2020 In Review – Part I: The British Invasion

By now the joke of how much of a shitshow the year of our lord 2020 has been played out fifty times over. So I’m not going to dive into it too much beyond saying that living 3/4 of the year on the business end of a global pandemic was not very fun.

The unique nature of such a year did come with an interesting side effect. Forced to stay inside and isolate ourselves, or at least hopefully more than we normally would, we saw the world unfold through our screens more than any other year in memory. I guess it is a bit sad to say it this way, but as we missed out on actually going out and experiencing life, we watched it happen. Through social media, the world wide web, and if you’re anything like apparently 86 year old friend of the blog Patty B, the news, we ingested second hand the major stories of 2020, from the bizarre to the sad to the tragic to an election. And we all saw it in basically real time.

So to put a stamp on this year I’m going to write a few blogs waxing poetic on some of the more major headlines as well as broader topics that caught our attention. In keeping with the tradition of the shit I normally write about, I’m going to skew boring old mainstream topics in favor of the odder, less obvious corners of pop culture. You are not going to read about the NBA rigging the title for it’s biggest cash cow (again) here. You aren’t going to read about your favorite pop star because I probably don’t know who they are. (Editor’s note: Read Joe’s blog on Taylor Swift’s new album here) You aren’t going to read about baseball because I don’t know if it’s still being played (is it?).

However, sports, TV, movies, music, and the like will all be touched in some capacity. I should note that I in no way intend to stick to a chronological order. I have a few things picked out and a few will probably come to me but whether it happened in May or February or two weeks ago I’m going to write it as fingers hit keys. Some of these will be short. Some of them long. All of them proof read at least .5 times. Let’s go.

The British Invasion

I have been teased for awhile now in my group of friends as the guy who watches British TV. To be more accurate I am teased for watching way too much British TV. But to present to you my argument I usually present to everyone else, it’s just better. Depending on the show it’s either highly realistic and reflective of real life or depicts life as a complete caricature of itself, there is no in between. Comedy-wise, There aren’t really any cheesy laugh tracks or bad one liners or tags. The acting is always sublime. When the characters hurt, they hurt, when they love, they love, when they laugh, they laugh. Whether the show is set in a real place or a fictional one, the universe is fully created, from local establishments to barely seen but fully fleshed fringe characters/townspeople. It’s grade A stuff.

Mid-pandemic, the streaming services (at least Netflix and Hulu) were starving for content. American productions had been shut down. I’m sure Netflix at least was suddenly regretting cancelling a number of fan favorites such as The Punisher and The OA. Hulu you could say was almost doubly fucked because they rely now rely on a mixture of views from a smaller but solid slate of originally programming and then the rights to currently airing network shows. Ya, the network shows that were also shut down. So what were they to do? They made a call across the pond.

It’s hard to really pinpoint when Americans became so enamored with British TV, as a novelty even. I remember my grandmother watching super old British “soaps” on the ancient tv in their kitchen growing up, There has always been, as it is true around the world, an American cult following of Doctor Who. But when did we become fully fledged fans? Again, hard to say. Luther came out in 2010 and made it’s way to Netflix not too long after. Teen shows like Skins and The Inbetweeners also found some popularity stateside around that time. Either way, American streaming services and premium providers needed to fill the gaps in their programming in 2020 and boy howdy, did they find the plug.

In a role reversal from the two previous world wars, the Brits were here to save the day. On the Netflix end, they leaned on, for the most part, promoting what they already had. Stalwarts like Marcella and new comers like Sex Education and The End of the Fucking World had put out new seasons within six months of the beginning of quarantine. They, along with less viewed series like Afterlife were given a huge push at the top of the Netflix dashboard/on the “you might like” banners. It was the freshest or fresh-ish content Netflix could provide and they leaned right into it.

On the Hulu side, things were a little more drastic. This summer they promoted and executed a massive upload of new British content to go along with offerings like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Killing Eve. Shows like Brassic and Boyhood were fairly well received and if nothing else, provided a binge worthy arc or two for a rainy, quarantined afternoon.

The premium networks also got into the British game. Debutante network AMC+ bought the rights to Gangs of London, which is now on most best of 2020 lists. They also have the US rights to Baptiste, a spinoff of The Missing featuring the eponymous French detective. HBO came on even stronger, releasing The Third Day while also utilizing the broadcasting rights to the rave reviewed and award winning I May Destroy You as well as investment banking world newcomer The Industry. All of this I find interesting as it is a tangible proof that the premiums are not just going to lie down in their battle with streaming services.

This past month(ish) Netflix put out The Queen’s Gambit, a show about chess of all things, to rave reviews, cementing British TV’s place in American culture. Whether it was always going to be this way or was a byproduct of being stuck inside and having to watch more TV, we’ll never know. I do know, however, in what is a sort of US-centric world pop culture -ise it has been nice to get a glimpse into how other entertainment industries view the every day lives of their countrymen. Hats off to the streaming services and premium channels for finally taking us along for the ride.

-Joey B.

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