5 British TV Shows to Replace Downton Abbey

A sad(ish) thing happened to Anglophiles and history nerds a couple of weeks ago: Downton Abbey ended after six seasons.

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I watched a couple of seasons of Downton Abbey, but I was not a consistent watcher, although I do thoroughly appreciate the way they would just hurtle forward in time to avoid expensive production moments. One second, a character will announce that they’ve just gotten engaged and the next second, you see a carriage/car pulling away from a church exterior and two other characters commenting on how it was a nice wedding. You don’t actually get to see the too-expensive-to-film wedding or the many months leading up to it. It’s as if nothing at all important happened during that period. Or, at least, nothing so important it can’t be explained with some past-tense, recap-like dialogue. “Wasn’t it something when Lord Twiddle-y met his soon-to-be, yet completely unknown daughter for the first time just weeks after the engagement? By jove, that was awkward. Let’s go have some cake.”

Or, maybe it wasn’t a cost thing at all (I mean, look at those costumes!) but rather, certain actors just not being available at certain times, or something else entirely. In any case, it’s over and lots of people are sad.

But there’s really no reason to be sad. In fact, as I discovered on my recent trip to London, there is tons of great British programming that–for reasons completely mysterious to me–have not yet made their way over to this side of the pond.

Here are five British television shows that could easily replace Downton Abbey.

Geordie ShoreLet’s start with the most obvious. Now in its 12th season, this fine yarn has been on MTV-UK twice as long as Downton Abbey was on television. This show, which is basically a British knockoff of our beloved Jersey Shore, is described on IMBd as a “reality TV show following eight young men and women as they spend a summer experiencing the highs and lows of Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s party scene.” So everybody is sleeping with each other. Like, a lot.

Geordie, in case you didn’t know, refers to someone from Newcastle. And let me tell you, their accents are so thick, you absolutely need subtitles. Especially when they are drunk or yelling, which is all the time.

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How it’s like Downton Abbey: Well, like I said, I didn’t watch every season of Downton Abbey, but it sure seems like those Crawley girls got around. When we meet Mary, she’s just had a one-night stand with a Turkish diplomat, who died in her bed. Don’t even get me started on Edith’s illegitimate daughter from her married (and yes, soon dead) boss.

Four in a Bed: On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is this Channel 4 show, which is, unfortunately (or, maybe fortunately) not as sexy as it sounds. B&B owners throw open their doors and take turns to staying at—and critiquing—each other’s establishments. There’s some seriously bitchy shade thrown around in this one.

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How it’s like Downton Abbey: Lots and lots of chintz and antiques. Plus, the snark is reminded me of Lady Violet.

Come Dine With Me: Also on Channel 4. A group of five strangers, each an amateur chef, compete to host the best dinner party, each party solely for the competitors. The winner takes home £1,000. Plus there’s this wonderful narrator throwing out bad jokes and snarky comments about the competitors’ cooking and hosting abilities throughout the show.

Come Dine With Me

How it’s like Downton Abbey: There were plenty of dinner party dramas at old D.A., but the one in episode 5 of the last season might just take the award for most awkward. As far as I know, no one on Come Dine With Me has had an ulcer burst and spewed blood all over the dinner table. Although, this sore loser might have burst a blood vessel (and a shirt button or two) during his temper tantrum.

Take Me Out: This misogynist dating game show on ITV was one of our absolute favorites. 30 women compete for the attention of a bachelor. The women each have a switch they can flip to opt out of being picked by the would-be suitor during the first couple of rounds, but in the end, the guy picks the woman he’d like to go out with from the remaining women. They then go off to some hilarious fake place called “Fernando’s,” for a beach vacation. Sometimes, the episode includes an update on the overnight date from a previous match up.

Take Me Out

How it’s like Downton Abbey: D.A. was known for having some pretty quippy one-liners over the years (“Of course it would happen to a foreigner. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house.”) but ol’Lady Violet hasn’t got anything on the verbal cleverness of Take Me Out host Paddy McGuinness, who has coined such terms as “No likey, no lighty,” “If he’s not Mr. Right, turn off your light,” and “Come and get some Paddy love!”

The Jeremy Kyle ShowThis ITV show just beat out Take Me Out as our favorite show. It’s a lot like the old Jerry Springer show. Wikipedia has the best description, which includes the term “human bear baiting.”

It’s a train wreck involving lots of lie detector tests to determine if people have cheated, stolen, impregnated, or otherwise wronged each other. It appears that one family member will call the show saying they want their loved one to take a lie detector test to prove they aren’t using drugs anymore. Then the aggrieved loved one will counterattack by demanding that the original loved one take a lie detector test to prove they aren’t sleeping with their brother. It goes pretty much downhill from there. Results are revealed on the show and much shouting and talking over each other ensues in accents that make the whole proceedings pretty much unintelligible.

There’s a therapist, of sorts, on hand to help everyone deal with the lie detector results, but the real ringmaster is Kyle, who looks a lot like Craig Kilborn (most recently of the Kraft Mac and Cheese commercials). He’s very blunt, judgmental and pretty funny. He’s also prone to run backstage to confront waiting family members with the jiggling camera following him through the halls. And, at least once a show, Kyle will casually lounge on the carpeted stairs that lead to the raised platform stage, waving his handful of result cards while having a sensitive moment with some of his onstage guests and looking over his shoulder at the audience to see if they can believe what they’re hearing. Kyle also acts very wounded if he finds out he’s been lied to which is literally, all of the time.

