1. Black Mirror (United Kingdom, 2011, 2013)
The Internet has made it that much easier for Americans to catch up on the best television other countries have to offer, particularly for anyone inclined to avail themselves of illegal viewing options. Yet torrents and YouTube can’t yet compete with the pristine quality of an official HD broadcast or Blu-ray or with the sheer convenience of legal streaming sites, so many Americans are stuck waiting for some cable channel or streaming service to import intriguing sounding series from across the sea—even English-language series. Take, for instance, Black Mirror, a six-episode sci-fi/horror riff similar to The Twilight Zone in its exploration of a possible future world we might and all of the ways that world could intrude on our very human natures. Created by the ingenious Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror is some of the most innovative storytelling seen any anywhere on television—yet no American outlet has picked it up for import.
2. Forbrydelsen (Denmark, 2007-2012)
Though there’s been a great influx in foreign-language TV to the United States in recent years, Americans are still missing many of the best foreign-language series out there. In particular, Forbrydelsen, the murder mystery that inspired The Killing but is roughly 99 percent less ludicrous and strained in its storytelling, has yet to make the leap across the Atlantic, even though it might seem a natural for those curious to see just where the remake went so wrong. Intriguingly, many of the plot points from the original series are ported wholesale into the American series, though they succeed far better in the original, thanks to its stronger focus on the inner lives of its characters. Would Forbrydelsen be able to fill the longing for a more intricate mystery series where The Killing failed? It would be hard to do too much worse.
3. BeTipul (Israel, 2005-2008)
The concept of listening in on a psychiatrist’s therapy sessions is apparently so universally titillating that BeTipul, an acclaimed Israeli series about a rumpled, conflicted therapist and his weekly roster of patients, has been cloned in more than 10 countries around the world, most famously in the U.S., where it ran for three seasons on HBO as In Treatment. It’s a shame, then, that the original remains unavailable on Region 1 DVD: As the first two seasons of In Treatment hewed so closely to the original and provided actors like Josh Charles, Mia Wasikowska, Blair Underwood, Embeth Davidtz, Dianne Wiest, Alison Pill, John Mahoney, and Glynn Turman with career-highlight roles alongside Gabriel Byrne’s stalwart shrink, it would be especially elucidating to compare and contrast with their Israeli forebears.
4. Broen/Bron (Denmark/Sweden, 2011)
FX is remaking Broen/Bron, a terrifically pulpy cop thriller, this summer as The Bridge, which means it’s high time for somebody to pick it up so that American audiences can compare it with the original. Bron’s central conceit is a good one: A body (or so it seems) is found on a bridge between Denmark and Sweden (hence the international co-production factor), leading to police detectives from both countries having to work together to make sure the case is solved before the killer can strike again. As with so much of the Scandanavian crime fiction that’s been in vogue over the last decade, the series gains its strength from the characters solving the crimes, who are more complex and wounded than most of the usual staples of the genre. It’d be nice to get a look at this before the FX version sucks up all the oxygen.
5. Som E Fúria (Brazil, 2009)
Som E Fúria is a remake traveling in the opposite direction, though living up to its English-language older sibling. While working on his 2008 film, Blindness, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles was handed a set of DVDs of the great Canadian drama Slings & Arrows by his producer. Quickly falling in love with the program, Meirelles resolved to make a Portuguese version of the series. Though essentially a straight translation of the original (to the degree that it uses the original’s musical score), Som E Fúria is notable for the way it was a genuine television event in Brazil, with Meirelles collecting a huge amount of top-tier talent to bring the translation to the screen. In comparison to Canada and the U.S., where the program aired on out of the way channels, Brazil turned a show about a Shakespearean theater festival into a big deal.
