)
Double-length – Two-part story or episode
Ep. – Episode, in the American sense of the word.
AKA – Also Known As (Some British series had different titles in the US, or each season (series) had its own title)
MI5 – Military Intelligence 5, the British internal security service, similar to the FBI in the US.
MI6 – Military Intelligence 6, the British external security service, similar to the CIA in the US.
Scotland Yard – the British National Police Force. Somewhat like the FBI in the US, and somewhat like the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) in Canada. They are generally invited into cases throughout the country, but may also cover rural areas, like the RCMP.
The Met – Depends on context, but usually short for the London Metropolitan Police.
Oxbridge – Oxford and/or Cambridge – not only refers to the two universities, or to someone who has graduated or attended either one, the term “Oxbridge” also refers to an attitude of intelligence, breeding, cultured-ness, etc. Somewhat like the US terms, “High brow” or “Ivy League” but without the snobbishness that implies (The British universities allow anyone with the intelligence to do so to attend, without the costly fees that would keep poorer students away.)

British TV Recommendation List (AKA my Personal (UK) DVD List in Alphabetical Order)

Title: All Creatures Great and Small
Featured Actors: Robert Hardy, Peter Davison, Christopher Timothy, Carol Drinkwater (Series 1-3), Lynda Bellingham (Later Series)
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 13 or 14, depending on set
Total Seasons (Series): 7
Series in my personal collection: 3, plus Christmas specials
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: BBC
General Information: Based on the series of autobiographical novels by James Herriot, this series is about vets in 1930s England. It’s a really great show about people, surviving in bad times, and dealing with hardship in a blunt, yet accepting way. If you’ve never seen it you are missing something. Also, like many British shows, familiar actors do show up in guest roles, including Patrick Troughton and Nicholas Courtney (not in the same episode).

TitleBang Bang It’s Reeves and Mortimer
Featured Actors (Comedians): Vic Reeves (Jim Moir), Bob Mortimer
Episode Length: 30 minutes
Number of episodes: Unknown
Total Seasons (Series): Unknown – I have a Complete set
Discs: 1
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Production Source: BBC
General Information: A British sketch comedy show. However, this isn’t Oxbridge, it’s a working-class comedy. Reeves and Mortimer were among the first of the New Wave, lower/working class (AKA Blue Collar) comedians, and one of the most successful. (Similar New Wave comedies include: The League of GentlemenLittle Britain, and Absolutely Fabulous). Overall, I wasn’t that impressed, but I had picked up all of the Reeves and Mortimer series after seeing Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased (see latter entry).

Title: Black Adder
Featured Actors: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Miranda Richardson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Tim McInnerny
Episode Length: 30 minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6
Total Seasons (Series): 4, plus specials
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: BBC
Note: I have “The Complete Black Adder” boxed set, which includes all four series and the specials. The box set is 27 episodes and 5 discs.
General Information: A Oxbridge comedy that is quite possibly the funniest British show I’ve ever seen. This historical comedy also teaches history (albeit in a twisted way). Blackadder consists of four series (seasons), each with it’s own title, set in different time periods (The Middle Ages; Elizabethan England; The Regency, and World War I. Specials included a Victorian Christmas Special, a special set during the Parliamentary wars, and a futuristic special with time travel to various eras.) The casts were different for each season and some popular guests returned as different characters in other seasons. Notably: Brian Blessed in series I only as  Richard IV; Rik Mayall as Lord Flashheart (Series 2) and Cap’t Flashheart (Series 4); and Gabrielle Glaister as the cross-dressing Bob (a girl pretending to be a guy) in Series 2 and 4. Nicola Bryant is in the Christmas special. Again, if you somehow missed it, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Title: Blake’s 7
Featured Actors: Paul Darrow, Gareth Thomas, Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell, Jacqueline Pearce, et. al.
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 13
Total Seasons (Series): 4
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Production Source:  BBC
General Information: A group of criminals escapes from an Earth that is under the control of a tyrannical Federation in an alien spacecraft they re-name The Liberator. An anti-Star Trek science fiction program. Although there are some great funny lines in this series, overall it’s very, very depressing, and regular characters are killed off on a routine basis. Although this was my favorite British SF show after Doctor Who in the 80s when I first saw it, it doesn’t stand up that well. But still worth investigating if you don’t mind the really bad special effects.

TitleBrass
Featured Actors: Timothy West, Caroline Blakiston, Geoffrey Hisliff, Geoffrey Hutchings, James Saxon, Emily Morgan, David Ashton, Shaun Scott, Gary Cady.
Episode Length: 30 minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 13
Total Seasons (Series): 1
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Production Source: Granada
General Information: A British version of Soap, in that it parodies soap operas. This series follows the adventures of two families in a Welsh mining village; the poor Fairchilds who work in the mines, and the rich Hardacres, who own the mines. The show also parodies Dallas and other night-time soap operas, but in a very British style. The word “brass” itself is British slang for money (not “upper-echelon military” – that’s American slang). Brass is a very, very funny show.

TitleCatterick
Featured Actors: Vic Reeves (Jim Moir), Bob Mortimer
Episode Length: 30 minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6
Total Seasons (Series): 2 (only 1 on DVD so far)
Format: PAL
Region: 2
Production Source:  BBC
General Information: A fantastic British New Wave comedy but with a plot. There is also heavy use of music in this series, so if it ever makes it’s way onto Region 1/NTSC discs be on the lookout for the dreaded music replacement notice. The show involves a man, just out of the military, on his way home, when chaos ensues. This series is very weird, but since it does have a plot and music, and it’s also lots of fun, it’s more approachable than the other Reeves and Mortimer comedies.

