Region Free At Last, Thank the Beeb I'm Free At Last!
December 17, 2009 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Now that we have a region free DVD player, what British shows should we look in to ordering?

My wife and I are huge fans of British comedies like Black Books, The IT Crowd, and Peep Show. We've been frustrated that many series are not available in the US (anything beyond the first series of Peep Show or That Mitchell and Webb Look, for example) and so broke down and bought a DVD player (a Philips DVP3980) that I unlocked to be region free.

So after we gorge ourselves on Mitchell and Webb, what else should we look for that's not available in the states?

We're not limited to comedies, either. My wife likes shows like Skins and I'm a huge murder mystery nut (Midsomer Murders, Inspector Morse, A Touch of Frost, etc).

While we're mainly interested in stuff we can't get over here, we'd like to take advantage of the seemingly cheaper DVD prices. For example, a 10 episode set of Midsomer Murders comes to something like 60 dollars, shipped, from while a 4 episode set costs 40 bucks here in the states. The less said about the amount I paid for my complete Morse vs the amount being charged on, the better. So any suggestions as to where we can get more for our money are welcome too.
posted by robocop is bleeding to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is a riot (and features Richard Ayoade and Matt Berry from the IT Crowd). I hear good things about Green Wing. You might check out Nathan Barley, too. you don't need a region-free player for it, but the Mighty Boosh is so wonderful.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:10 AM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

People Like Us ran to a couple of seasons, both hilarious. Like a lot of good comedies it was originally a radio show but worked just as well in TV format.
posted by Abiezer at 7:12 AM on December 17, 2009

Gavin & Stacy - Really funny comedy about a couple's courting and early marriage period. Great writing.
The Thick of It - Behind the scenes of Parliament. Bitingly funny. Tucker is an amazing character if you can keep up with his searing dialogue in a thick Scottish accent.
posted by like_neon at 7:14 AM on December 17, 2009

Oh and The Inbetweeners - "middle class" high school students just trying to survive. Really funny as well.
posted by like_neon at 7:15 AM on December 17, 2009

The Young Ones
Steptoe and Son (what Sanford and Son was based on)
The Prisoner (The original and one of the best shows of the 20th century)
QI - Stephen Fry hosts a fantastic British-style quiz show
I'm Alan Partridge
Man to Man with Dean Learner (Richard Ayode after Garth Marenghi but before IT Crowd)

I'lll think of more...
posted by chambers at 7:17 AM on December 17, 2009

The first series of Look Around You is hilarious (and will make full use of your region-free player), although I'm not entirely sure if it will translate all that well if you didn't go to a British primary school during the 70s or 80s.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 7:17 AM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hustle is great if you like heist movies (it's a series).
posted by reptile at 7:25 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Vicar of Dibley is always a charmer. I have fondness for The Mighty Boosh, but it's not for everyone--you may hate some episodes and love others.

As chambers mentioned, QI is fantastic.
posted by Hoenikker at 7:27 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hustle is really good, and I'm glad people get to see the very talented Robert Vaughn in action.
posted by chambers at 7:28 AM on December 17, 2009

chorltonmeateater, it made sense to me and I went to a British primary school in the 90s. They still use a lot of the same videos, believe it or not!
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 7:32 AM on December 17, 2009

Previously. It's all about knowing your Britcom family tree (writers and actors and influences) and following it.

A friend who knows his stuff just described Mitchell and Webb as the final iteration of the Oxbridge Comedy Duo. I think that's about right, particularly for the stuff they write for themselves -- Peep Show is a bit different. And that lineage goes back through Lee and Herring (Fist of Fun, This Morning With Richard Not Judy) to Fry and Laurie and probably a bit further.

Green Wing definitely belongs on the list, but you probably ought to be nabbing Father Ted too. (Oh, you will you will you will you will...)
posted by holgate at 7:33 AM on December 17, 2009

Absolute Power is very sharp and witty.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:37 AM on December 17, 2009

Outnumbered gets great reviews.

