The British Telly Dish: This Season’s Brit TV Favorites Are Back

Deborah Gilbert | March 25, 2016

“You have to be grateful for what you’ve got; not what you’ve not got.”

That is the motto of an expectant couple on the season opener of Call the Midwife and it’s a good motto for anyone generally in life, especially here on the first post of The British Telly Dish. Downton Abbey may have had its finale (catch up to past episodes on Passport and on the DVDs for which you’ve pledged, alongside my blog, Downton Abbey Dish), but we have got a whole host of British favorites returning to THIRTEEN this Spring and Summer.

Whether you loved Downton Abbey for its vivid characters or for its storytelling that was at once crisp and lush, or you just looked in for a bit of eye candy, you will find the same enticements in the great series Grantchester, Mr. Selfridge and Call the Midwife. These continue to celebrate the tradition of British storytelling we love, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, Peter Pan to Mary Poppins, and Downton Abbey.

I have been lucky enough to watch the first episodes of each of these three new seasons in advance and I can tell you that all three are going from strength to strength. You will not be disappointed.

These are the start of a whole new slew of encores to jump the pond in the coming months. Also on tap: that hot Red Coat Ross Poldark will be here June 21 to heat up the summer. Hello!

Hot for Vicar: Grantchester

That hunka hunka burnin’ luv, Sidney Chambers, is back, baby! Is it wrong to lust after a vicar? I’m not sure what my rabbi would think about it (so we won’t tell him), but holy cow, he is adorable – Sidney, not the rabbi. If you’re like me, you’ll think it a treat that before all the serious accusations start flying in episode 1, Sidney (as the Brits say) gets his kit off;  ie, he strips to his swim trunks to go swimming at a picnic.  It’s a brief respite before the storm rolls in, engulfing him in controversy. What would all these great British detectives do without the high crime rate, hidden quirks and twisted secrets of sleepy English villages? And what would Downton had been like if Sidney had been the vicar there instead of old Travis? I don’t know. But I do know that this season starts off with a bang or, at least, the false report of one, and Sidney is the target.

Returning this season, naturally, is Robson Green as Sidney’s partner in crime- solving, Geordie. Also back is Kacey Ainsworth, who is best known as Little Mo Slater on EastEnders. She plays Geordie’s wife, and I hope she gets more to do this season because she is a remarkable actress and it would be great to get to see her take flight. Also on board once more is Morven Christie as Sidney’s thorn bird, Amanda, who (last season) married someone else, a rich guy (idiot!), and now she’s living in a Harry Chapin song. Is this another crime our hero can solve? We live in hope.

Grantchester Background Check

If you didn’t watch Season 1 on Masterpiece no worries. This is not the sort of show that you need to watch right from episode 1 to enjoy. You can start with Season 2 and be just fine. But if you would like to investigate Grantchester before the new season begins, you can stream all of season one on Passport.

Grantchester returns Sunday, March 27 at 9pm.

Shop Till You Drop: Mr. Selfridge


The Crawleys would have, no doubt, been aware of Selfridge’s, but would they have shopped there? I suspect that Lady Rose would have, and maybe Edith, too. Maybe Selfridge’s would have advertised in Edith’s magazine. If you’ve watched the fabulous documentary, Secrets of Selfridges, you know about the amazing and tragic life of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the Earl of Oxford Street. If you haven’t seen it, you can (and should) watch it now on Passport. It is a fantastic companion to Mr. Selfridge series. While the series does stand on its own, watching this documentary about Mr. Selfridge’s real and remarkable life gives you more background to the Masterpiece series.

Harry Gordon Selfridge was a retailing genius, a true impresario, who changed the way people shop. While that’s not exactly on par with discovering the Polio vaccine, it is still something that changed the culture in a significant way. Many of his innovations are still used a hundred years later: the bargain basement, the countdown of the number of shopping days till Christmas, the layout of department stores with perfumes and cosmetics front and center (although, at the time, that was done to counter the smell of horse droppings outside on Oxford Street), and much more. But despite his contributions, and the fabulous store in London that still bears his name, Harry Gordon Selfridge was largely forgotten until this Masterpiece series and the book that inspired it brought him back into the public consciousness.