TitleDangerMouse
Featured Actors: Animated
Episode Length: 10 minutes or 30 minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): Varies
Total Seasons (Series): 7
Note: A&E bundled two Series in each set originally, and subsequently has issued a Complete boxed set. I have the Series 1 & 2, Series 3 & 4, and Series 5 & 6 boxed sets.
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source:  Thames
General Information: “He’s terrific, he’s magnific, he’s the greatest super agent in the world – Danger Mouse! Danger Mouse, our Mouse, he’s terrific, he’s magnific, he’s the best! Danger Mouse!” Danger Mouse, the world’s smallest secret agent is a small white mouse known for his white turtlenecks and black eye patch. Aided by his hamster assistant, Penfold, he reports to Colonel K (a Badger) and fights evil and chaos (usually in the form of Baron Greenback, a frog, and his assistants Nero, a caterpillar, and his other assistant a crow). Danger Mouse lives in the top flat of a normal red pillar-box style post box. Full of puns, silly situations, parodies of just about everything, and witty dialog – Danger Mouse is enjoyable for both children and adults. The Narrator gets some of the funniest lines, like the Narrator in the US-series Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Note: in some areas in the US, when episodes of Danger Mouse were aired they were joined together and the narration stripped out – this destroyed an awful lot of the humor of the show. The DVDs faithfully restore all the narration. Also, the voices are the original ones, not the dubs (apparently, again, only when shown on TV in certain areas, some of the characters were over-dubbed for unknown reasons).

Doctor Who – See Separate Entry There’s an awful lot and I have just about all of it. (Update: See Doctor Who Category on this blog, it is a major interest of mine.)

TitleFawlty Towers
Featured Actors: John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, Connie Booth
Episode Length: 30 minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 12 – in the Complete Set
Note: I have the complete collection boxed set – 12 eps, on 3 discs.
Total Seasons (Series): 3
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: BBC
General Information: John Cleese as exactly the wrong man to run a hotel. Nuff said. Actually, this Oxbridge comedy is a true classic. The episodes often started with one small thing that then snowballed with hilarious results.

TitleThe Grand
Featured Actors:
Episode Length:  1
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 8
Total Seasons (Series): 2
Format: 1
Region: NTSC
Production Source: Granada
General Information: Russell T. Davies’ historical drama set in a hotel in the 1920s. I bought this because it is Russell T. Davies (Doctor Who) producing, and I wanted to like it. But, to me, it came off a cheap imitation of Upstairs, Downstairs.

TitleHamish MacBeth
Featured Actors: Robert Carlyle, David Ashton, et. al.
Episode Length: 1 hour
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 5 to 7
Total Seasons (Series): 3
Format: PAL
Region: 2 (Note: This series also available in NTSC, Region 1)
Production Source: BBC
General Information: A small town constable in the Scottish Highlands solves mysteries (with his Highland White Scottish Terrier) while sorting out his love-life and figuring out his destiny. A bit strange, but very good. PC MacBeth’s goal in life is to solve crime in his beloved Lochdubh, without getting promoted, since that would mean leaving the village. Avoiding promotion is an issue because he’s very good at his job.

TitleHeat of the Sun
Featured Actors: Trevor Eve, Susannah Harker, Michael Byrne
Episode Length: 2-hr movies that aired on PBS’s Mystery!
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 3
Total Seasons (Series): 1 (that I know of)
Format:   NTSC  Region: 1
Production Source: Unknown
General Information: Trevor Eve, whom I’ve long admired as an actor, plays a Scotland Yard Detective sent to Kenya, partially as punishment, and partially to “clean up the town” as the saying goes. Det. Albert Tyburn is an honest cop, who is thrown into a situation where the super-rich ex-pat “locals” do whatever they want and the police have stopped caring. Tyburn wishes to do something about this. An excellent mystery series, I wish there was more. Besides, Trevor Eve, in khakis, running around, looking hot, and boy does he – what’s not to love?

TitleHitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Featured Actors: Simon Jones, David Dixon, Peter Jones (as the voice of  the book), Mark Wing-Davey, Sandra Dickinson
Episode Length:  30 minutes
Number of episodes per series (DVD set): 6
Total Seasons (Series): 1 (mini-series)
Format: NTSC
Region: 1
Production Source: BBC
General Information: The original British television mini-series, based on the books by Douglas Adams, which was in turn based on the radio series. Although the effects are not good, the mini-series is far superior to the American movie by the same name. The plot goes like this: Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect shortly before the Earth is destroyed by a Vogon Destructor Fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass. In a bit of irony, Arthur’s house had been slated for destruction for precisely the same reasons. Ford introduces Arthur to the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the galaxy’s most useful and popular book. Again, an Oxbridge comedy filled with biting wit and sarcasm, very funny asides, interesting, useless, and possibly untrue trivia, iconic characters, outright silliness, the works. Even though it has some truly awful effects (Just ignore Zaphod Beeblebrox’s second head), the “computer-generated” drawings by the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were actually all hand-drawn animation which is pretty incredible. It’s a must-see!

And we’re only up to “H”.  And there will be two more posts to come.

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