6. Max Headroom (United Kingdom, 1985)
In the U.S., Max Headroom, the “first computer-generated TV host” (actually, actor Matt Frewer in makeup, augmented with some graphic effects), was best known as a pitchman for New Coke, a novelty guest on talk shows, and eventually as a character on his own short-lived, 1987 cyberpunk series on ABC. But Max was never funnier, or more unsettling, than in his original incarnation as the host of his own music-video/chat series in the U.K. He ran pop clips, babbled about golf, and defined his own music-journalist interview style in such moments as when he yawned in Sting’s face. He also had his own one-hour origin story, Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into The Future, elements of which later turned up in the ABC series. The British show was shown on Cinemax in 1985, but only Max’s American work is on DVD, which is as if Marlon Brando were only remembered for The Island Of Dr. Moreau.
7. Blake’s 7 (United Kingdom, 1978-1981)
Blake’s 7 debuted at a time when Star Wars ruled the cinema, Star Trek was gearing up for its big-screen revival, and the original Battlestar Galactica brought high-budget cheese to television viewers on a regular basis. But it was an entirely different kind of space opera. On the surface, the premise of this British series resembled George Lucas’ story of brave, idealistic rebels fighting to bring down an evil empire. Yet while the show’s Federation is plenty evil, its supposed heroes aren’t much better, as Roj Blake and his crew of the starship Liberator straddle a vanishingly thin line between being freedom fighters and being terrorists. Sporting a budget that frequently makes old-school Doctor Who look like a modern Hollywood blockbuster, Blake’s 7 compensates for its dodgy production values with fearlessly dark storytelling—including what may be the most audaciously bleak finale in TV history—and several memorable performances, particularly Paul Darrow as the amoral thief Avon and Jacqueline Pearce as the Federation’s ruthlessly sexy Supreme Commander Servalan. The show has never been deemed worthy of an American DVD release—though that may change as Syfy pursues a Battlestar Galactica-style revival.
8. Press Gang (United Kingdom, 1989-1993)
Even strictly as a curiosity, Press Gang should really be worthy of an American release. The series was the brainchild of a Scottish schoolteacher and aspiring writer by the name of Steven Moffat (along with his father, Bill), who parlayed his success here into a two-decade television career that now finds him the custodian of two of Britain’s greatest icons as the showrunner of Sherlock and Doctor Who. Based loosely on Moffat’s own experiences working in the British education system, Press Gang follows a mix of star pupils and juvenile delinquents as they attempt to run their school newspaper. Although the framework provides innumerable opportunities to explore hot-button topics facing real-life teenagers, Moffat’s sharp writing and a talented young cast—led by the great Julia Sawalha—keep the show out of afterschool special territory. Indeed, the complicated character drama and serialized storytelling marks the show as something of a spiritual predecessor to Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, even if publishing a school newspaper doesn’t seem quite as compelling as battling the forces of darkness… at least not at first glance.
9. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (United Kingdom, 2004)
Imagine if Stephen King hadn’t been justifiably chastened by his experience directing Maximum Overdrive but, instead, had taken that misbegotten piece of over-stretching as a cue to place himself as writer, director, and star of an even more misbegotten TV horror series. Oh, and that he wrote sequences like, “Something was pouring from his mouth. He examined his sleeve—blood? Blood. Crimson, copper-smelling blood. His blood. Blood. Blood. And bits of sick.” Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace , an inventively bananas British cult meta-comedy wonder, might have been the result, with egomaniac horror author Marenghi (co-creator Matthew Holness) introducing the unaired ’80s show he claims was “too dangerous” to be seen by the public. The show itself (about Marenghi’s portly, playboy surgeon fighting the Hellmouth-style portal beneath his hospital) expertly explores the comic potential of incompetence (blatant discontinuity, stiffly inept dialogue, terrible effects). Carrying the premise over its six-episode run are the intermittent incursions of Marenghi and his publisher/co-star (series co-creator Richard Ayoade of The IT Crowd), who provide fatuous, present-day commentary throughout, peppered with persistent hints that the two stars may know more about their female costar’s “real life” disappearance than they’re letting on.
