Television series in the UK have largely been hit and miss over the past five years. Shows have been marred by shallow storylines, formulaic a-villain-an-episode formats, plus scientific and historical inaccuracies. Let’s face it, real life in England can be pretty drab but suddenly characters were infused with impossible glamour and improbable good looks.
Series such as Spooks: Code 9 and Demons crashed and burned by the middle of their first seasons and you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief when the rapidly deteriorating Robin Hood was canceled after season three.
As UK television producers slowly woke up to the fact that the tables had turned and the US now had the upper hand when it came to powerful, quality television, five must-see shows emerged from the UK.
The BBC’s Merlin takes us right back to the origin of the age old English legend. Magic has been outlawed by King Uther of Camelot as the young magician Merlin arrives to start his apprenticeship with the court physician Gaius. Not realising who he is, Merlin starts a fight with the arrogant and bullying Prince Arthur and eventually lands up as his manservant. Slowly, over the first two seasons, Merlin learns of his destiny and of how he must protect Arthur at all costs. He struggles at times to understand and accept the world around him and must save Arthur’s life repeatedly while keeping his magical abilities hidden.
Merlin stars Colin Morgan as Merlin and Bradley James as Prince Arthur. The are also some very famous names in the cast with Anthony Head (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) as King Uther, Richard Wilson (One Foot In The Grave) as Gaius, and John Hurt (Nineteen Eighty-Four) as the voice of the dragon Kilgharrah.
The BBC announced in a press release in early December that Merlin has been renewed for a third season and the first season of Merlin will be available on DVD in the US from April 20, 2010.
When ex-British special forces soldier John Mercer found out that his aunt and uncle had abused his sister, he murdered them and was sentenced to a life in prison. While in prison, he is offered his freedom in exchange for serving in a covert police squad and is released into the care of his handler Lenny Douglas. Together with flatmate Calum and disgraced ex-cop Rose, they are government-sponsored assassins that do the dirty work and take out the people that the law can’t touch.
The second season is far darker than the first and includes some phenomenal acting from Andy Buchan, who plays John Mercer. The show also stars Peter Mullan, Tamzin Outhwaite, and Jody Latham.
There is no news yet of when the next season will air.
When BBC Three ran a season of one-hour pilots with the aim of awarding one of them a full season, Being Human was the immediate and clear favourite. The quirky plot revolves around the lives of a werewolf, vampire, and ghost who land up sharing a house together. At once funny and intriguing, this show has been executed to absolute perfection. All told though, this is a drama series and the first season focuses on the death of Annie, the ghost. The second season is darker, scarier, and far more serious as the three housemates must deal with their burdens and also a sinister underground organisation intent on killing them all.
In January, the BBC announced that Being Human has been renewed for a third season. There seems to be no sign yet of the series being released on DVD in the US but it is available on iTunes.
ITV’s Trinity was the first of two surprises on UK television screens last year. Starring Christian Cooke, Claire Skinner, and Charles Dance, Trinity is a tale of debauchery and intrigue in an upper class university. Sure, it’s absurd and ridiculous at times, but it is side-splittingly funny and certainly a guilty pleasure.
Trinity is set in the prestigious Trinity College at the fictional Bridgeford University. For years the college has been the exclusive domain of the rich and privileged upper classes but now more modest classes of students are being granted entrance. Attempts to protect the precious Dandelion Club (the secret men’s society) soon take a sinister turn as people begin to die and an organisation far more threatening than the Dandelion Club is behind it all.
Trinity is a lot of fun and we await with bated breath for news of its renewal. The first season certainly ended on a note of anticipation and will be available in the US on May 25, 2010.
The biggest UK television surprise of 2009 was undoubtedly Misfits. The E4 comedy is absolutely irreverent, with several “oh no they didn’t” moments where you simply can’t believe that they did that on national television. The show is about five misfits, teenagers convicted of crimes and sentenced to community service. They are all struck one day by a massive bolt of lightning in a freak storm and they slowly realise over time that they have superpowers. Being the absolute reprobates that they are, they soon set about spreading as much mayhem as possible in this very, very dark comedy series. Misfits is a bit like a hybrid between Skins and Heroes and it is the best UK export in years.
There is no news yet when the DVD will be released in the US but it most likely will be as E4 rushed to announced the second season as the final episode of season one aired in December.