10 Best British TV Shows Of 2018 (So Far)
With a vast selection of ways to watch premium entertainment, from cable networks to streaming services, we’re truly spoilt for choice when it comes to picking out our next boxset.
But as far as compelling drama series go, there are few who do it better than the Brits. In recent years, the popularity of British TV has taken off due to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu distributing the series internationally, and the likes of Happy Valley and Broadchurch have highlighted what the U.K. is truly capable of when it comes to making television.
2018 hasn’t been as strong as some other years, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some great series. These few have dealt with a variety of subjects, such as the disappearance of a young girl, and an eccentric heroin addict learning to live with his troubled past. It’s true: we’ve been treated to some absolute crackers – and we’re only halfway through the year.
If you’re in need of another binge-worthy television series and are in the market for something British, then these shows certainly deserve your attention.
Speaking of things that the Brits do better than anyone else, crime dramas are at the very top of that list, and Collateral is no exception. The four-part drama aired on BBC earlier this year (and is now on Netflix in the US), and deals with the murder of a pizza delivery guy. DI Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) leads the investigation, and her not-so-by-the-book methods help her get to the bottom of the crime, which is so much more complex than it initially appears.
Written by playwright David Hare, Collateral is hard-hitting drama, but it’s not without its faults. A slow-burn first episode and a little exposition prevents this one from being further up this list, but the series does make an original contribution to its genre in that it’s what Hare describes as a whydunit as opposed to a whodunit.
Mulligan, as always, is fantastic in the role, but a little bit more of a backstory for our protagonist wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Kay Mellor is one of Britain’s most renowned screenwriters. Her ability to pen realistic and relatable characters is second to none, and one of the many reasons for her continued success, with Girlfriends continuing that form.
Following life-long friends Sue (Miranda Richardson), Gail (Zoë Wanamaker) and Linda (Phyllis Logan), the six-part series deals with the women’s tribulations and their collective fear of becoming irrelevant now that they’re of a certain age.
There’s a little humour thrown in for good measure, and what started out as a series about human relationships quickly becomes something else – especially when Linda is arrested for her husband’s death. The events that follow are a little out there per se, and to an extent verge on satire, but it’s still a highly entertaining series, even if logic is thrown out of the window on a few occasions.
Arguably the most anticipated British series of the year, McMafia landed on BBC One on New Year’s Day. The eight-part drama follows the story of Alex Godman (James Norton), the British-raised son of a former Russian mafia boss. Alex, who is the manager of a hedge fund, has distanced himself from his family’s connections but, once his uncle is murdered, he craves revenge, and finds himself drawn into the dangerous world he tried so desperately to avoid.
McMafia is a spectacle, that’s for sure. Filming took place in several locations around the world, and it’s pretty clear that no expense was spared. Visually, it’s gorgeous, and the cinematography is top-notch. The series itself doesn’t quite live up to the hype, and it was much more of a slow-burn storyline than we were expecting, but it’s still an incredibly engaging and totally unpredictable watch, and James Norton – as always – is great.
In the U.S, McMafia recently aired on AMC.
7. The City And The City
The City And The City might sound like a bizarre Sex And The City spin-off, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The four-part sci-fi epic is based on China Miéville’s book of the same name, and stars The Walking Dead’s David Morrissey in the leading role.
As you can probably guess from the title, The City And The City tells the story of two cities – Besźel and Ul Qoma, both of which are situated opposite one another. But the weirdness doesn’t stop there. Besźel residents are not permitted to even look at Ul Qoma – or vice versa – otherwise the all-seeing Breach will manifest and take that person into police custody for breaking the law.
Morrissey stars as Tyador Borlú, a troubled police inspector who’s investigating the death of a young girl in Besźel. However, when it turns out that the woman was a resident of the twin city, things start to become interesting. Like any good protagonist, Borlú is not without his secrets – or his internal conflict – and we discover via a series of flashbacks that his wife went missing several years ago, and it’s been haunting him ever since.
With only four episodes to its name, The City And The City is incredibly short, but it’s every bit as good as it sounds.
Penned by BAFTA-award winning writer Jack Thorne, Kiri tells the story of a young girl who vanishes during a visit to her biological grandparents’ house. As it was social worker Miriam who orchestrated said visit, the blame falls on her head when Kiri disappears and she becomes public enemy number one. The compelling four-part series received critical acclaim for its wonderful pacing, as well as Thorne’s writing, when it aired on Channel 4 earlier this year.
Although some viewers were left disgruntled by the abrupt ending, Kiri accomplishes what it set out to do. It asks all the right questions and, much like Collateral, it was never about the who, it was about the why.