As brilliant as Mr. Selfridge was, he was also incredibly self-destructive, which we have seen glimmers of in seasons past. It would be fun if a series about a real person with a tragic end could rewrite history and give that person the end that we might feel they deserve, a happier ending, but that doesn’t usually happen. At the end of last season we saw the beginning of his descent. This being the fourth and last season, we will soon see I suspect we will see where that leads.

When this final season begins, it is 1928, nine years after Season 3 ended. Mr. Grove is still here (with a house full of kids, one an adult who wants to work at the store). Miss Mardle is gone. Harry still has a challenging relationship with his son Harry Gordon, Jr. Daughters Violette and Rosalie are gone, and we don’t know whatever happened to daughter Beatrice. Lady Mae is back this season. (Katherine Kelly, the actress who plays her, had been written out last season so she could take time off to have a baby). Lady Mae is possibly the only real friend Harry has, though with his head turned by the Dolly Sisters, he may not be wise enough to see that. In real life, the notorious Dolly Sisters played a large role in his undoing. It will be very interesting to see how far into the Harry Gordon Selfridge story Mr. Selfridge takes us.

If you’d like to take a short run up to the new season, you can stream Season 3 of Mr. Selfridge on Passport.

Mr. Selfridge returns Sunday, March 27 at 10pm.

Baby Love: Call the Midwife


Would things have turned out differently for Lady Sybil if she had been cared for by the midwives of Nonnantus House instead of Sir Philip Tapsell? Sigh. As this new season of Call the Midwife begins, it is now Spring 1961 at Nonnatus House and change is in the air: new uniforms, new activities, renewed purpose, and even a hint of new romantic possibilities. All of the characters who ended last season with us are back for more, though, in a new way, things in Poplar are taking a dark turn.

Last season we saw Dr. Turner give (what he thought was) a new wonder drug to a patient who was suffering from such severe morning sickness she couldn’t function: Thalidomide. From our vantage point in 2016, we know the tragic results that were to come from that medication and this season we will start to see those effects. Thalidomide was first invented and prescribed in the late 1950’s and was on the market for five years before independent testing found that it was responsible for thousands of severe birth defects. The scandal that erupted around Thalidomide changed the way drugs were created and brought to market. Before Thalidomide, all new drugs were thought of as beneficial. This scandal led to more stringent drug testing and a criminal trial, the first of its kind, that required the drug manufacturer to pay damages to the victims. It wasn’t until 2012 that the German drug company that invented Thalidomide issued a statement saying it ‘regretted the consequences of the drug’, which surviving victims dismissed as insulting. This non-apology was also controversial because it coincided with a revival for the drug, for other uses (it has been shown to be effective with Leprosy and AIDS), but many fear it will lead to off-label uses and end up in the hands of pregnant women once more, especially in countries where regulations are lax.

Call the Midwife has always been about tackling tough social issues. Two years ago when I interviewed Cliff Parisi (who plays Fred the handyman), I asked him about the grinding, third world-looking poverty depicted in the post-war East End and asked him if it was accurate. He said it was, but that while there was great poverty, there was also great hope that all the new social changes would improve things. When speaking about the Thalidomide storyline at the Radio Times Festival last September, series creator Heidi Thomas said, “It was something we wanted to do with the utmost sense of emotional and historic responsibility.” From what I’ve seen in the first episode of Season 5, they have. It is very moving. You can read more of what Heidi Thomas said in this Radio Times article. Ultimately, Call the Midwife is about hope, and triumph over tragedy, so I’m guessing that we can expect that theme to follow through this season no matter what fate throws at our heroines of midwifery. If the first episode is any indication, this will be another brilliant season.

If you can’t wait you can stream a preview of this upcoming season, or watch last season’s holiday special on Passport.

Call the Midwife returns Sunday, April 3 at 8pm. 

Giveaways

Keep your eyes peeled to THIRTEEN’s social media because to coincide with this new season, they’ll be holding giveaways where you can win DVD sets for Mr. Selfridge, Call the Midwife and Grantchester – which is only appropriate because, you know, if Mr. Selfridge were alive in the age of DVDs, he’d be doing giveaways too. You gotta be in it to win it: ENTER!

If you’re on Twitter, please join us there by following me at @E20Launderette and THIRTEEN at @ThirteenWNET.