Broadchurch is a strange show, as it managed to become the most hyped show on British television two seasons in a row. The crime drama, starring David Tennant and Olivia Colman, centres on the town of Broadchurch after the murder of a local boy. The first series, and the search for Danny’s killer, made the show event television, and while season two was a marked step down in quality, season three rediscovered that form, and confirmed the shows place as one of the best dramas in years.
9. Happy Valley
The thing about Brits is that they love cop shows. Not your American case-of-the-week stuff, but serialised cop shows like Broadchurch and the BAFTA winning Happy Valley. From the mind of writer Sally Wainwright –a surprising source only because her previous show was the gentle Last Tango in Halifax – Happy Valley is more of a character piece as well as a crime story, and stars a brilliant Sarah Lancashire as Sergeant Catherine Conwood.
This is one of those instances where a lead performance elevates an otherwise fine show into something close to greatness. At a glance, Luther is a clichéd but very entertaining cop show, but with Idris Elba as the lead, it becomes must -watch television, as Luther battles his own demons while trying to take down London’s most sadistic criminals.
From writer Dennis Kelly comes one of the strangest British dramas in recent memory. Running for just two seasons, Utopia follows a group of strangers whose connection to a mysterious comic makes them a target of The Network. Utopia is a show that has to be approached with as little knowledge as possible to get the full, disorientating effect. There’s really nothing like it, and with David Fincher’s proposed American adaptation canned, there never will be again.
6. State of Play
Created by Shameless showrunner Paul Abbot, State of Play is a political mystery thriller starring John Simm and David Morrissey. Set around two pillars of British life, the world of politics, and the world of media, State of Play investigates the corruption within both, tied into the central mystery. Joining Simm and Morrisey in an excellent cast is James MacAvoy, Phillip Glenister, Kelly MacDonald, and Bill Nighy (who won a BAFTA for his role).
5. Life on Mars
John Simm and Philip Glenister reunite to star in Life on Mars, a time-travel cop show which is as British as they come. Simm plays Sam Tyler, a cop who wakes up in 1973 after a car accident puts him in a coma. Now he must deal with primitive policing, usually carried out by the magnificently brutish Gene Hunt (Glenister), and try to find a way back to his own time. Life on Mars took British viewers love of cop shows and sci-fi shows like Doctor Who and rolled them into a highly addictive genre hybrid.
The modern update of the classic detective stories has become an awards magnet for creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, as well as a perfect star vehicle for Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Watson. With just four seasons, Sherlock, with it’s sharply-plotted mysteries, unique lead, and the best iteration of Moriarty, has become the benchmark which all future adaptations will be measured against.
3. Peaky Blinders
For anyone who thinks British period dramas begin and end with Downtown Abbey I give you Peaky Blinders. Created by Stephen Knight, the show stars Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby, head of a Birmingham-based crime family, whose wartime experiences, and criminal responsibilities only make him more dangerous. Murphy isn’t the only marquee name the series has attracted as both Tom Hardy and Sam Neil play both allies and enemies of the Shelbys.
2. Black Mirror
A modern Twilight Zone, Black Mirror is an anthology sci-fi horror series that shows the dark side of humanities reliance on technology. Created by Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror is one of the best and most popular shows of the decade, attracting talented actors like Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Hayley Atwell in superb roles.
1. Doctor Who
There is no other show that celebrates being British better than Doctor Who: which is why it tops our list. The science fiction series is now over 50 years old and still going strong with the wonderful Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, and with plans for the show to last at least up to season 15 and a new Doctor coming in at the end of the year, this Timelord isn’t going anywhere.