Sarah Lancashire delivers yet another award-worthy performance in Kiri, and the other cast members are brilliant too. The four-part show really is edge-of-seat drama at its finest.
5. Save Me
Just when you thought The Walking Dead’s Lennie James couldn’t get any more talented, he goes and writes a compelling drama series – one that he also stars in. Save Me dropped on Sky Atlantic earlier this year, with all of the episodes made available immediately after the first had aired, and it’s easy to see why: it’s without a doubt one of the most binge-worthy shows of the year.
Much like Kiri, Save Me tells the story of the disappearance of a young girl. Jody’s vanishing puts her ne’er-do-well father Nelly Rowe (James) in the frame, despite the fact he’s had no contact with her since she was a little girl.
There’s also a lot of focus on Nelly’s ex, Clare McGory, which is great as it gives actress Suranne Jones plenty of opportunities to work her magic. Jones has led some of Britain’s biggest and best shows over the past few years – Scott & Bailey and Doctor Foster to name a few – and she’s just as good in Save Me.
If Save Me sounds like your cup of tea, then you’ll be pleased to hear that all episodes are still available on Sky.
The only returning drama on this list, Marcella was back for second season earlier this year, and it was every bit as compelling as the first – albeit a little less batsh*t, with the exception of our protagonist.
The second season of Marcella is a lot more grounded than the first, and it benefits from the fact that the criminal investigation isn’t connected to our heroine like it was in Season 1. In addition to searching for a child serial killer, Marcella is still struggling with her blackouts. As the series unfolds, we learn some terrifying home truths – both about Marcella and her son, Edward.
Writer Hans Rosenfeldt somehow managed to do the impossible and produced yet another incredibly complex storyline – one that doesn’t feel contrived – and, in the end, it outshines its predecessor. Anna Friel is magnificent as the troubled detective.
For U.S residents, Marcella Season 2 is now on Netflix.
3. Patrick Melrose
Patrick Melrose is without a doubt the most bizarre show on this list. It’s a hard series to assign a genre to because it’s more than just your average drama, but it’s in no way a comedy either. The five-part series has received critical acclaim – not just in Britain but in the U.S too, where it airs on Showtime.
The eponymous protagonist, Patrick Melrose himself, is a troubled individual. He’s pompous, sophisticated and quintessentially British, but he’s also a heroin addict. We first meet him when he learns of his father’s death – news that doesn’t move him as much as you would expect. But there’s a reason for this – something that we learn over the course of the series. Each episode is set during a significant event in Patrick’s life, and we learn why the eccentric character is so troubled. On another note, the cinematography is to die for, especially in the second episode.
Cumberbatch is truly electric in the Sky Atlantic drama, and one would be justified in saying that the celebrated actor delivers the performance of his career here. There will certainly be award discussions for his portrayal of this character – that’s almost a given.
2. The Split
The Split is among the best of BBC’s offerings this year. The six-part drama deals with family law, a subject not explored enough on television, and writer Abi Morgan has truly penned some magnificent scripts.
Hannah Stern – formerly Hannah Defoe – has recently left her family law firm to take a new job at rival firm Noble & Hale when we first meet her. Her life is perfect on the outside, but when her estranged father shows up, the cracks start to show – both at work and in her personal life.
Starring the fabulous Nicola Walker, The Split is everything it promises to be and more. The writing speaks for itself, and it’s a breath of fresh air to find a thoroughly enjoyable series that doesn’t have subjects like murder, death, or the mafia at the forefront. Despite its flashy exterior, The Split is simply about real people, with real problems.
If The Split sounds right up your street then dig in while it’s still on the BBC iPlayer. As it’s a co-production with America, the series airs on Sundance TV in the U.S.
1. A Very English Scandal
A Very English Scandal was an instant success when it began airing on BBC One last month. Starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw in the leading roles, the series received critical acclaim across the board, with many hailing it as one of Britain’s best dramas in years.
Based on true events, the series depicts the homosexual relationship between politician Jeremy Thorpe (Grant) and stable boy Norman Scott (Whishaw) during the 1960s, and the subsequent series of events that follow. Years after their affair, Scott becomes a thorn in Thorpe’s side, so the Liberal Party leader suggests murder as a solution.
Doctor Who and Queer as Folk writer Russell T Davies pens the three-parter and – as with all of his work – he expertly blends comedy with the drama, and the end result is something magnificent.
A Very English Scandal was the very best that British television had to offer us this year, and it’s still on the iPlayer if you want to give it a whirl. It will arrive in the U.S later this month, as an Amazon Video original.