It might be a bit too British oriented, but Harry Hill's TV burp is consistently hilarious (IMHO).

Don't miss The Thick of It and perhaps also The IT Crowd. I also really enjoyed Free Agents.

The dual series Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach was good too - Moving Wallpaper is the fictional account of making a schlocky, crappy soap (Echo Beach). Postmodern, clever and although Echo Beach got cancelled, Moving Wallpaper came back for a second series.

Neither are British, but I'll recommend them anyway to your wife, if she likes non-American detective series: Wallander (a kind of Swedish Morse) and Spiral (a French political/legal thriller).

If you haven't seen Life on Mars, the first series especially is excellent.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:38 AM on December 17, 2009

Available in the US, but cheaper from
Life on Mars - crime / murder / time-travel (?) / mystery. So good. 45/season US, or ~32 for both UK

State of Play - the basis of that awful russel crowe movie, with bill nighy at his finest. 25 US, or ~6.5 (!!) uk

Look around you - fake science tv show from a lot of the shaun of the dead crew. ~30/season US or ~10 (!!) UK
posted by CharlesV42 at 7:39 AM on December 17, 2009

OK, you know about The It Crowd. Ahem, scrap that one.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:39 AM on December 17, 2009

Absolutely is the best show ever to have been on television anywhere ever ever ever.
posted by scruss at 7:40 AM on December 17, 2009

Seconding Spaced; great if you like any of the Simon Pegg stuff.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:40 AM on December 17, 2009

chorltonmeateater, every American (myself included) I've show it to thinks Look Around You is hilarious. We had similar videos in the 80s and 90s in the States. So, this is another vote for Look Around You.
posted by spaltavian at 7:43 AM on December 17, 2009

Oooh I also second Free Agents. I don't know if this appeals but I also ADORE the main female character's wardrobe.
posted by like_neon at 7:50 AM on December 17, 2009

I'm glad Look Around You's appeal is broader than I suspected.
posted by chorltonmeateater at 7:50 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Outnumbered is definitely very funny, even for someone without kids. I still like watching The Fast Show and Big Train but am not sure if it's the show or remembering watching them first time around. Never Mind the Buzzcocks if you're a music fan (don't know if it's available on dvd though). For murder I like Wire in the Blood a whole lot and your wife might too. Old dramas like This Life and Our Friends in the North are great.

(By the way, I'm an Irish expat in Canada whose parents send over lots of DVDs to me and have always found the cheapest of the cheap DVD players - the little $19 hardware store ones - to be region free).
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:56 AM on December 17, 2009

"Blood. Blood? Blood. Crimson, copper-smelling blood. His blood.
Blood. Blood. Blood.

And bits of sick."

From what I know of your postings here, I have to nth Darkplace. It's brilliant. See Greg Nog's comment above, but factor in a dead-on parody of the "Ray Bradbury Presents" intro as well.
posted by Shepherd at 8:06 AM on December 17, 2009

I quite enjoyed Teachers (disclaimer, I only watched the first two series and then was disillusioned when the characters changed)

n'thing The Thick of It, QI, Life on Mars series 1

Spooks is very good for the first couple series, haven't seen past that.

Coupling is hated by some, but I really quite liked it.

The State Within is an excellent conspiracy mini-series starring Jason Isaacs who is always awesome.

Jekyll is a flawed but interesting show by Stephen Moffat (next showrunner for Doctor Who, showrunner for Coupling). Modern Jekyll & Hyde, some great characters and features "Johnson" from Peep Show. Also it's only 3.98 GBP on right now!

I just noticed the (not British) Wire season 1 is cheaper on amazon uk even with the exchange rate.

Jeeves and Wooster is wonderful, Fry and Laurie are incredibly perfect for their parts. My only complaints are that smaller characters have actor changes too often, and that they didn't make more.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:07 AM on December 17, 2009

Already recommended and for good reason:

Comedy: Outnumbered, The Thick Of It, Spaced, Look Around You; Absolutely, which I watched again for the first time in more than 15 years last week (thanks, Channel 4 on demand!)

