Blog Archives

Pondering the differences between British and American television…

I guess it started when they put Doc Martin on Public Broadcasting, specifically on WNET in Washington, DC, one of the three PBS stations we get on the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia (oddly enough, none of them are West Virginia stations.)

WNET was showing the first season of Doc Martin, a series about an unpleasant local doctor in a seaside town called Port Wenn and the effect he has on the community…and the community on him. It is both funny and serious and has a group of characters which get intellectually deeper every week… and, like the theatre guy that I am, I wanted to get more of it without waiting for next week…so I discovered that Hulu had the three seasons that have already run in the UK (there’s a fourth season coming out this year) and I watched all of the episodes over a two-day period.

One of the things that got me into Doc Martin was the range of interpersonal subject matter, something a doctor show can get you…look at House over here, for instance (something I will refer to again shortly)… with certain repeated elements (Doc became a GP after a career as a great surgeon because he developed a fear of blood; Doc’s Aunt Joan, who he stayed with in the summer as a child, indicates a family cause for the doctor’s unpleasant interpersonal attitude, which leads to a clash with his parents in the third season.)

When I got to the end of the available episodes on Hulu (something PBS won’t be getting around to for at lesast another year), I followed a site recommendation to try another British show called “Kingdom.” Kingdom refers to Peter Kingdom, who is the head of a law office in a small market town. It ran for three seasons in England and then was not renewed by ITV, which was unfortunate because the third season ended with the audience up in the air over who Peter Kingdom’s real father was.

The main character is played by Stephen Fry, an actor who I have come to be very fond of over the years… first as a minor role player in Black Adder, then in sections of the American series Bones, where he played a an FBI psychiatrist who eventually became a chef, and in occasional bits and pieces which have been run from an 80’s series – Fry and Laurie – with Hugh Laurie, who now plays the American doctor House without so much as a hint of a British accent. I had wondered what Fry did with himself when Laurie came over here…where he apparently has moved his family and is going into a seventh-or-so season. What he did was a great deal, and Kingdom is part of it.

Kingdom goes way beyond what I get from American television series. It does not depend on solving murders as a plot device, which most of our hour-long features find der rigeur. It has main characters who have extreme mental problems (Kingdom’s half-sister is a medication dependent schizophrenic, his half- brother, thought dead in the first series, is a lawyer and failed gambler who has apparently crossed the mob, but who appears alive in the second series only to die before the third), legal issues which are alarmingly local to anyone who watches our legal shows, and virtually no dependence on sex as a motivating factor (which doesn’t mean that people don’t have affairs, pregnancies, etc… it’s just a part of life.)

Kingdom led me to a half-hour comedy which ran for two seasons (2002-2003) in England and, while considered a “situation comedy”. is anything but. Created by an American-Born Scottish writer, Annie Griffin, The Book Group takes seven individuals in Glasgow and puts them into a weekly meeting of readers who discuss a specific book each week. The founder of the group is Claire, an American… played by Anne Dudek who also went on for two seasons of House…  who is looking for a way to meet people… and, frankly, to get laid. Then there are three women who are married to or live with football (soccer to us) stars, a starting writer trapped in a wheelchair after a mountain climbing accident who also does wheelchair racing, a minimally spoken football fan who turns out to be the gay lover of one of the wives of the footballers, and a heroin addict who is working on a PhD in literature.

It fascinates me that whole sections, and funny ones, in this series are concerned with masturbating, drug use, splattered with language we’d never get away with here, and unconcerned by nudity and oral sex. Did I say it was a half-hour situation comedy? It ran two seasons and I am halfway through the second season now. I’ll see where the next show is that I am led to, but it is likely to be another British one.

It is so unfortunate that shows like this, in an uncensored form, are not possible over here. Oh, we get Gordon Ramsay’s cooking shows with beeps on every other word… but it is my sense that, in the English version, language is language and the bleeps don’t occur. And words like “fuck” and “shit” which we couldn’t use by any means are  common and repeated.

Perhaps it is the age of the culture. Perhaps it is generations more in the development of a society. Whatever it is, it is something we don’t have here. Don’t you miss actual realism?

Saturday Nite…

Elly is at a movie with her friend Joan and I’m home with the dogs baking a recipe I found on line: Death By Apple Pie. It doesn’t look like an ordinary apple pie (it has a non-rolled out crust that doesn’t meet at the edges and a lot of apple shows through the holes.

Pretty soon (about 15 minutes) it will be done and I’ve just finished cleaning up all the dishes from the last couple of days. I’m hoping to get everything straightened out before 2 episodes of Doc Martin are on Public Television and I can sit back and watch.

My dogs are lying around sleeping now…but they’ll want their “evening shorty,” which is their nighttime walk, when my wife gets home. Right now they don’t want to be bothered with toys or anything else (although Nestle will jump up when I take the pie out of the oven… just the presence of food triggers his 11-year-old snoot into thinking he’s about to get more to eat.

I’ve avoided the political blogs all day (although I did post my Cartoon(s) of the Week which I had been building up since last Sunday.) Perhaps I’ll get back to politics tomorrow, but it was nice taking a break today.

OK…just took Death By Apple Pie out of the oven and it has to sit and cool off… it looks a lot like the picture that was on the recipe (except that I used whole wheat flour on the crust because it’s what I had in the house…we use very little white, all-purpose flour) and it smells great.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a nice evening. I know I will.