Are British TV series better than American?

I have held a belief for some time now that British TV drama and comedy programmes are fundamentally better than American ones. There are a number of reasons for this. British programmes tend to have one or two writers, and hence have more of a voice. They are usually much shorter and so finish while the audience still wants more. The humour tends to be darker and more subtle.

Examples of great British TV would be Fawlty Towers, written by John Cleese & Connie Booth and comprising just three series (seasons) of 4 episodes each. Or Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, comprising two series of six episodes. Or Broadchurch by Chris Chibnall, which had three series, each of 8 episodes. Or Sherlock by Steve Moffat & Mark Gatiss, which had 4 series, each of just 3 episodes. I could compare that with some great American TV written by writers’ rooms that I loved but where I eventually ran out of patience. Lost had 121 episodes over 6 seasons. Walking Dead had an incredible 177 episodes over 11 seasons.

This week I have been watching several series and they have both confirmed and contradicted my view. After Life is a superb black comedy written by Ricky Gervais, and has just three series of 6 episodes – his other British winners (The Office, Extras) had just two series of 6 episodes. But I have also been watching Ozark, written by a writers’ room, but finishing after just 4 seasons (admittedly 44 episodes in total). I have just started season 4 and I am so hungry for more. And I have been watching Inspector Morse, an old British detective series, which had each episode written by someone different, and comprised 33 episodes over 8 series.

So I guess I conclude my stereotypical view is flawed. There are great American series and great British series. We live in a golden age for television drama and comedy and I feel lucky to be able to watch both.

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