Oh, Netflix, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
It’s been just about two months now since the iconic Downton Abbey went off the air. I don’t know about you, but I have been struggling to find shows to love and characters to root for as much as I loved the Crawleys and all those who worked for them.
Thanks to some great Netflix suggestions, friends’ recommendations and good ol’ BBC series, I have compiled a list of 11 shows dealing with class, history, and families for you to enjoy as you mourn the loss of Robert, Cora, Bates, Mrs. Patmore, et al.
Shows with a * denote they are still in production.
- Upstairs, Downstairs. Originally ran 1971-1975 and with a 2010-2012 reboot, this is the upper-class-versus-lower-class TV show to end all shows. It follows the rich (and eventually titled) Bellamy family from 1903 to 1930. Drama abounds in the morning room and servants’ hall alike. If you can get past the kitschy costumes and sets, as well as the relatively sluggish pace of the storylines compared to modern BBC shows, its great acting, solid writing, and surprisingly timeless storylines shows why Downton carries on this TV legacy.
- The Paradise. The Victorian Age at its finest in this 2012-2013 BBC treat loosely based on Emile Zola’s Au bonheur des dames. We follow the plucky young Denise Lovett in 1875 Newcastle as she takes a job as a shopgirl in Britain’s first (fictitious) department store. She rises through the ranks quickly as The Paradise’s owner recognizes her talent, gumption, and slowly reciprocates her feelings. It’s a great premise and I love the sets and costumes, but the characters do fall somehow flat. Still, a recommended watch on Netflix.
- *Last Tango in Halifax. I promise you will devour the 24 episodes of this BBC treasure. Set in northern England, it is about two families—one academic, the other agrarian—and how they come together thanks to their aging parents played by Anne Reid and the superb Derek Jacobi. The characters are rich and full, and the plot lines are soap opera-ish with enough realism to make you want to love these characters. Easily viewed in many PBS markets and on Netflix.
- *Call the Midwife. I am only a few episodes into this 42-episode series. Widely available on Netflix and on PBS, I do love the class commentary in south London in the 1950s. Sweetly acted, based on gripping source material, and attention to historical accuracy, I can already tell I am going to love this one.
- North & South. Based on a Victorian novel, this 2004 BBC gem can be knocked out in 4 hours. Margaret Hale and her genteel but impoverished parents move to the north of England in an industrial town. She finds the customs, accent, and treatment of workers to be almost out of her league, especially her conflicts with local mill owner John Thornton. A Victorian look between the classes, this an enjoyable albeit predicable miniseries. Look for Brendan Coyle (aka Bates) as an earthy millworker.
- The Time in Between (or, ‘El tiempo entre costuras’). This Spanish series (2013-2014) covers the 1930s through the eyes of a young seamstress named Sira. Dragged to Tangiers by the man she loved, he abandons her and she must make her own way. Spain was just beginning its own civil war, so Sira must be very careful how she plays her game. I’m not finished with this series, but the pacing, acting, sets, and costumes always leave me wishing I had time for more episodes.
- The Forsythe Saga. A delightful 2002 miniseries based on the books by John Galsworthy covers three generations of the tortured Forsythe family (1906-1921). Best of the lot is Damian Lewis as the cold, repressed, but deep Soames Forsythe. Obviously the books develop the characters much more, but the acting, costumes, and sets are top-notch, and the whole series can easily be knocked out on a lazy weekend day.
- Agatha Christie’s Poirot. I am not a fan of detective shows, but I very recently finished this series on Netflix. It started in 1989 and only just ended in 2013. David Suchet is the finest incarnation of Christie’s persnickety, shrewd, urbane, yet charming and complex Hercule Poirot. Rich sets and costumes aid in the great stories told, even if the one-off characters are not particularly interesting.
- *Peaky Blinders. This “based on a true story” series follows the fictional Shelby family in 1920s Birmingham. Cillian Murphy is the ice-eyed Tommy Shelby, the leader of a mob family. A family man of honor yet ruthless in pursuit of power, Tommy is the badass to end all badasses. This is by far the bloodiest entry for this list, but the gripping stories, the nuanced characters, and the historical accuracy sucked me in. Not to miss on Netflix. Be warned, though: blood and boobs abound.
- Fawlty Towers. Only 12 episodes were produced in 1975 and 1979. This brainchild of Monty Python’s John Cleese sets the bar from which all other BBC comedies can be measured. Cleese is trying to bring a bit of class to his hotel, but is constantly thwarted by his sweet but inept porter Manuel, his capable maid Polly, and his shrewish wife Sybil. The jokes fly fast and furious, both in witty dialogue, slapstick humor, and situational comedy at its finest.
- Keeping up Appearances. Filmed between 1990 and 1995, you can catch this popular sitcom on Netflix and many PBS stations. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “bouquet”) always comes up with schemes to better her middle-class station in life, much to the chagrin of her long-suffering husband, Richard. Lots of slapstick humor, double entendres, and a real comedy of errors, this comedy is sure to leave you laughing over the pretentious Hyacinth, even if many of the jokes get repetitive.
So, even though we mourn the loss of Downton Abbey, there are plenty of shows on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, BBC America, and PBS to keep us happy and provide us many hours of viewing entertainment.
What have you been watching lately? Comment below to share your latest TV obsession with us!