So, we all know about comfort reading, right? When you’re feeling a little down, those are the books you return to that wrap you in a huge fuzzy blanket of metaphorical love and protection. For some people, it’s a favorite novel or children’s book or anything by particular authors. For me, it’s Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.
But we are not here at the Great British TV Site to talk about reading. We are here to talk about viewing!
So when I’m down, mentally, hormonally, no reason at all, just am, here are the programs I re-watch compulsively. They are almost uniformly sweet (they may have an edge or two but it’s always blunted by the overall joy of said program) and they showcase some of my favorite Brit actors as well.
So you’ve heard me talk about Moone Boy before. Moone Boy is so, SO awesome. If you don’t fall in love with David Rawle as Martin Moone immediately, I’m sorry, you are a stone-cold monster with no heart. The basic idea is this, and you can hear it in this trailer: “Ever wanted to be the imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the west of Ireland?” Martin Moone is the 12-year-old center of the action, Chris O’Dowd plays his imaginary friend, and a fantastic set of actors rounds out the rest of the cast: Martin’s sisters, who treat him with a mixture of contempt and affectionate indifference; his parents (who love their kids, of course, but, you know, have their own stuff going on), and Martin’s friends, parents of his friends, priests, etc. And you can see most of those characters in this one brief clip!
The best part about Moone Boy is that, yes, all the messiness of life is there. Martin deals with multiple types of bullies at school, parents admit to one another that they don’t really like their kids (oh, just watch the show, you’ll get it), Martin’s smart and goody-two-shoes sister shows up at her own wedding so pregnant that they actually have to leave the wedding to have the baby. But it’s all so festive and ridiculous and matter-of-fact that this show just ends up making you more happy with every episode you watch (until you watch the last episode, when you’re sad because there are no more). As Martin himself would say, oh, it’s craic.
Evidently a large part of my Comfort Watching has to do with the music of the shows. When I need to go to my happy place I sing the title song for the BBC4 series The Detectorists.
The Detectorists is this awesome little series about two friends who are metal detectorists (not detectors, thank you very much) in Essex. They spend most of the episodes wandering around fields with their metal detectors, hoping to “find their gold”; meanwhile, they go about their lives, being friends, working, and going to the pub (and to meetings of the local detectorists’ club, of course). It’s so very British. There’s quiz night in the pub. There’s a lot of outdoor locations. There’s a lot of gentle profanity and taking the piss out of one another and their detectoring enemies.
Yes, the main characters have a healthy rivalry with other detectorists. Awesome.
The series was written by Mackenzie Crook, best known for his role as Gareth on the British The Office. He’s got a lovely way with dialogue and they were also smart enough to cast Rachael Stirling (fun trivia: Stirling is the daughter of British actor Diana Rigg; of course, she’s beautiful) as his love interest. When Mackenzie’s character (Andy Stone) waits for hers (Becky) outside the school where she teaches, he’s eyed suspiciously by the other teachers, and tells her about it. She laughs and says something to the effect of, “Well, you must admit there’s something drug dealer-ish about you.”
Oh, God, I murdered that scene. Please just watch this show and see how Crook has written a completely contained and brilliant little TV world, complete with much better dialogue than that which I paraphrased above.
And the very best thing about these two series is that Moone Boy is 18 episodes long and The Detectorists is 13 episodes long; when you’re feeling down you can binge-watch these puppies over the weekend and get your head back on straight.
For bonus points we have the BBC adaptation of P. G. Wodehouse’s classic series of novels featuring dullard but chipper aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his loyal but orchestrating butler Jeeves. This one’s too long to power through in a weekend, clocking in at 23 hour-long episodes over the course of four seasons, but that’s okay. Save it for a time when your need for comfort extends over several weeks.
Do you only know Hugh Laurie from his star turn as cantankerous genius Dr. House on the Fox show House? Well, you won’t believe that that same Hugh Laurie can portray Bertie Wooster with such vacuous charm and wide-eyed aplomb. And there’s his frequent comedy partner Stephen Fry (as in A Bit of Fry & Laurie) serving as the clever and frighteningly efficient Jeeves.
Still not convinced? Here you go:
Come on. If the very idea of Bertie calling his friend Gussie a poop for only drinking orange juice (rather than pushing a gin and tonic over the larynx) doesn’t make you feel better, well, then, I can’t help you.
So what British TV do you watch when you need cheering up?