For decades American public broadcasting networks introduced select British programming to U.S. audiences. Through their efforts, classics like Are You Being Served, As Time Goes By, and the soap opera, EastEnders, found loyal audiences in the States. With the launch of WETA-UK — a public television network dedicated exclusively to British television shows, and more recently BritBox and Acorn networks, access opened to a fuller array of programs.
As with typical American telly, not all the offerings hit the mark, and not a considerable amount could be described as period programming set in eras and regions that traditionally omit Black and brown bodies. *Downton Abbey, the Bletchley Circle, and Call the Midwife make for great examples of colorless viewing, though in each case, the addition of characters of color came two to three series later. While the requirements of a great story do not always dictate inclusive representation, many of the shows Acumen took to immediately showcased powerful women, three-dimensional men, well-rounded teens, and great storylines.
TOP BOY unlocks the daily struggles of a young man whose mother fights mental health challenges, and who must navigate an often parasitic environment to stay on the right track. Through Netflix, audiences view a show willing to show community caregivers, and well-meaning, but struggling parents, alongside the “usual suspects.” Top Boy brings the innocence of children falling into drug culture for survival to light. The show also gave a start to Letitia Wright (Chantelle), who went on to Black Panther stardom. Look for standout performances from Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Lisa), Malcolm Kamulete (Ra’Nell), and Ashley
SOME GIRLS screens like a new age version of the NBC 70s comedy The Facts of Life, minus the fancy boarding school and den mothering. BBC3 did a brilliant job casting
Adelayo Adedayo as the all-British girl, Viva Bennett. Viva goes about the silliness of teen-dom with her three besties, Saz,
Amber, and Holli, only to have her life complicated when her father marries the school’s football coach, Ms. “Bitchcock” Hitchcock. Good, not-always wholesome laughs.
LUTHER It is always s a plus to have actor Idris
Elba onscreen, and even better when the scripts rival his talent. With the series Luther, found on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, Elba portrays the formidable DCI John Luther, a troubled, but genius detective, whose greatest gift is his ability to think as criminals do. One shortcoming of this series (now in its 5th season), is a missing family, community of color, love interest, or even childhood friend. As with the disclaimer, Luther hit the mark nonetheless.
Three series that made our list offer some of the most resilient “Betty Badass” characters ever written.
SCOTT & BAILEY Set around the lives of two female detectives, Janet Scott and Rachel Bailey, the show charts their unlikely friendship and the grind they face in supporting each other, while solving crimes. Equally powerful is Amelia Bullmore’s DCI Gill Murray, who reigns the squad in with stone-faced precision. Great all-around writing and delivery.
HAPPY VALLEY Another copper show with a dynamic female lead, this time, actress Sarah Lancashire, as Sergeant Catherine Cawood, has to juggle care of her grandson and heroin-recovering sister, with policing duties. The show humanizes the toll families endure when crises overlap and one or more family members are responsible for public and private remedies.
WENTWORTH An Australian remake of the 70s classic show Women of Cellblock H, Wentworth showcases the struggle for inmates to survive in the violent environment of a contemporary women's prison. Unlike typical prison dramas, (Oz, Orange is the New Black), Wentworth examines how the decisions of the guards, administrators, wardens, and outside investors, impact the lives of inmates. Stellar performances come from Pamela Rabe (Joan Ferguson), Kate Atkinson (Vera Bennett), Katrina Milosevic (Boomer), and Leah Purcell (Rita Connors). In fact, Rabe’s Ferguson portrayal proves one of the scariest in modern television history.
BULLETPROOF Bulletproof (pictured at top of page) has been compared to a modern-day, British version of Martin Lawrence and Will Smith’s Bad Boys film, however, the similarities are not so solid. Two cops, Bishop and Pike, form a dynamic duo fighting crime in London's East End. Starring Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke, Bulletproof goes a long way to script the pair as ultra cool, complimentary, and likeable. It works. A major plus for the show is the scripting of Lashana Lynch (Arjana Pike), Florisa Kamara (Donna Pike) and Jodie Campbell (Ali Pike) — three very beautiful dark brown young ladies as Walters’ wife and daughters.
Check out reviews of additional great performances, including EastEnders' latest little thriller, Kara-Leah Fernandes at www.theacumengroup.org