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The Best British Television of the 2000s

Ever since it was invented, television has been one of the most popular forms of entertainment around the world. Many countries produce their own shows, filming things related to their particular culture, or maybe just whatever is popular at the moment. Even so, with the internet allowing streaming for popular movies and TV shows all the time around the world, many of these series continue to find new viewers to engage with and be appreciated by.

As streaming services become more and more popular, many TV studios are making deals with them directly to host their shows, broadening their audience further still. England has a deal with Amazon Prime where many of their shows can be streamed around the world, both new and old. However, a lot of people just watch the newer shows and don’t see a lot of what came before, some of which have shaped different genres and television as a whole over decades. Although current international programming is certainly at its peak, the 2000s were still a formative decade for British television, producing staples which are still today. Here’s a look at some of the best British television which started in the 2000s.

6 Top Gear

Top Gear hosts leaning against an old blue car.
BBC Studios

From 2002 to present day, Top Gear has always been a popular show. The series examines and reviews all kinds of motor vehicles, though it mainly focuses on cars. These reviews can include races, motoring-based challenges, timed races on their specially built track, and even timed races of celebrities they bring onto the show. The show has had several hosts through its 31 seasons, but the premise has stayed true. This was a revival of the program with the same name that began in the 70s, and is now one of BBC’s most successful shows. It’s even inspired a couple of other countries to create their own spinoffs.

5 Life on Mars

Three Life on Mars characters leaning on the hood of an old 70s car.

Life on Mars is a two-season show that combines speculative fiction and police procedural. The story follows a policeman serving with the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in the year 2006. Early on, he is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973, working for a predecessor to the GMP but still at the same location and station as it was in 2006. What exactly happened to him is ambiguous to both him and the audience—it’s not clear whether he has died, become comatose, or somehow time traveled.

Related: 20 Best TV Shows of All Time, Ranked

Though it was short-lived, it was beloved by audiences and critics alike, being nominated for many awards in 2006 and 2007. The showrunners were the ones to end it, at the time believing they had told the entire story in two seasons. However, a sequel, Ashes to Ashes, premiered just a year after, and recently the creator said a third and final season is in the works.

4 Spaced

A smiling Tim and Daisy in spaced, played by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson.
Channel 4

Spaced is a sitcom that follows two characters, Daisy Steiner and Tim Bisley, who meet as strangers while searching for a flat to live in. They decide to pose as a couple in order to meet the requirements to purchase a cheap flat they found, and become unexpected roommates. They now have to figure out how to live together, encountering surreal and awkward adventures as the romantic tension slowly grows between them. Both seasons of Spaced were nominated for a BAFTA for best situational comedy, and though it was short-lived, it was still well received and had somewhat gained a cult following. It has made a home in the hearts of fans, so much so that when Fox attempted to make an American version, they quickly trashed it due to the fans and actors lashing out against it. Of course, the individuals involved have all gone to do huge, successful things– the series director (Edgar Wright) would work with the cast (especially Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) to create Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End; Jessica Hynes would continue to dominate British comedy television with Twenty Twelve, W1A, and There She GoesI

3 The Office (UK)

Ricky Gervais propping his feet up on an office desk.

The British mockumentary The Office (UK) didn’t have a very long run. Over two seasons and just 14 episodes, the program follows the day-to-day lives of office workers, utilizing a documentary-style, direct-to-camera approach which is utterly new at the time. The series focuses on the trivialities of corporate life and the self-importance and conceit of human behavior, drawing its comedy from the social clumsiness, desperation and frustration inherent in most 9-to-5 live. When it first aired, the show suffered from low ratings even after winning a few comedy awards. However, when it began exporting to other countries, including when it aired on BBC America, it quickly gained international renown. This kicked off an entire Office franchise, including the popular, Emmy-winning American remake many people associate with the name, along with the careers of Steve Carell, Martin Freeman, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, and Ricky Gervais.

Related: Ricky Gervais’ After Life Debuts New Trailer for Third and Final Season

2 Merlin

Arthur (Bradley James), Merlin (Colin Morgan), and some knights are preparing for a fight.

Five seasons of Merlin aired from 2008 to 2012, with this re-imagining of the classic Arthurian Legends closely following the relationship between Merlin and King Arthur. Merlin is sent to Camelot by his mother, only to quickly find out that magic has been outlawed by Arthur’s father King Uther, and anyone found to be practicing it would be executed. Finding himself with the job of Arthur’s manservant and knowing that Arthur is supposed to have a great destiny, Merlin must hide his magic while also helping the future king towards the right path of his life. The series was nominated for many awards through its run, and even won a few of them. Other projects surrounding the show were supposed to continue after, such as a trilogy of movies or a show revival, but have all since been canceled. Though it’s been 10 years since the series finale premiered, the show still remains largely popular amongst fans and, considering there are several streaming services that host it, there are still plenty of new fans falling in love with it.

1 Doctor Who (2005)

Jodie Whitaker and a few others around a crime scene table.

Perhaps one of the biggest pieces of media in recent years is Doctor Who (2005). The show follows the Doctor, a rogue Time Lord, and their travels across time and space. The Doctor always travels with one or more companions, who are usually human, leading to adventures through interesting points of time and trying to protect the Earth from evil forces before they can harm innocent people or change history.

The 2005 version of Doctor Who is actually a reboot of the original show from the 60s. After 15 years on hiatus, the show returned in a more colorful, bizarre, delightfully humorous form, reigniting the fan base with their newest incarnation of the Doctor and quickly becoming an international sensation that is still airing today. This sci-fi show has become a significant piece of popular culture, largely because it has built in an ingenious plot device (that the Doctor can regenerate and change appearances) which allows new actors into the series. Different performers continue to add their own unique touches to the show and keep it interesting, even through 13 seasons, making this reboot a great British series which almost literally can’t be stopped.

BBC Responds to Jodie Whittaker Doctor Who Exit Rumors
BBC Responds to Jodie Whittaker Doctor Who Exit Rumors

The BBC has responded after the rumor mill claimed Jodie Whittaker will soon be retiring from her role as the Thirteenth Doctor.

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