Don't Panic

My name is Adrienne and I am an Anglophile.

(Hullo, Adrienne.)

I can’t say when my -phila started, only that it’s always been there. I mean, if pushed, I could maybe point to Monty Python? Charles and Diana’s wedding?1 The Young Ones on MTV? Duran Duran?2 But those are merely guesses. British media has long been part of my consumption habits — and it has always been my go-to source of comfort.

I know, I know. Great Britain has its own issues. Their politics have been complicated for centuries longer than ours. Unlike the Danish, they are definitely not almost nearly perfect people.3 I am aware of all of this. And yet Team GB keep making things that are just so freaking soothing, even when the subject matter is decidedly not. It’s more than the accents — although the accents do help4 — it’s the approach and execution.

Take Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books. In this fantasy series, which is now up to 9 or 10 titles, Metropolitan Police officer Peter Grant’s beat is “weird bollocks” a.k.a the criminal doings of the local fae, river gods, and other members of the demimonde. The first book — inexplicably known as Midnight Riot here — has an infanticide in the first few chapters. In an American novel full of American-isms set in an American city, I would have been taken aback enough5 to reconsider reading the book in the first place. But it didn’t trigger that response and I suspect that’s because of its all-around Britishness.

I suspect it’s also because I greatly prefer listening to this series in audiobook form. Narrator Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is Peter Grant now and forever. His voice in my ears is preternaturally soothing, even when the material is not.6 For the record, though, most of the material in Aaronovitch’s books isn’t quite so brutal as what happens to an anonymous baby in the first one. Or maybe it is and I’ve just failed to respond to it because his voice is like a nice warm blanket on a very chilly day.

Random thought: does anyone outside of the U.S. watch our media and think, “Aaaaaah. How lovely.” I have doubts.

One of the upsides of the pandemic is that it brought Staged7 into being. The loose plot is David Tennant8 and Michael Sheen9 were going to be in a show on London’s West End. The pandemic happened. The show was cancelled. The two actors meet on Zoom, etc., to figure out what to do next while also coping with, you know, the pandemic.

The genius of the show is that the viewer is never sure what is “real” and what is “scripted” and if it really matters. What sells the show are the shaggy performances, guest stars, quick wit,10 and genuine heart. While the show’s Britishness is a comfort, more of a comfort is knowing that these well-known actors are having just as weird a go of the last year as I am. If I ruled the world, Staged is what humanity would put in our COVID time capsule to explain what the last year+ was like.

Of course, the gold standard of soothing television is the Great British Bake-Off.11 GBBO is the exemplar of the form of let’s have amateur bakers bake things and see how it goes. While other countries keep trying to unlock the secret sauce of the BBC original, none of come close. No. Not even Canada’s version, even though Dan Levy is one of the hosts. (As an aside, if you watch only one GBBO episode, watch the most recent holiday special with the women (and the one dude) from Derry Girls.12 Thank me in the comments.)

While GBBO is great,13 it’s the other members of the Great British family that I love even more. My all-time favorite is The Great British Sewing Bee, which doesn’t seem to be on the air anywhere in the U.S. but that I will bend the law to watch.14 I used to have to do the same for The Great Pottery Throw Down but someone at HBO Max saw how much we needed this show right now.15 This iteration of the formula has everything you need: kiln explosions, suggestive crafting,16 and gentle judgement. Would that all pursuits were produced by British production companies.

Do you also find great comfort in British media? Are you British?

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Share Martini with a Twist

1

It was only later when I learned how problematic is was. In my defense, I was only 10 when it happened.

2

Bass player John Taylor will always be my first love.

3

As John Oliver puts it: The British Museum is basically a crime scene.

4

During turbulent global events, I watch the BBC’s coverage not because it eliminates American biases but because I freak out less when harrowing news is relayed in RP.

5

I can no longer handle storylines that put fictional children in peril, much less outright kills them.

6

His voice also shows up in the recent episodes of Tim Harfort’s Cautionary Tales.

7

Season two just launched on Hulu — but I strongly suggest watching the first season first.

8

He will always be my Doctor.

9

We share the same hairstyle currently.

10

Honestly? At times I laughed myself to the point of tears.

11

Or, as it’s known here The Great British Baking Show because “Bake-Off” is trademarked and lawsuits are unpleasant. All of the episodes are on Netflix, btw.

12

Derry Girls is also very good but not at all soothing because it isn’t English (except for that one dude).

13

This footnote is a long one: I started watching GBBO back when you had to come up with about a billion work-arounds to see it in the U.S. One of my most fond memories involves a trip to England during which I realized that I could watch the newest episode live without resorting to VPN shenanigans. I can still remember laying on the bed in the B&B’s tiniest room, which was so cozy and so perfect.

14

I would be happy to pay for them, mind! But I can’t! So if a streaming service would pick them up, I’d be obliged.

15

The first three seasons are on right now and the 4th will premiere April 1.

16

Have you watched someone pull a handle?