[EDIT Dec 2012] Britsh comedy radio! Monty Python, the Beatles and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (which began as a radio show) were all influenced by the 1950s Brit radio program “The Goon Show.” Which now streams continuously at goons.fabcat.org! Listen a bit and you’ll soon hear why Lennon growled “Ya swine” in “Hard Day’s Night” and many pioneering gags that only work because they’re on radio — forebears of Zaphod’s second head.
[EDIT Oct 2011] ACK! “Yes Minister” and others are disappearing from “Watch Instantly”! See a list here, and please share any news you have. I guess contracts are expiring?
Welcome fellow BBCphiles! This has turned into the top-viewed post on my blog, by far, and I am delighted. Please send me more good shows to add, and I will give you credit!
- [EDIT: added April 2012] “Black Books” is (newly?) on Watch Instantly. A forebear of “The IT Crowd,” comedy set in a mad Irishman’s book shop
- [EDIT: added July 2011] La says, “George Gently is incredible.” Any relation to Dirk Gently? Detective series set in 1960s northeast England, first 3 seasons filmed in Ireland. Thank you, La!
- [EDIT: added June 2011] I think when I started this list, Doctor Who wasn’t on streaming… but he is now! The recent series are of uneven quality, but one of the best episodes of any TV show I’ve seen is “Blink,” a David Tennant episode that will put you behind the sofa for sure. Thanks to @mikeabney for pointing out this omission!
- [EDIT: added May 2011] The new “Sherlock” series from BBC could be really really good. Watson was a soldier injured in Afghanistan in the original stories, too!.
- [EDIT: added February 2011] Yum! Silly soapy engrossing period uppercrust British fun: “Downton Abbey”
- [EDIT: added April 2010] The best of the bunch: “Black Adder,” Series I-IV
- [EDIT: As of March 2010, "Dalziel and Pascoe Season 1" is available on Netflix DVD, fulfilling one of my dearest wishes.]
- “Yes Minister”
- “Good Neighbors”
- “The Vicar of Dibley”
- “The IT Crowd”
- “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”
- “Fawlty Towers”
- “The Avengers ’67″
- “Miss Marple”
- “All Creatures Great and Small”
Side trips: I cannot truly recommend either “Ballykissangel” or “Monarch of the Glen,” as they aren’t terrific shows in my view, but if you are jonesing for Irish or Scottish countryside, you can get your fix. And “Monarch” has Richard Briers, although they treat his character shockingly badly. [EDIT March 2011: "Downton Abbey" writer Julian Fellowes, who also wrote the film "Gosford Park," is the fellow who wrote "Monarch of the Glen" -- and plays the silly character Kilwillie in it, as well. "Monarch" is fairly fun, and you will not be surprised to hear that it deals with a family trying desperately to meet the expenses of an inherited estate, with some upstairs/downstairs romance thrown in. However, I still do not forgive him for how he dealt with Richard Briers! ]
[Here's the original intro for this post, and I'm glad to say that Netflix suggestions and technical issues are both much better since I wrote this two years ago.]
For any BBCphiles like me out there, here are some of the best finds I’ve wrested from Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” vaults (where the selection is limited and the search options are idiosyncratic).
I got hooked on British comedies early in life, growing up as I did with Channel 13 in Dallas, the first station to broadcast ”Monty Python” in the U.S. By the time I was old enough to stay up late, they had a block of British comedies such as “Good Neighbors,” “Black Adder” and “Yes Minister,” still some of the funniest stuff ever made.
We don’t subscribe to BBC America, and those DVD box sets cost the earth, so when I found out that Netflix offered streaming episodes of “Yes Minister,” I became positively giddy. Because our TV and my laptop are both fairly new, I was able to connect them with an HDMI cable (about $3), and within minutes, there was Paul Eddington’s proboscis being sketched larger than it was ever meant to be seen. Heaven help me, I made a pot of tea and chugged through the whole first season (hey, I was home sick, it was a cold, rainy day; I curled up on the sofa with the cats and just wallowed).
Normally I just watch on my laptop, though. Streaming, or “Watch Instantly,” is included in every Netflix plan, and the service works well (my tips for a couple technical glitches are below), but searching for shows is wonky; you can view by categories, which they’ve improved lately, but you only see a few titles at a time and the categorizations can be weirdly specific. The “Recommendations” and “More Like This” features help, but it’s still kind of a pain. And the selection is MUCH more limited than Netflix’s main catalog.
But again — you can watch them anytime, instantly, for free (if you already have Netflix; or, sign up for $9). Pip pip!
One day they’ll pick up “Dalziel and Pascoe,” and my life will be complete. [edit: March 9 2010, my wish comes true! D&P Season 1 comes to Netflix.]
My technical tips: If you get a “Your connection has slowed” rebuffering window, first give it a few seconds — sometimes it really does reload fast. But if it gets stuck, exit full screen view and refresh the Web page. It’ll usually reload fast, and most often picks up from the exact point where it froze. Sometimes when it tells you your signal isn’t sufficient, exiting the viewing program completely (i.e. hit “Back to Browsing”) and starting the movie over again will do the trick.