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What Has Happened to British Television?

Greg Devine

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Old classic box TV playing static in a dark and misty room

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I’m back in sunny Yorkshire for a couple of days as it’s a reading week. Essentially, it’s my university’s half term but without the holiday—I’ve still got loads to do! In my limited downtime, I’ve been catching up with family and friends. Often, my mates and I will just buy a crate of beer and watch some old TV shows for nostalgia. I was enjoying Waterloo Road when I had the thought, ‘What has happened to British telly?’

 

What is there for teenagers to watch these days? I know why such shows aren’t around anymore—Netflix and other streaming services. But even they don’t fill the gap. Shows like The Inbetweeners, Skins, Waterloo Road and Ackley Bridge just don’t exist nowadays. They’re available to stream, but nothing new has been made in this genre for a long while. The closest thing I’ve seen is probably Netflix’s Sex Education, but that’s only one show. We seemed to have much more choice when I was a teen.

 

Maybe the audience isn’t there now. Watching the shows back, you can’t help but think they’d never get away with the same stuff now in this ‘woke’ culture we live in. I think this is a shame really; the point of comedy is to stretch the rules a little. Shows such as The Inbetweeners weren’t exactly offensive; they were realistic.

 

Should foul language be used? We’ve moved on from using homophobic slurs, etc. but you’re not telling me that something hasn’t replaced them in secondary schools around the country. Why not create a series similar to The Inbetweeners, but one that would fit in with the times now? Would it be funny?

 

These shows weren’t exactly high budget. The acting was often awful but that was kind of the point. It was the storytelling and the humorous scenarios that made you want to watch episode after episode. They were fast paced and often far-fetched, which was entertaining.

 

Ackley Bridge came to an obvious end, and when they tried another series, it failed miserably. The cast changed, as did the style and pace of its storytelling. It went from teen drama to GCSE drama. It was honestly unwatchable.


woman pointing TV remote at television looking bored and unimpressed

I understand that the budget might not be there to take risks on programmes—but it’s not just teen dramas that have lost their place on British telly. Remember how good Line of Duty was? I honestly feel that show was our last good homegrown creation. The final episode marked the sad death of good content. You can’t tell me there’s not an appetite for such programmes when they find their way onto streaming services and are always at the top of the ‘what’s popular?’ lists.

 

Merlin recently came onto Netflix. Watching it back, sure, the effects are terrible, but this is inherent of the first couple of Star Wars films. Once again, it comes back to good storytelling, something that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I’m open to being challenged on this, because I’d love to find a good series I can enjoy but, as it stands, there’s sadly nothing that really floats my boat that I haven’t already watched.

I could name older TV shows that are far better than anything I’ve seen recently, that wouldn’t have employed a big budget—shows like Last of the Summer Wine, Heartbeat and Dad’s Army. There’s nothing even remotely similar to, or as good as, these anymore.

 

Even in today’s world, I think there’s still a place for comedy on British TV. It just has to use the correct language. I think it can be done; I just don’t think anybody has the confidence to try.