10. Mysteries Of Lisbon (France, Portugal, 2011)
Two hours into Mysteries Of Lisbon, a multi-generational epic, a character braces the audience: “I have a long story to tell.” The final international success of prolific Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz is a six-part costume drama made for French and Portuguese television. Set primarily around turn-of-the-20th-century Europe and Brazil, Mysteries Of Lisbon seems to focus on Pedro Da Silva, an orphan who discovers his noble heritage. But really it’s about narrative itself. Everyone has a secret past, and everyone has a story to tell, as Pedro goes deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of his own history. The series starts as a string of long takes, one per scene, and the camera swings between characters like it’s trying to achieve equilibrium. Then, as the story gets more twisted, in both senses of the word, the shots start to fracture, and it’s electric. The florid art direction is sumptuous enough, but Ruiz keeps the conversation sparkling. Witness the de facto set-changing in the background of one scene as two characters reveal hidden identities. Unfortunately the full miniseries is currently unavailable, though the four and a half hour edit is out on Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray.
11. The Best Of Youth (Italy, 2003)
The Best Of Youth is another case of a terrific film’s longer television version remaining frustratingly unavailable. It’s rare for something that runs more than 350 minutes to feel choppy, but the U.S. theatrical release of this Italian miniseries does. There’s a good reason for that: It’s been cut down from its television running time by 46 minutes and forced into two parts where the original was four. The theatrical version is still excellent, the sort of grand, sweeping epic miniseries that interweaves the fortunes of one family with political upheaval that Europeans seem to do so well. (Americans have mostly forgotten this art, it would seem, outside of the occasional HBO production.) Sprinkled with indelible characters throughout, the story follows two brothers, one conservative and ready to go along to get along, the other troubled, through roughly 40 years of Italian history post-World War II. There are enough intriguing tangents in the film version to suggest something even more moving and unforgettable in the full running time.
12. All The Boys And Girls Of Their Time (France, 1994)
It’s hard to believe that a television anthology uniting several of the best directors in ’90s France is largely forgotten two decades later, but that’s the case with Tous Les Garçons Et Les Filles De Leur Âge… Chantal Poupaud’s brilliant idea was to commission 10 hour-long films from 10 directors, five women and five men, for French network Arte. The rules were simple: The episodes had to be autobiographical, they had to revolve around adolescence, and they each had to include a party scene. A handful of the entries are relatively familiar to cinephiles, thanks to auteur retrospectives or later theatrical releases: Andre Téchiné’s Wild Reeds, a gay awakening during the Algerian War; Claire Denis’ US Go Home, a typically sensitive coming-of-age near an American army base in ’60s France; Olivier Assayas’ Cold Water, a runaway romance in the early ’70s. But what of the others, like Emilie Deleuze’s L’Incruste or Chantal Akerman’s Portrait Of A Young Girl At The End Of The 1960s In Brussels? It might be difficult to wrangle all the rights, but a release of the original television series would be a treasure trove.
13. The Rite (Sweden, 1969)
With Persona, Ingmar Bergman shifted away from his struggle with theodicy to more earthly designs, namely Freudian psychosexual melodramas laced with menace. That includes the hallucinatory Gothic nightmare Hour Of The Wolf and the apocalyptic war lamentation Shame, but Bergman’s oddest late-’60s loop is his television movie The Rite. It’s a simple story, a nine-scene obscenity trial against a group of traveling entertainers played by Bergman regulars Gunnar Björnstrand, Ingrid Thulin, and Anders Ek. And the ideas probed by Bergman’s script tie neatly into the rest of his work, poking at divine authority, sexual dichotomies, and artistic expression. But the realization of these ideas is delirious. It’s a minimalistic tale of close-ups against the spartan courtroom stage in which all the exaggeration goes into the carnal imagery: spread legs, bare breasts, and costume phalluses galore. When the performers are invited to re-enact their ostensibly obscene ritual for judgment, the film becomes a mid-century Euro arthouse parody, complete with demon-beaked masks and rigid rectilinear blocking, but that’s not an accident. The whole thing is a joke with a very satisfying punchline.
