An American Guide to British TV Shows on Netflix


Americans pass by British TV shows even though they hear how popular they are, for several different reasons, so I thought I’d try to help people out a bit by offering up this guide to watching them on Netflix.

One great reason to like British TV shows is that they don’t have commercial breaks like American TV. That means, on Netflix, there’s no cliffhanger scenes that fade out, only to fade back in and gently recap what happened just before the break.

I think the three greatest reasons some Americans might not give British TV shows on Netflix a chance are:

  • British humor is a tad different than American humor, and the antagonists and protagonists are sometimes different types of people abroad than they are in the States.
  • The Brits can be fast, low-talkers, which makes It difficult to understand British accents.
  • Americans think investing in watching a British TV show means 23 episodes and five seasons, just like it would be if you started watching an American show, like “24,” or “Sons of Anarchy.”

So let’s look at each point individually!

British Humor is Different

Ricky Gervais, British TV Shows on NetflixThere’s no doubt that British humor is just a bit different than American humor, but really, American humor already has several different types. The same people that enjoy watching “Two and a Half Men” aren’t necessarily the same types that are watching “30 Rock.” Or fans of “Parks and Recreation” aren’t also watching “Two Broke Girls.”

Ricky Gervais, one of the most successful British comedians according to Americans, wrote an entire article on about “The Difference Between American and British Humour” — they even spell “humor” funny! It’s actually a great article that should help you understand why dry, British humor has its own place in the comedy rainbow — once you understand why British people “embrace the underdog until it’s no longer the underdog.”

British Accents Are Tough to Understand

Whenever we watch a British TV show, we really crank the volume up and often need an extra beat to process what was said to understand a joke. It has to be assumed that the Brits have to do this with American comedies, as well, since the accents are different and your brain needs a little time to process it.

It’s no different than watching an American show that has extreme regional accents, like in “The Andy Griffith Show” or “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

In other words, if you give it a shot, eventually, you’ll understand the British accents more and more. You’ll also learn their idioms, like:

  • Being cheeky
  • Knackered
  • The Full Mont

No Time to Watch a Long British Series

Many Americans don’t realize that British seasons are set up much differently than TV shows in America. For instance:

  • Most American shows that originated on network TV run about 22-24 episodes per season. Shows usually run from the beginning of fall to the end of spring, so with holidays and reruns, they need that many shows.
  • Most American shows that originated from cable networks, like AMC, HBO and Comedy Central run about 10-13 episodes per season.
  • British TV, however, is quite different in that they could have different numbers of episodes each season. I think this is partially due to their school system not being on the same “summer’s off” schedule Americans have.

As a matter of fact, most British dramas or comedies have six-episode seasons! The reason for this is explained that British shows are a writer’s medium, compared to American shows being a producer’s medium. Since most British shows are “almost always written and developed by one or two people,” compared to entire writing staffs for American shows, it stands to reason that seasons are shorter on BBC.

For instance, the critically acclaimed “Sherlock,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, has three episodes per season. THREE! Granted, each show is about 90 minutes long. So it’s basically like watching three movies per season.

Some other great British TV shows on Netflix with few episodes:

  • The Office (UK): Two seasons, 15 total episodes
  • The IT Crowd: Four seasons, 25 total episodes
  • Little Britain: Two seasons, 13 total episodes

Give some British TV shows on Netflix another chance! Tomorrow, I’ll post an article on the best British shows you should try out.