The 10 Best Comfort Food Shows to Watch on BritBox Right Now
Need a distraction from what’s going on in the world outside? Lose yourself in these 10 cozy classics, all currently streaming on BritBox.
Why Britain makes the best comfort food TV
When you’re shaken by horrible headlines and drastic changes to your daily routine, it’s natural to crave things that are friendly and familiar. For me, that means British television. Growing up in rural southwestern Ontario, where one of the strongest signals on our rickety rotating antenna was public broadcaster TVOntario, I was raised on a steady diet of British programming, and it remains inextricably linked with my childhood. The fantastic adventures of the time-travelling Doctor Who fired my young imagination, and the BBC’s sumptuous period dramas sparked an interest in history and literature that shaped my career path.
Even when you remove the warm glow of nostalgia, there’s no denying the Brits know how to make compelling television. In fact, many of those British shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s—whether they be dramas, comedies, or that uniquely British combination of the two—remain my go-to when I need to escape the harsh realities of the world outside my tiny Toronto condo. What’s more, many of them are now available on BritBox—a subscription-based streaming service co-created by the BBC itself. Boasting the largest selection of British programming in Canada, the catalogue includes these 10 cozy classics that will transport you to another time and place—no TARDIS required.
Forget the flashy 21st-century comeback that bears the same name. This is OG Doctor Who—all 26 seasons of its classic run—complete with heart-stopping cliffhangers, mind-stretching concepts and that haunting theme tune that still manages to send a shiver down the spine.
Traversing time and space in his remarkable TARDIS and righting wrongs throughout the universe, Doctor Who remains (appropriately) timeless in its appeal. The best part about having all 26 seasons at your fingertips on BritBox is that there’s a period of the program that’s perfect for whatever mood you happen to be in. If you’re craving something quirky that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face, look to Season 17: with the legendary Douglas Adams serving as script editor, this era peaked with the alien art-heist caper, “City of Death.” If you like your sci-fi a bit grittier—in the style of The X-Files, say—go for Season 7: “Spearhead From Space” is a spine-tingling tale involving sinister shop-window dummies that come to life. Linking the ongoing adventure is that enigmatic—yet endearing—traveller, the Doctor, played by seven different actors during the show’s 1963-1989 run.
A hero, of course, is only as good as his enemies, and the Doctor met his match as early as the second-ever serial with the deadly Daleks (“The Daleks: The Dead Planet,” Season 1). Featuring in no fewer than 16 of the show’s 150-odd broadcast serials, the murderous mutants are among the most iconic alien designs of all time, and their origin story, “Genesis of the Daleks” (Season 12), is one of Doctor Who‘s undisputed classics. A great entry-point for the uninitiated!
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Basil Fawlty should count his lucky stars that Trip Advisor wasn’t around in the ’70s. Played by the legendary John Cleese, Fawlty is the reluctant proprietor of a country hotel—a career that he’s rather ill-suited for, given his contempt for guests, tendency to panic and, well… utter lack of hospitality. To be fair, Fawlty’s not entirely unsympathetic. Not only does he have his shrill wife to contend with, but also a massively incompetent Spanish waiter whose shaky grasp of English regularly results in chaos.
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All Creatures Great and Small
Television doesn’t get more wholesome—or heartwarming—than this series about a novice veterinarian joining a practice in the Yorkshire Dales. Based on the anecdotes of real-life country vet-turned-novelist James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small has a quiet charm that makes it utterly endearing. Sweet, but never saccharine, it focuses on the little things that make life worth living, and the special bonds we forge with our four-legged friends. Just how significant was All Creatures‘ cultural impact? Considering Montreal punk band Tricki Woo took its name from a spoiled Pekingese that features prominently throughout the series, we can safely say, huge.
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Are You Being Served?
It may not have been the first workplace sitcom, but in many ways Are You Being Served? was the best—and we are unanimous in that! Featuring a colourful cast of characters—and uproariously off-colour double entendres—this bawdy classic chronicles the misadventures of the staff of Grace Brothers, a crumbling London department store. Even if you’ve never worked in retail, everything here is eminently relatable, from the absurdity of the company’s rigid hierarchy, to the interplay between the colleagues as they cope with management’s latest hare-brained schemes to boost business. Although the original regular cast is absolutely faultless and gels from the get-go, it’s the kaleidoscope-coiffed Mrs. Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) and outrageously camp Mr. Humphries (John Inman) who steal the show, and continue to live on as pop culture icons.
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Sometimes the most effective distraction from your own drama is to involve yourself in someone else’s—and there’s plenty of it to spare in Emmerdale. If you can imagine Coronation Street transplanted to the stunning Yorkshire Dales, you’ve got the gist of this long-running BBC soap. Don’t let the bucolic setting fool you, though: there’s enough infidelity and intrigue in this picture-postcard village to give Weatherfield a run for its money.
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Although Rowan Atkinson is probably best known to Canadian audiences as Mr. Bean, Blackadder stands as the British funnyman’s finest (and certainly funniest) hour. As the eponymous Blackadder, Atkinson plays a scheming social climber—and his lookalike descendants–at various points in England’s history. For my money, season two, set in the Elizabethan age (with the Queen herself played to perfection by Miranda Richardson) delivers the most laughs. The steady stream of insults Atkinson spews at his incompetent dogsbody, Baldrick, is a masterclass in comedy writing.
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Decades before Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs introduced the notion that what happened in the secret world of indentured servants was as captivating as the lives of the aristocrats who employed them. In lieu of the Crawley family, Upstairs Downstairs gives us the Bellamys—residents of a tony townhouse in turn of the century London. If you’ve already watched Downton in its entirety, Upstairs Downstairs is a fascinating follow-up, as both series cover roughly the same time period, and tackle similar topics and themes. After just one episode of this compelling classic, you’ll understand why it’s widely regarded as one of the finest dramas ever to come out of Britain.
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Keeping Up Appearances
Part of the enduring appeal of Keeping Up Appearances is that we all know a Hyacinth Bucket (that’s pronounced “Bouquet,” of course). The sitcom’s lead character, brilliantly brought to life by Dame Patricia Routledge, is a snob of the highest order, obsessed with maintaining a Martha Stewart-like veneer of perfection in spite of her rough-around-the-edges relatives. Yes, every episode is essentially a carbon copy of the one prior, but Routledge’s operatic performance—and the exasperated responses from Hyacinth’s long-suffering husband, Richard—never fail to evoke a huge grin. Consummate comfort food television.
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Rosemary & Thyme
From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell, the Brits have a long tradition of excellence in murder mysteries, and Rosemary & Thyme is no exception. Starring Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris as two middle-aged gardeners who sideline as sleuths, Rosemary & Thyme is perhaps an unlikely premise—a hybrid of traditional whodunit and travelogue of great English gardens—but it wins you over with its sheer charm. The two leads are nothing short of lovable, and their on-screen chemistry, combined with the breathtakingly beautiful locations, conspire to put this mystery series at the top of its class.
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What if the last human in existence was a lazy slob? That’s the lot of Dave Lister (Craig Charles) in Red Dwarf, an innovative comedy that melds science fiction with traditional sitcom trappings. After he wakes from suspended animation in the far future, Lister finds companionship in the form of a fashion-conscious fop evolved from his spaceship’s cat, a neurotic hologram, and an eraser-headed android. The hilarious interaction between this motley crew is what’s kept this cult series in constant production—albeit with a few sizable gaps in between seasons—since 1988.
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