14. The Spider’s Stratagem (Italy, 1970)
Bernardo Bertolucci directed The Spider’s Stratagem, a TV film based on a Jorge Luis Borges story, the same year he had a great international success with his fourth feature film, The Conformist. The story, about a young man visiting the small town where his father was supposedly martyred by a fascist murderer before the war, sounds like a set-up for a thriller (with echoes of The Third Man), but Bertolucci uses it for an exercise in atmospheric visual poetry that is far more meditative—and much more ravishingly beautiful—than anyone might have produced for American television at the time. It was released to theaters in the U.S. in 1973, after Bertolucci had another international hit with Last Tango In Paris, and a VHS version was issued by New Yorker Video in 1998. It’s no longer in print, but copies can be found and bought online, by viewers willing to pay in the neighborhood of $100 to $600 for them. Or they could just watch it on YouTube.
15. The Immortal Story (France, 1968)
In the late ’60s, after completing his Shakespeare pastiche Chimes At Midnight, Orson Welles began work on a series of film adaptations based on Karen Blixen short stories. The Heroine joins the pile of incompletes, but The Immortal Story lives on. Funded by French radio-and-television studio ORTF and shot in Orson Welles’ home in Spain, The Immortal Story is an intoxicatingly strange hour of television. That starts with the story, about an old Macao merchant (Welles) who hears a tale about a man who pays a sailor to impregnate his wife and attempts to live it out. Then there’s the look of the film, which was Welles’ first color feature. Distorted angles and exaggerated depth meet rich jewel tones and delicate color-coding that’s a little bleary with age. In fact, there’s a Hulu Plus stream of this film, though it looks badly washed out, and a re-mastered release would be welcome. In any event, a Welles film is something to treasure, especially when he explores some of his recurring ideas by way of such an unusual course.
16. Green Wing (United Kingdom, 2004-2007)
Described by creator Valerie Pile as “a sketch-meets-comedy-drama-meets-soap,” Green Wing is an ensemble hospital series packed with faces familiar to Britcom fans. It resembles Scrubs crossed with Grey’s Anatomy, if the excess wackiness of the former and melodrama of the latter were sanded off. Tamsin Greig is the viewer’s entry point, a new doctor facing her first day at a busy teaching hospital populated by the requisite eccentrics, hotshot surgeons, and outright loonies, including Mark Heap, Olivia Colman, and Stephen Mangan. Each installment is made up of loosely constructed, partly improvised one-on-one dialogue sketches, largely eschewing anything remotely medical, but instead centering on the staff’s various romantic entanglements, schemes, and the occasional bit of wacky physical comedy. Balanced among short, alternating scenes of character-based comedy, broad high jinks, and melancholy, Green Wing can seem a bit wobbly, especially over each episode’s hour-long running time, but over the course of the series, the accumulated affection for the characters provides stability (and laughs) enough.
17. A Very Peculiar Practice (United Kingdom, 1986, 1988, 1992)
Along with The Singing Detective, A Very Peculiar Practice helped revolutionize British drama in 1986, fearlessly mixing together black comedy, drama, and surrealism. But even though this satirical medical drama garnered acclaim comparable to that of Dennis Potter’s revered miniseries, it still took 18 years to gain a video release in Britain, and it remains unavailable Stateside. Starring Doctor Who veteran Peter Davison as idealistic if feckless young doctor Stephen Daker, the show explored the byzantine bureaucracy and cynical, business-minded politics of fictional Lowlands University, with a special emphasis on the petty infighting between the larger-than-life weirdos at the university medical center. The show fearlessly switches from satire of greed-driven ’80s society to absurd black comedy—typified by a pair of silent, feral nuns seen inexplicably roaming the campus in every episode—to serious human drama, and the perfectly cast Davison helps hold these disparate tones together as a coherent show. It’s a deeply strange, hugely innovative series, and, as a bonus, it features what just might be the most gloriously ’80s opening credits ever.
