It's time for us to talk about FAST channels. FAST is an acronym; it stands for Free Ad-supported Streaming Television. Free ad-supported TV? Call me old fashioned, or at least born in the 20th century, but that sounds familiar, almost like... TV. And it is sort of like the old broadcast TV, but not quite. There are no antennas to attach tin foil to, analog, digital, or otherwise, and no dials to touch. Apps are involved, as is downloading them and then scrolling down a little lineup of boxes to select the streaming service de jour. However, once you open a FAST app, things get really old school quickly.
There's no credit card involved, no monthly fee; there's no endless lines of tiles of shows you may or may not have heard of. Instead, there's the old TV guide of channels, though these channels are not NBC, ABC, CBS, and the like. These are channels dedicated to shows, endlessly showing season upon season, episode upon episode of your favorite show. At first, most of these were American shows, as these were American-owned FAST apps. But ever since Paramount's PlutoTV got ahold of Classic Doctor Who, BBC Food, BBC Home, and a bit of Sky News to have a small segment of British Channels, it's only been a matter of time before other streamers caught on.
Amazon was always the obvious one to start bringing over major titles wholesale for its FreeVee FAST channels, quietly adding channels dedicated to Midsomer Murders, Antiques Roadshow UK, Grand Designs, plus The Goes Wrong Show, The Inbetweeners, and Paramount+'s new series The Flatshare without telling anyone. But now they're going all in with a big announcement that they're adding a Gardening with Monty Don channel, a Great British Menu channel, and a Fifth Gear channel, the series that Top Gear always wished it was. Not to be outdone, PlutoTV announced that the Jamie Oliver Channel, which is already on FreeVee, will also run on PlutoTV.
I probably don't have to tell most Anglophiles who Monty Don is; he was one of the home and garden shows Netflix initially brought over wholesale in 2014 when it imported just about everything BBC2 had on offer. The British horticulturist has been on TV since 1989. Though he never received formal training, considering himself an amateur gardener and a professional writer, he is considered to be the U.K. national gardener and a gay icon due to his sartorial style. His many series had small but passionately dedicated followings on Netflix until they were pulled; having them all in one place for free on streaming will be welcome news to his fanbase.
The opposite is probably true of The Great British Menu; Netflix only ever brought over one season — 2012's Season 7 — with zero context that the chefs involved had competed in multiple seasons previously or any attempt to mitigate its 45-episode format. (The series, now on Season 18, runs for nine weeks in five 30-minute installments.) It disappeared in under a year due to no one noticing it. It's super addicting, perfect for the Netflix binge-watch model, and it's the show Prue Leith cut her teeth on, giving The Great British Baking Show fans a chance to see what she's like when not forced to kowtow to Paul Hollywood.
As for Fifth Gear, that Americans do not know about it isn't on Netflix; that's BBC America's fault. Both it and Top Gear began in 2002; Fifth Gear was the continuation of the original Top Gear that ran from 1997-2001 but was undercut by a second Top Gear launched a few months later, which the fledging BBC America picked up the rights to. Despite being the better series, poor Fifth Gear was left to flounder, wound up on the Discovery Channel for a while, and then went back to the U.K. after multiple misbehaviors by Jeremy Clarkson took Top Gear out at the knees.
The irony is Amazon's FreeVee Channels already have one dedicated to Top Gear, with all episodes ranging from the show's original inception in 1997 through to today, and Amazon Studios are the producers of Clarkson's current series, The Grand Tour, which he launched as a protest when he was fired from Top Gear for his behavior. (In a twist that will surprise no one, The Grand Tour will end this season, as Clarkson's continued antics have caused Amazon to part ways with him as well.) With the addition of Fifth Gear, FreeVee is now the home of all three major British Car TV series.
Between the addition of all the Monty Don shows and The Great British Menu, it looks like FreeVee is attempting to rebuild TV all over again, this time, without the reception issues and a few more British accents. Also, people measuring things in metric, but I think we are smart enough to handle that, yes?
The Amazon FreeVee FAST channels for Gardening with Monty Don, Great British Menu, and Fifth Gear are already live, as is the Jamie Oliver channel. The PlutoTV version of the latter is expected to arrive in the coming days. The Gardening with Monty Don channel also runs on other FAST apps like Roku (Channel 466) and Tubi; the Great British Menu channel can also be found on the latter.