The 5 Best British Programs on PBS in 2017
It's the end of 2017, and time to look back at the best shows aired on your local PBS station this year. This was a big year for our local PBS stations, who lost their flagship Downton Abbey, but soldiered on anyway. This year brought us the beginning of a brand new series, the end of a much beloved one, and two that continue to work towards the top of their game.
Let's run down the highlights.
Victoria Season 1
Downton Abbey is dead, long live Victoria. The newest series from ITV, designed in a lab to tick all the boxes that Downton Abbey so effortlessly filled for six years arrived last January with a setting far grander than Downton's, a wardrobe budget to put Game of Thrones to shame, and a double whammy of coronation and wedding to rival Netflix's The Crown. Starring Jenna Coleman, late of Doctor Who, as the young queen, Rufus Seawell as the handsome but unacceptable suitor Lord Melbourne and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert, who Victoria went on to marry, this slice of UK history as romantic soap opera was just the sort of fictionalized tale to keep fans warm on Sunday nights.
King Charles III
One of the odder offerings from PBS this past year, this TV movie version of the Broadway/West End sensation from earlier this decade was a straight-from-the-BBC import. (Literally: It aired over there and a week later it aired over here, which is almost as fast as they turn around Sherlock.) While the tone of extreme anxiety over the inevitable end of Queen Elizabeth's reign was probably more accurate than the film meant it to be, the real fascination is how it predicts Prince Harry's future, both the parts it gets exactly right, and the parts it gets 100% wrong. Controversial to be sure, but over six months later, I still haven't shaken it.
Endeavour Series 4
Of all the Masterpiece mystery series that air over here, it's this Inspector Morse reboot that is not only the most successful, but one of the most entertaining. With Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on at least a semi-permanent hiatus, and Grantchester easy to guess partway through, Endeavour gets the prize for the most twist and turns in their plots, while still making the audience feel high-minded without pandering. It wasn't an easy feat when Morse did it back in the 80s, and it's even more impressive that the reboot manages to understand that this was the appeal and nail it twice.
The Great British Baking Show Season 4
Sadly, it was our last waltz with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood and the affable team of Mel and Sue. Love Production's wrong-headed assumption that money would buy them the loyalty of the cast, killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The resulting reviews of the new bakes from across the pond suggest that neither Channel 4's version nor the BBC's replacement has the flavor of the original. But until then, we'll always have Andrew's Weasley-like scientific magic, Candice's lipstick game, and the fact that Val was indeed allowed back in Yorkshire.
Poldark Season 3
It will never be the next Game of Thrones (or the next Downton Abbey) as the BBC hoped, but when Poldark fires on all cylinders it's still a hell of a show. This season had some lows, like Morwenna's marriage and Aunt Agatha's passing. But it also produced some of the best episodes of the series yet, including the rescue mission in France of Dwight Enys, and the finale, when Demelza finally gets hers, and Morwenna and Elizabeth stand up for themselves in fits of righteous anger. It's almost like I'll miss this show when it's finally gone.
What shows did you love most on PBS this year? List your own Top Five and sound off in the comments!