18. A Touch Of Cloth (United Kingdom, 2012)
When professional piss-taker Charlie Brooker and TV writer Daniel Maier took on the police procedural, it was perhaps inevitable they’d come up with A Touch Of Cloth, a parody that manages more real darkness than half the shows that inspired it. As haunted loner cop Jack Cloth and sidekick Ann Oldman (procedural vets John Hannah and Suranne Jones) hunt a serial killer under the watchful eye of ACC Tom Boss (Julian Rhind-Tutt), they discover a sinister conspiracy hiding underneath meta-elements piled knee-deep. Though rife with the usual crudity, straight-faced absurdities, and commitment to unspoken through-jokes, A Touch Of Cloth is at heart a ceaselessly cynical evisceration of the genre. It’s so pointed as to be prescient and plotted just enough to make the writers of Wire In The Blood look over their shoulders. It avoids any accidental nostalgia by ensuring nothing’s safe; a morgue visit featuring a choirboy and French kissing is one of the most unsettlingly hilarious sacrileges of recent years, as Brooker and Maier eviscerate tropes with the abandon of two people trapped in a space capsule headed for the sun.
19. Ashes To Ashes (United Kingdom, 2008-2010)
Ashes To Ashes, a follow-up to Life On Mars doesn’t quite live up to its brilliant predecessor; especially in the early going, it has a little too much fun with the period-specific gags and the increasing outrageousness of Philip Glenister’s lovable fascist, Gene Hunt. But it asserts its own distinct identity by exploring the deeper implications of the original show’s cop-centric fantasy world. Keeley Hawes steps in for Jon Simm’s Sam Tyler as Alex Drake, the latest police officer to suffer life-threatening trauma and wind up in the past, with the 1973 Manchester of Life On Mars swapped for 1981 London. Without a focused character arc to rival Sam Tyler’s journey on Life On Mars, the sequel instead starts asking tough questions about what’s really going on in this 1981, as Alex tries to prevent her parents’ deaths and encounters another time-traveling cop, all while half-heartedly fighting off her animal attraction to Gene. Things get delightfully weird in season three, which may or may not feature Satan as a supporting character. Plans for an American DVD release have reportedly been held up because of music-rights issues.
20. The later work of Ken Finkleman (Canada, 1998-2012)
Ken Finkleman’s The Newsroom, a backstage satire openly inspired by The Larry Sanders Show, ran for three seasons (plus one TV movie) spread across 11 years, and it remains one of the funniest shows ever to come out of Canada. Finkleman himself plays the show’s antihero, George Findlay, a spineless but assured career weasel who has mastered the art of always making his most self-serving impulse seem like the only reasonable option. The Newsroom has been broadcast in the U.S. on PBS, and the whole series is available on DVD. But the same cannot be said of Finkleman’s many follow-up series—More Tears (1998), Foolish Heart (1999), Foreign Objects (2001), Good Dog (2011), and Good God (2012)—which continue to chart George Findlay’s need to scrape away more and more of his already thin ethical code in order to stay afloat in a TV news business that only grows more compromised and corrupt. A country where it’s easier to get Aaron Sorkin’s take on TV news than Ken Finkleman’s has something seriously wrong with it.
21. Broadchurch (United Kingdom, 2013)
Given Broadchurch’s immense popularity in its homeland, as well as the fact that it stars former Doctor David Tennant and Olivia Colman, it seems more a matter of “when” than “if” itwill come to the States, but here’s another example of Europeans doing the “single-season pulpy murder mystery” right where Americans seem unable to crack that particular nut. The mystery aspects—involving the death of a young boy on the Dorset coast—are fairly basic, so far as these things go (with seemingly dozens of red herrings), but what creator Chris Chibnall handles in the show’s eight episodes is a superior depiction of small-town life, of the way that the death of one person can emanate out in a spider web of grief and newly uncovered secrets. The mystery’s ultimate resolution is satisfying, and with Tennant and Colman at the show’s center, the series has acting ability to spare.
