If there’s one thing U.S. TV show producers seem to love, it’s a British cameo to throw some drama into the mix. However, more often than not, it’s arguable whether any of the production team has ever even met a British person based on the role they have created.
It’s good to see stereotypes are still alive and kicking, but just in case anyone might misinterpret these wholly fantastical depictions of being British as accurate, this needs to be cleared up. Here are five shows that pluck their ideas of British culture out of some sort of hyperbolic alternate reality!
“90210” is the quintessential Hollywood teen drama. With scandal, shopping sprees and a notable amount of trust fund money spent in every episode, it’s a true Beverly Hills classic—which probably makes it less than surprising that the show’s attempt at a British character was a little more fantasy than reality.
When we first meet Mr. Cannon, he’s the overly polite and friendly Brit. Later, he’s the brooding victim of main character Naomi’s false rape allegations. Then, of course, in an incredible twist of irony, Mr. Cannon actually does assault Naomi. I mean, he’s British; he has to be the bad guy, right? What pushes this portrayal over the edge is when Mr. Cannon’s character is exposed. Another lead in the show notes that Cannon’s accent is not actually from Chelsea as he led us to believe; it’s actually a Dagenham accent.
Firstly, the accent is neither; it’s from Essex, which is where the actor was born. Second, no 90210 teenager who has never spent a day of his life in southern England would ever be able to tell the difference between a Chelsea and a Dagenham accent. It’s a definite thumbs-down for this one!
One Big Happy
“One Big Happy” is a hilarious television sitcom brought to life by the much-loved Ellen DeGeneres. It’s a quirky look into the lives of a less-than-conventional group. There’s the gay yet pregnant Lizzy, her best friend and the father of her child, and his new love interest, Prudence. You’ve probably already guessed it by her hilariously archaic name: Prudence is from Britain.
Played by Kelly Brook, the character is truly an insult to all things British, and the show’s reviews definitely reflect this! Although Brook’s accent is actually British, her character’s voice was still grating for U.S. watchers. Her frustrating naïveté did little to please audiences from either side of the pond, with the New York Times even going so far as claiming the show was “an intelligence-insulting sitcom.” We can offer the benefit of the doubt here; it’s possible the problem was with the show quality in general rather than just being a bad depiction of the British, but the character of Prudence most definitely holds blame for the bad rating.
What could have been a fascinating attempt to update and modernize Sherlock Holmes, this 2012 show falls at the first hurdle with its cringe-worthy performance of lead character Sherlock. In this iteration of Holmes, the protagonist is a recovering drug-addict and ex-Scotland Yard agent who has been moved to Manhattan for some rehabilitation time. Dr. Watson, a woman, played by Lucy Liu, is on hand as his support during the process.
The premise is interesting, but almost all hope is lost of a truthful British depiction of Holmes. Played by Jonny Lee Miller—who is, in fact, British—this Sherlock is a mumbling romantic. Each sentence he speaks is framed with a Shakespeare-worthy flourish and crowned with poetic sparkle. Plus, his erratic, crazed yet genius personality is, presumably, a representation of his fictional namesake but not one of any British citizen that ever existed!
When Ross’ unpredicted love affair with his mysterious British blind date, Emily, becomes the second in his epic marriage sagas, the series spent a long while attempting to indulge itself in the wonders and mysteries of British culture.
With the character of Emily herself, her cynical attitude and constant sarcasm portrays more of an eternally depressed British caricature rather than the nuanced bitterness Brits are so proud of! Emily’s parents are no better, as they come across as cheap and conniving when they bicker about the cost of the wedding. The only saving grace of the two-part London episode is the cameo from Britain’s national treasure, Hugh Laurie.
Then there’s the show’s actual depiction of London, whose montage included big red buses, parliament houses, Big Ben and not much more. Sorry, guys, England isn’t just what they show you in the tourist brochures. Plus, as much as it may shock you, Richard Branson also isn’t standing around on every corner selling jaunty souvenirs to passers-by, and Sarah Ferguson doesn’t hang around on the streets taking photos.
When it comes to making fun of, well, everyone, “South Park” is most definitely a front-runner. If you haven’t seen the show before, here is the basic premise: A group of young children runs havoc while embracing everything it means to be America. With topical pop culture references and constant political satire, “South Park” is relevant, controversial yet downright hysterical.
Through the character of Pip—get it? “Pip, pip”—they have managed to create the most insulting, hilarious and, overall, genius stereotype of the great Brit over in America. However, Pip’s character is far from great.
Playing something that can only really be compared to a character from the musical “Oliver” on steroids, Pip’s Shakespearian language, stiff upper lip and unshakable politeness make him the butt of most jokes. Pitifully pathetic in his street-urchin getup and mild manner, he could not be further from an accurate depiction of Britain. Fortunately, it’s so funny that the whole thing can be forgiven pretty easily.
If you are a Brit abroad struggling for a true representation of home or just an American wanting to gain a better understanding of British culture, these are most definitely not the shows to turn to. Instead, with the right tools, you can indulge in the many fantastic British programs available on BBC iPlayer!
However, if you’re more interested in having a good laugh at some questionable TV decisions and hilarious British stereotypes, then this list will most certainly fulfill that! If you know of any more shows that deserve a spot on this list or you’ve seen any mentioned above, be sure to leave us a comment below with your opinions and ideas!