Drama: State Of Play; Life On Mars (don't bother with the follow up, Ashes To Ashes, though; it's shit).

Muffin Man mentioned the Swedish Wallander, which is great; there are also three (excellent) 90min British adaptations starring Kenneth Branagh.

Other stuff:

The Book Group (two seasons)
Shameless (comedy-ish, also quite dark, and with the caveat of first few seasons only; it kind of went off the boil after S4)

Police/detective stuff:
Prime Suspect – Helen Mirren on top form. Arguably the pinnacle of this sort of stuff in Britain
Taggart – avoid more recent stuff, but this is one of the grandaddies of Brit crime telly, and there's plenty of it – it's been going since 1983
Cracker – Robbie Coltrane on proper scenery-chewing form. (Been a while since I've seen it though.)

Other drama stuff (series and one-offs):
Anything by Cracker creator Jimmy McGovern (The Lakes; Hillsborough) or Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, Omagh)
Traffik, the basis for Soderbergh's Traffic, and at least ten times as good
GBH – starring Michael Palin and Robert Lindsay, one of the best things ever shown on British TV, and anything else by Alan Bleasdale, like Boys From The Blackstuff.

Oh, and a final recommendation: the Red Riding trilogy. Based on a series of books by David Peace, three films by three different directors (one of whom is James Marsh, who directed Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire). One of the best things broadcast in the past ten years, and with an astounding cast but so bleak it makes most of The Wire look like a jolly romp.
posted by Len at 8:09 AM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Being Human is about a Vampire, Werewolf, and Ghost living in a house, attempting to lead normal lives. Not a comedy, but the bits I've seen on BBC America have been well done. Wikipedia article mentions it's out on DVD in the UK, but no mention of the States yet (or on Amazon).
posted by GJSchaller at 8:10 AM on December 17, 2009

Big Train, an underrated and rather surreal sketch show by the writers of Father Ted and featuring Simon Pegg et al.
The Day Today - bitingly sharp parody of news programmes that nowadays looks prescient more than satirical.
Brasseye - from most of the The Day Today team, dead-on parody of news documentaries and sensationalist media campaigns.
If you want to go back further, A Bit of Fry And Laurie.
posted by Electric Dragon at 8:14 AM on December 17, 2009

Sorry, I should have put links on that lot but was being a bit lazy.

The Book Group; Shameless; Prime Suspect; Taggart; Cracker; The Lakes; HIllsborough; Bloody Sunday; Omagh; Traffik; G.B.H..
Red Riding: 1974/1980/1983
posted by Len at 8:25 AM on December 17, 2009

Mind Your Language is some 70's non-PC goodness.
posted by reenum at 8:33 AM on December 17, 2009

Hamish Macbeth with Robert Carlyle. Depending on the episode, it's a police drama, a Scottish travel show, a comedy, a romance, a weird supernatural/surreal mystery, a human interest story, etc. It is also occasionally enriched with Danny Boyle writing and/or direction.
posted by biscotti at 8:34 AM on December 17, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, this is great stuff. My shopping basket is already up to £165!

Let's hope Santa brings cold, hard cash this year.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:44 AM on December 17, 2009

[Darkplace] essentially a fake horror/medical-drama-from-the-1980s starring the British version of Steven King

I think that's a good way to put it, but I've always assumed the character is specifically a reference to Shaun Hutson.
posted by galaksit at 8:47 AM on December 17, 2009

Sean Lock's 15 Storeys High.
posted by permafrost at 9:00 AM on December 17, 2009

The thing I most want but cannot get in the US is the DVD of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. It was a favorite show of my childhood--Leonard Rossiter was amazing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:11 AM on December 17, 2009

If I were you I'd definitely check youtube for clips of these shows before ordering as everyone's taste is different.