22. The House In The Woods (France, 1971)
After a debut feature about the inner life of a troubled foster child, French director Maurice Pialat went on to co-write, direct, and star in The House In The Woods, a seven-episode miniseries about the inner lives of multiple troubled children. Set in a small village during World War I, it covers the whole town but centers on one particular family unit: a gamekeeper, his wife, his son and daughter, two children whose fathers were called to the front lines that they temporarily take in, and the orphan left on their doorstep. Given Pialat’s preoccupations, the orphan naturally provides most of the perspective. Over the next four years, the children struggle to figure out their places in the world as the war creeps ever closer. The tragedy is obvious, but there’s also fantasy in the idyllic countryside, and the six-hour length allows Pialat to luxuriate in daily life. Out on French DVD, The House In The Woods would make a stimulating companion to Criterion’s other Pialat features. As Cahiers Du Cinéma critic Joël Magny put it, “If I had to choose the one film that best allows the viewer to penetrate Maurice Pialat’s universe, I would unhesitatingly choose The House In The Woods.”
23. My Mad Fat Diary (United Kingdom, 2013)
Rae Earl is just like any other British 16-year-old girl—except she weighs 16 stone, or about 225 pounds and just spent the last four months in a mental institution. Charged by her doctor to keep a diary, she describes reintegrating into the lower-middle-class society of Lincolnshire, while keeping her struggle with self-harm and body image a secret. My Mad Fat Diary is dark but hilarious, both painfully honest and extremely funny. Rae’s outsize experience of the ups and downs of teenage girlhood—including the major milestones of dating, forging friendships, and trying to get better—captured the attention of many adolescent viewers in the U.K., and that enthusiasm traveled across the pond in the form of illegal downloads and GIF collections. This isn’t Masterpiece fare because it doesn’t have that period, polished Britishness that PBS likes to showcase. Which is a shame, because it fills a niche that viewers haven’t seen on American television since Huge.
24. Ripping Yarns (United Kingdom, 1976-1979)
By the time Monty Python’s Flying Circus reached its largely regrettable fourth year, writing partners Michael Palin and Terry Jones had started experimenting with longer-form sketches. The third season’s “The Cycling Tour” lead to similar season-four episodes like “The Golden Age Of Ballooning” and the eerily unsettling “Michael Ellis,” both of which integrate the signature Python sensibility into an episode-long narrative framework. Post-Python, the two followed this vein in creating Ripping Yarns, an affectionately loopy satire of the sort of pre-WWII boys’ fiction they’d grown up on. Beginning with the delightful “Tomkinson’s Schooldays” (a send-up of British public-school tales), Palin and Jones approach their subject with obvious nostalgia, while sowing throughout a decidedly Pythonesque strain of absurdist silliness. Thus, the big athletic competition is a 30-mile forced hop, and the school bully rules with a combination of wealth, disdain, and “unescorted Filipino ladies.” Throughout this and such episodes as the POW epic “Escape From Stalag Luft 112B,” and paean to British explorers “Across The Andes By Frog,” Palin and Jones established one of Python’s most whimsically funny outposts.
25. Brass Eye (United Kingdom, 1997-2001)
Brass Eye was a caustically hilarious “newsmagazine” satire’s attack on media-driven public hysteria that prefigured both the satirical pranksmanship of Ali G. and Stephen Colbert’s ironic anchorman concept. Taking the form of a hard-hitting exposé series that tackled topics like “crime,” “drugs,” and “sex,” each episode features creator Chris Morris and his crack team of reporters and commentators emulating the self-serious, hyper-dramatic tone of Hard Copy, all the while straight-facedly slipping in utterly absurd “facts” to prop up their continuing arguments that, for example, drug laws are helpless if transactions use a mandrill as an intermediary or that pedophiles routinely disguise themselves as schools to lure victims. Coupled with its seemingly inexhaustible well of rapid-fire absurdity—a reporter breathlessly reports the street names of a new drug, including “Joss Ackland’s spunky backpack”—Brass Eye routinely suckered minor celebrities and politicians, all too eager to join protests against, say, the marketing of puffy pants designed to hide child molesters’ erections. That last episode, titled “Paedogeddon!” received more complaints than any program in BBC history, a fact that Morris, director of the similarly provocative 2010 terrorist comedy Four Lions, must regard as a mission well accomplished.