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How it’s like Downton Abbey: Well, Jeremy Kyle is no Lord Grantham, that’s for sure. But the Jeremy Kyle show has all the drama and manufactured intrigue of Downton Abbey, just with fewer teeth and trashier clothes.

DA Done

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Reality TV Time: To the (Myrtle) Manor Born

I grew up in trailer parks. Made friends at fine “semi-permanent establishments” in Arkansas, ran wild in “land lease communities” in Missouri, gotten in fist fights in “mobile communities” all over Texas.

But none of those temporal estates were as nice as the five-star Myrtle Manor on TLC’s seminal ode to the cheapest form of the American Dream (by which I mean, home ownership), “Welcome to Myrtle Manor.”

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This Myrtle Manor place has an onsite hair salon (the hilariously named Tangulls – get it? Gulls?) and an above ground swimming pool. Most of the places we lived in had amenities along the lines of a shared clothes line and a kiddie pool with a mysterious scum floating on top. Myrtle Manor has a security guard (granted, he’s not very effective. OK, he’s weird). At the trailer parks we shacked up in, the only security were the packs of gnarly matted dogs of dubious ownership origins running up and down the dusty roads.

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Verisimilitude aside, I do thoroughly enjoy the show. In fact, many of the characters seem quite familiar, and not just from my dysfunctional childhood.

No, Myrtle Manor actually reminds me of another grandly named television show locale: Downton Abbey.

Now, I’ve only seen one season of Downton Abbey – I think it was season two. I was on a plane coming back from Spain and my personal travel companion XFE got upgraded, while my lowly, non-platinum status self, did not. So, I watched an entire season of Downton Abbey, by myself, in coach, lubricated with many of those tiny bottles of wine, purchased on XFE’s credit card. Actually not a bad way to spend a transatlantic flight.

I’d heard a lot about the show, obviously and my overall thought was, “eh, it’s ok, if a bit overly dramatic.” This is all just to say, I’m not an expert on the show or anything, and I know that a lot of people feel very passionately about it.

I also know that many, many people were quite disappointed by some of the plot twists incorporated in this last season. In fact, some of them are so upset, that perhaps they’re looking for a Downton replacement.

To which I humbly offer up Myrtle Manor, which also does a pretty good job with overly dramatic plots and soap opera story lines.

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Robert, Earl of Grantham is the lord of Downton Abbey. He spends much of the series fretting over his need for a male heir to carry on the family name and save the estate from financial ruin. When last I watched, it appeared that his eldest daughter, Lady Mary Crowley would be his only viable heir.

Similarly, the stern patriarch of Myrtle Manor is Cecil Patrick. His father built the place and he is ready to pass it down to his own heir, Becky Robertson. Alas, Becky must constantly prove herself worthy of Myrtle Manor stewardship.

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Both shows have good looking boys who are nothing but trouble and seem to operate on the fringes of polite society. In Downton Abbey, you have Tom Branson, a handsome yet outspoken Irish revolutionary former chauffeur who runs off with the Earl’s youngest daughter. On Myrtle Manor, you have Jared, a charming, ne’er-do-well living in the trailer park rent free.  All the women, including landlord Becky, have a soft spot for him and he skates by. Interestingly, both Tom Branson and Jared are into hats – Tom, obviously, wears a chauffeur’s cap, while Jared is the proud owner of a beat up boat captain hat.

And, according to this picture, a super ridiculous patriotic hat.
And, according to this picture, a super ridiculous patriotic hat.

There are a bevy of young beauties on each show: The Crawley girls lead complicated lives, yearning for love and respect in post-World War I England. When I first encountered the show, Mary, the eldest daughter was trying to save her reputation after a scandal involving a tryst that ended in the death of some young Turkish ambassador, or something.  Meanwhile, the youngest daughter, Sybil had her own romantic complications (with the chauffeur) and was trying to find professional fulfillment by training to become a nurse.

From what I can ascertain, Lady Mary sexed this diplomat to death.
From what I can ascertain, Lady Mary sexed this diplomat to death.

Myrtle Beach has the Darlin’ Dog girls, an entrepreneurial bunch who run a portable hot dog stand. They include Lindsay, Chelsey, Amanda and Jessica.  Like the women on Downton Abbey, they too are trying to navigate in a male-dominated world, and make time for partying.

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And, of course, you need an old, wisecracking lady for some comic relief. Downton Abbey has Lord Grantham’s mother, Lady Violet. She’s a real hoot, meddling in everybody’s business, and she is routinely scandalized by all the goings on with those young people. Myrtle Manor has Miss Peggy Beaulieu, a spitfire who has lived in the trailer park for 30 years.

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Both shows, of course, have complicated love stories along the lines of boy-loves-girl, girl-likes-other-boy, boy-pees-in-girls-bed, girl-moves-out (that plot might just be exclusive to Myrtle Manor). There are weddings and other celebratory occasions, including a Miss Myrtle Manor beauty contest (which, by all rights, Miss Peggy should have won, in my opinion).

So, put aside your fancy china cup of Earl Grey, fix yourself a tall Tupperware tumbler of sweet iced tea and settle in for an episode of Welcome to Myrtle Manor.  TLC isn’t really all that different from PBS after all.

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