For my money, the best comedy right now on the BBC isn't a sitcom but a news parody called "Have I Got News for You". Imagine "Not Not Necessarily the News" but in the form of a panel discussion/quiz show, and much funnier.

If you have access to BBC iPlayer, you can watch an episode and see if you like it. You'll get more out of it if you know a little bit about British politics. For this week's show, look up Alistair Darling if you don't know who he is already before you watch it. And as an added bonus, Dominic West from the Wire is hosting this week - I love that show and had no IDEA McNulty was English!
posted by hazyjane at 9:17 AM on December 17, 2009

Sidhedevil - why can't you get The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin?
posted by MuffinMan at 9:46 AM on December 17, 2009

Snuff Box was made for BBC3 I believe and shown late at night - it's all online there under that link, probably illegally. But you can take a look to see if you're interested, before buying.

It's set in a gentleman's club for hangmen, the two main characters execute someone in each show, normally while discussing something else.

There's 6 episodes and several running jokes that crop up in each show: some good, some not so good.

Warning: bad language and also briefly topless women in each episode.
posted by selton at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2009

Oh my god, definitely Coupling.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2009

Yikes: nobodies mentioned Rising Damp or Dad's Army!

They're old, but classic - both have had movies made of them, but the TV shows are much better.
posted by selton at 10:16 AM on December 17, 2009

OMG THANK YOU MUFFIN MAN! I had checked for years and it wasn't available, and lo and behold it came out in the US just this past May!

Hooray! I am ordering it right now.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2009

Murder in Suburbia--about two female detective inspectors; fairly light in tone
Second Sight--features Clive Owen as a detective inspector who discovers he is slowly going blind but doesn't want anyone to know. Not light in tone.
Rebus--based on the Ian Rankin mystery novels, set in Edinburgh
Wallander--seconding MuffinMan's recommendation

And another vote for Coupling. I didn't think I'd like it, but I found myself laughing out loud at some of the episodes.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:36 AM on December 17, 2009

Doesn't really have anything to do with your suggestions, but I can't believe no one has said it yet! Fawlty Towers, for the love of all that is good and holy!
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:41 AM on December 17, 2009

Can't believe no one's mentioned these amazing shows we've bought and loved from

Trail&Retribution through season 5
Criminal Justice

Doc Martin, 3 seasons
(2nding Gavin&Stacy, 2 seasons)

Costume drama:
Lark Rise to Candleford, 2 seasons

Sounds like you prefer to own, but quite a few of the shows mentioned above are available from Netflix (Cracker, Prime Suspect, State Within…). And Apple TV has some that aren't out on US DVDs yet (Being Human…).
posted by dpcoffin at 10:51 AM on December 17, 2009

Another GREAT miniseries is Edge of Darkness--a crime/nuclear terrorism/thriller/family drama of goodness.

Wow--only 4.88!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:54 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can handle thick Scottish dialect, Still Game is genius.
posted by Frasermoo at 10:56 AM on December 17, 2009

Most of my favorites have been covered (definitely get Green Wing!), but I'd add No Heroics, and Dylan Moran's stand-up is really funny too.

I have not yet watched, but have bookmarked, Jonathan Creek, Lead Balloon, and the League of Gentlemen (not to be confused with the Extraordinary Gentlemen).
posted by grapesaresour at 11:44 AM on December 17, 2009

Nthing Coupling. It's what Friends could have been if the US wasn't so puritanical.
posted by reenum at 12:04 PM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Brass Eye
The Day Today

Wire in the Blood

All of Steve Coogan's shows have just been released in the US in a big box set, so be aware of that. I especially like Coogan's Run which is virtually unknown in the US.
posted by Falconetti at 12:12 PM on December 17, 2009

A couple of mystery-drama recs:

If you liked Morse, I highly recommend the recently-made Lewis series. It's aired on PBS and available in the US on DVD now, but the episodes were chopped a bit (about 5-10 mins each) for US broadcast, and the missing bits were not restored on DVD, so the UK DVDs are a good buy (considerably cheaper, too!). I absolutely adore what they've done in following up Inspector Morse; it's not the same show, but beautifully respectful of the original. The stories are well-crafted, too. (DS Hathaway is an absolutely fascinating character.)

