The Best Shows on BBC that are not Downtown Abbey

BBC’s “Luther”
Idris Elba plays DCI John Luther in BBC’s “Luther.” (Photo credit: BBC/Luther)

By Lissa Harris

The BBC has always put together some amazing programming. As the world’s oldest national broadcasting organization, BBC has continuously provided high quality (and low quality) programming to the world on the dime of the average British household and I personally want to thank each and every one of those contributors for hours and hours of pure personal enjoyment. Here is my list of the top shows, most of which can be found on non-nefarious Netflix.

The Catherine Tate Show:

Catherine Tate is a comedienne known in the States for her portrayal of Nellie Bertram, Michael Scott’s replacement, in the eight and ninth seasons of NBC’s The Office. But her talents are truly showcased in the sketch comedy show that bears her name. Her range of character is incredible and hilarious. My favorite character is Margaret the frightened woman who screams in terror at seemingly innocuous noises such as crunching or her own hiccups. If you think this is funny, you will LOVE this comedy.


The current popularity of the crime drama has me on cloud nine and renews my faith in humanity’s capability to be interested in anything other than a housewife of some county. Like it’s title character played by Idris Alba, Luther has it all: intelligence, suspense, and sharp dialogue most of which is spoken in cockneyed british accents. It exudes a sexy slumpiness that is irresistible and completely satifying right down to the opening song by Massive Attack.

Its only flaw is falling prey to the all too familiar “shock” plot twist (ie: killing off a major character) that we see all too often in TV today. But I can forgive its transgression without impunity because everything else about it is so good.

Call the Midwife

I happened upon this pink diamond after reading an article about the best shows on Netflix. I was skeptical at first since, on the surface, it possessed none of my usual desired traits for good TV (crime-based, apocalypse centered, or anything sci-fi). It is set in 1950s London in the poverty stricken Eastend and follows the life of novice mid-wife in a convent, Nurse Jenny Lee (played by Jessica Raines). Each episode focuses on a different pregnant women with her own unique set of concerns for herself, her family, and her unborn baby. The show emphasis is on how crucial the midwife was at a time before we gave birth in hospitals strapped to a fetal monitor, a heart monitor, and an IV drip filled with Pitocin. It was surely a simpler time but boy did things go wrong. And although they faced some hard decisions, everything always turned out right in the end except for that one episode that unlike Luther I will never forgive them for. And let us not forget Nurse Camilla “Chummy” Browne, played with wild abandon by Miranda Hart, who at six-foot-something is awkward nervous perfection.


Okay, okay I know. Sherlock is hardly a hidden gem. It is about as popular as that show I mentioned in the title (Downton Abbey, shhhhhh). But unless you have watched this series, every episode, more than once, you don’t know Sherlock. Visually stunning shot for shot, this show should be watched again in slow motion just to be able to absorb the slight nuances of the cinematography and each character’s movements within. Then it should be watched by pausing during breaks in the dialogue in order to catch each line in its “blink and you’ll miss it” style. Sherlock is a veritable banquet for the eyes, brain, and soul. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson) have a chemistry on screen that rivals Bogey and Bacall. The storylines are as realistic, intelligent and well though out as (or dare I say even better than) Breaking Bad, and this last season’s finale was exhausting and glorious to watch. It took my mind a week to recover. If you get nothing from this article except that I think everyone should WATCH THIS SHOW, then this was worth the hour it took me to write and I can feel that I’ve done my part to remove the stigma that still surrounds television. Sherlock is the reason why TV is good, TV is right, and TV should be watched often with a discriminating and curious mind. We will all be better for it.

More from our Sister Sites