By RACHEL WEST – MANAGING EDITOR
You’ve definitely heard their names: Doctor Who, Sherlock, Downton Abbey. They’ve become some of the most popular television shows and fandoms in America in recent years, and you can only watch them online or weeks after they first appear.
It’s the most recent iteration of the British invasion, but this time instead of Paul McCartney in a smart suit we get Daleks, bow-ties, and consulting detectives.
The furor over British television shows is reaching a higher level than ever before. In August, the announcement of the next Doctor (played by Peter Capaldi) had the highest ratings of the week when it was played on BBC America.
The 50th anniversary Doctor Who television special, “The Day of the Doctor,” will premiere in theaters nationwide on Nov. 23, and high returns are expected for the venues where it will be shown.
The announcement of a fifth season for Downton Abbey was met with great fan reaction. The release of the premier date of the third season of Sherlock (mid-December 2013) after a nearly two year hiatus sent fans scurrying for links so they would be prepared to watch the show on its official release date, rather than waiting the extra month for it to be released on BBC America.
So why do Americans love their British television shows?
For one thing, the above mentioned shows fill a previously unrealized hole in American television. Though science fiction is something that primetime television in the United States is still tentatively trying out, Doctor Who is unapologetically nerdy and weird, delighting in making each new surprise and plot twist more unexpected than the last.
The Doctors range in emotion from terrifyingly dark to amusing and filled with childlike wonder, and the Companions often provide the further emotional connection that the viewer wants.
Downton Abbey slots right into the current obsession with period dramas, but it is different than court drama presented in The Tudors or something similar.
Instead, Downton Abbey is almost 90210 meets Pride and Prejudice; it is less about the throne and manipulations to rule it, and more about the domestic life of a crumbling nobility, which has some very poignant themes for an America still dealing with the crippling effects of a large recession.
Sherlock also filled a surprising gap. The show premiered in the United States in the wake of a very popular Robert Downey Jr. portrayal of the character, but captured audiences by being nothing like Downey Jr.’s loud, ostentatious Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are understated, and the show delves more into Holmes’s psychology and mental abilities. Since the show went on hiatus, however, an incredibly popular American version of Sherlock Holmes called Elementary has premiered, which could lead to a unique situation for the show that was before considered one of the staples of American British imports.
Other than filling a gap in the entertainment world of America, British television shows have gained massive popularity due to the Internet.
The Internet allows for viewers to watch the shows on demand, rather than having to wait for the American release date and trying to avoid the spoilers that their British friends on Facebook and Twitter can’t help but spill (Season Two Downtown Abbey finale, anyone?).
The Internet has also allowed for a community of viewers. Sites like Tumblr are full of GIFs from Doctor Who to describe every possible situation, and one of the most popular games on the site involves making up words that people will still read as “Benedict Cumberbatch” (personal favorites include “Bumblesnatch Cumblecorn” and “Cogglesnatch Custardbath”).
Fans can share theories about how Sherlock will continue in Season Three after the last season finale, “Reichenbach Fall,” in which Holmes appeared to die and how and why the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.
The Internet has finally allowed a way for people to revel in their fandom without ever leaving the house, and the draw is especially appealing when it comes to snappily written shows with interesting characters (and great accents, too).
So toss back a cuppa, get out your sonic screwdriver, and settle in to enjoy the latest British invasion.