I tend to avoid television these days, less out of a cranky Luddite’s inherent distrust of the media as a wannabe-intellectual’s uncompromising preference for books. Those few times when I do watch something—Scrubs, usually, or pirated clips from the Office—I tend to feel drained afterwards, sacked with the distinct impression that nothing was there to miss. But there are exceptions. Last night, while idly searching for a local news channel with the power to ignore Amy Winehouse, I stumbled upon a bizarre treasure: The Most Confused Face Ben Stiller Has Ever Made.

This is no small feat. The man has made an entire career out of channeling his wiry neurosis. But Jonathan Ross, the BBC’s answer to Conan O’Brien and Letterman, managed to baffle both him and Owen Wilson with a simple quip that left his audience in stitches. That quip, in reference to Starsky and Hutch: “Well, you do have to admit that, when it comes to the movies, British audiences are just a tad more intelligent than American ones.” Uproarious laughter as the two knit their brows in unison. And another reaction, unrelated, on my part: as a biased American observer with a taste for acerbic commentary, it behooves me to tell my peers of the oddities of British television. Without further ado:



A now-retired soap opera with a bestselling swimsuit calendar, Hollyoaks centers on the fictional college of Hollyoaks Community, where murders are common and prostitutes freely roam campus. As daytime dramas go, it isn’t bad, but the actors read their lines with entirely fake accents, apparently designed to make them sound more “British.” The end result is a strange mix of Scottish and Cockney. Imagine a sobbing woman who sounds like Groundskeeper Willie, and you get the idea.


This one, in reference to the import Reaper, speaks for itself: “For generations, ideas have passed over the Atlantic and made each other’s nations bloody great. We gave them crumpets and tea, and they gave us burgers and cola. We gave them the Beatles, and they gave us Hanson. Remember them? Neither do we.”


Dawn, an avuncular London twentysomething, decides to find out once and for all if one can “become” a lesbian. For a month, she refuses to date or exchange phone numbers with any man, and even goes so far as to shock herself as punishment for a straight fantasy. Apropos of her self-imposed abstinence, she reveals her candor with this quote: “Normally, I date a lot of guys, and have quite a lot of sex. That’s why this is so hard.”


They wear kilts. Enough said.


I longed for John Madden. I had never before in my life longed for John Madden. Unless something horrible and unforeseen happens that destroys my equilibrium, I will never again in my life long for John Madden.


The flashy ancestor of its plastic American offspring, Big Brother is vapid, endless, and teeming with catty melodrama, which is not news. But a recent invention, the Pillow Talk camera, is: it records conversations contestants hold before bed in a green, slimy night-vision, including in the background a staticky form of trance music. Imagine that the next time you feel watched.


What, you ask, could possibly be real about sex on primetime television? Graphic clips of intercourse? Anonymous subjects, blurred and black-barred faces? Top it all off with a pompous narrator who speaks in a dry monotone, and you’ve got a chilling reminder that science is never sexy.


The driest, darkest comedy I have ever seen, and a brilliant one at that. A lonely middle-aged woman, Tanya, has just started dating a man, Keith, who she describes as “nearly perfect.” She invites him to dinner with her friends, where he reveals his one problem: he’s a convicted sex offender. In his words: “Just think, a year ago I couldn’t walk in a park without showing someone my penis. What a change.”


A combination quiz show, puppet show, and billboard of top-selling albums. A host of celebrity contestants plead with a group of puppets—one of whom resembles a bright green penguin—to give them hints about a given album’s popularity. The one that guesses most accurately wins money to donate to charity.


Another soap opera, though the term doesn’t do it justice—Skins is the most explicit, ridiculous, uncensored show that I or any of my friends have ever seen. Strong words, yes, but what else can you say about a show where a teenage girl, aged fourteen or so, kicks her mother out of the bathroom because she takes too long with her vibrator? Any show that could top this would herald the Second Coming, and would make gawkers deserve it. Thank whatever deity you choose that the series ends this Wednesday.

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