26. Our Friends In The North (United Kingdom, 1996)
Our Friends In The North, a nine-part series, adapted by Peter Flannery from his own play, is one of the most ambitious and highly praised examples of British TV drama’s penchant for grappling with political and social events in the context of the characters’ lives. It spans more than 30 years and was a surprise hit, confounding the expectations of those who assumed that its depiction of the deadening effects of Thatcherism and Britain’s post-war decline would just be a downer. It probably helped that the cast had considerable star voltage: The four leads are future James Bond Daniel Craig, future Doctor Christoper Eccleston, Gina McKee (currently playing Caterina Sforza on The Borgias), and character villain extraordinaire Mark Strong. That apparently hasn’t been enough to reassure American distributors, though some good soul has loaded it, in chunks, onto YouTube.
27. Real Humans (Sweden, 2012)
Real Humans was a visually striking 10-episode series set in a world where android technology has evolved to the point that there’s a consumer market for robots (or “hubots,” as they’re called here) to serve as household help and manual labor. As anyone who’s read Philip K. Dick could predict, some of the hubots seem more human than their masters, raising all sorts of questions regarding freedom, self-determination, and man’s responsibility to what he creates. An international success, the show has been exported to France, Germany, and other countries; meanwhile, a British company is working on an English-language remake. Maybe there’ll eventually be an American remake, since that worked out so well with Being Human.
28. Utopia (United Kingdom, 2013)
Utopia, a British conspiracy thriller created by Dennis Kelly—co-creator of the cult comedy Pulling and a writer on the espionage drama Spooks (shown in the U.S. as MI-5)—sounds like something Alan Moore might have come up with after binge-watching Rubicon and the first season of Heroes. The story involves a legendary, unpublished graphic novel called The Utopia Experiments, said to include predictions of disasters that have since happened in the real world—as well as some that haven’t happened yet. The heroes are a motley group of comic-book fans who obtain a copy of the graphic novel, which puts them at odds with a murderous secret organization called The Network. The show created a sensation when it aired on Channel 4 earlier this year, and a second season has been ordered. But no announcement has been made yet about airing it in Stateside, maybe because stuff like this happens in it.
29. The Changes (United Kingdom, 1975)
The U.K. has something of a reputation for eerie, unsettling sci-fi aimed at kids, and The Changes, a TV miniseries adaptation of Peter Dickinson’s trilogy of novels, is a sadly forgotten classic in the genre. It tells the story of a Britain in the immediate aftermath of a strange incident that leads to otherwise ordinary English citizens suddenly turning on their electronic gadgets and modern conveniences because of a strange noise. The Changes has moments of embarrassing fluff (the answer to where the noise came from is quite disappointing), but it’s also got some supremely creepy bits, particularly in the early going when all good Britons seem to take leave of their senses and start attacking their television sets. It’s an extremely implausible apocalypse scenario, but The Changes makes it feel like a docu-drama.
30. EastEnders (United Kingdom, 1985-present)
Agnes Nixon, the Queen Bee of the American television soap opera, set her two marquee shows, One Life To Live and All My Children, on the Main Line, tony suburbs of Philadelphia. Other U.S. soaps followed suit, often centering around the scandalous goings-on of the well-to-do. But the British EastEnders understand that thwarted love affairs, betrayal, and heavier issues like rape and racism also take place within the working class. Set in the fictional Albert Square, EastEnders centers around a shifting array of families—most notably the Watts and the Mitchells—who call the Square their home. Like many soaps, EastEnders uses the veil of its genre as a means to look at often controversial topics, but it also feels grittier and more realistic than its American counterparts. It’s also manages to be pretty funny, replete with intentional comedy. There are tons of episodes—almost 4,700!—to wade through in its 28-year history, but like any good soap, continuity isn’t that much of an issue, as the storylines remain engrossing even when picked up in the middle. A handful of American PBS affiliates broadcast the show, but with its binge-worthy qualities, EastEnders is a natural for streaming.