The Jonathan Creek boxset is also a very economical buy from vs. the US DVDs, and it's a fun show. Quirky, though. Very, very quirky. It sometimes is trying a bit too hard to be so, IMO, but it's fun nevertheless. Alan Davies is relentlessly charming as the main windmill dwelling eccentric genius character. (Also aired on PBS, but not in very many markets, I believe.)

And an old school rec:

It's not available at all in the US, so a region-free player is the only way to see The Professionals (which is often on massive sale at It's the quintessential 1970s cop show, tough, gritty, and action-packed, but the two main characters (Bodie and Doyle) are more than just cardboard cutout action heroes. Bodie and Doyle are the top team in CI5, which is a (fictional) secret police force in London whose mission is to deal with the things that the regular police just can't: terrorism, political crimes, etc. Lewis Collins, who plays Bodie, was at one time rumored to be the choice for the next James Bond, but somehow it never worked out. Martin Shaw (Doyle) always wanted to be in theater, you know, but he does a lovely job as the ex-cop with a thinly-concealed bleeding heart. Lots of guns, fast cars, women -- very 70s! It's such a shame it's never aired here in the US.
posted by lysimache at 2:56 PM on December 17, 2009

It's been said, but my #1 frustration (in life!) is that Garth Marenghi's Darkplace has not been released over here. There's also the 'spin-off' Man-To-Man With Dean Learner, but that's not as absolutely necessary as Darkplace. Nothing is as absolutely necessary as Darkplace. The other show I would get my hands on is Nathan Barley. So, pretty much exactly what Admiral Haddock said in the first comment. A surprising amount of things have been released here (Young Ones, Black Adder..), so you don't want to bother getting those unless there's something that makes the R2 versions unique.

Look Around You, yes.

League of Gentleman has been released in the US, right? I'm pretty sure it has, but if you haven't seen it, I recommend.

I would also try for Rock Profile (the original series) by David Walliams and Matt Lucas (Little Britain). Also, maybe Asylum starring Simon Pegg.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:46 PM on December 17, 2009


That is all.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:16 AM on December 18, 2009

Blackpool starring David Tennant and David Morrissey! I just thought of it.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:44 PM on December 18, 2009

Response by poster: It's all about knowing your Britcom family tree (writers and actors and influences) and following it.

Here's a draft of a relationship map for various British comedies I made while trying out some new software.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:04 AM on January 12, 2010

Glad to see this is still open. We just bought Teachers with a gift certificate. I haven't seen it, but my fiance saw it years ago and says it's good and the reviews look good too.
posted by like_neon at 11:41 AM on January 13, 2010

Hit post too soon. Here's a link to Teachers. And I also meant to say that we were deciding between that and This Life (but that one's not a comedy I don't think) but they didn't have the box set at the store so we got Teachers instead.
posted by like_neon at 11:43 AM on January 13, 2010

I recently watched 'FM' , 6 episodes, set in a radio station. It stars Chris O'Dowd from The IT Crowd. I would recommend watching it.
posted by Sarosmith at 12:51 PM on January 13, 2010

I got lots of great recommendations last year here on the green for both comedies and dramas. I would say that Darkplace was one of my biggest disappointments-- I loathed it. On the other hand there were so many fabulous finds out there that it would take me too long to list them all (and I would probably forget something.) I will just say that after many recommendations my husband and I finally gave Gavin & Stacey a chance and were caught off guard by how much we liked it-- so funny, so engaging with great characters. We really didn't expect a simple comedy about a young newly-wed couple to be so fresh and interesting.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:56 PM on January 13, 2010

Just now watching the second season of Criminal Justice and can't get over how marvelous it is. The first one was beyond amazing, too. Btw, the wikipedia page for this show is full of spoilers.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:06 AM on January 21, 2010

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