50 Best British TV Shows to Watch Right Now

Updated May 26, 2024 • Staff

For many fans of television, the British seem to have cracked a certain code. Scripted series from the UK—especially those of the "prestige" comedy/drama variety—tend to be shorter than their American counterparts, and what they seem to lack in terms of "spectacle" and production value, they more than make up for in the emotional intelligence of their writing and the elegance of their characterization. The shows listed below are, more often than not, series that know exactly what to say within stricter time constraints, proving that great TV doesn't have to mean shows that are trying too hard to be like movies. These are stories that embrace the episodic format to tremendous effect.

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50.

The Night Manager

Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie (House) star in this espionage mini-series based on a John le Carré novel.

A quick mini-series that spans six episodes, it’s about a former soldier (Tom Hiddleston) who, while working as a night manager for a hotel in Cairo, Egypt, ends up getting hold of very sensitive information. He is then recruited by an intelligence officer (Olivia Colman) to bring down a corrupt businessman (Hugh Laurie.)

A highly-acclaimed TV show not to be missed by lovers of spy stories, John Le Carré films (A Most Wanted Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), or just anyone who appreciates excellent acting.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Adeel Akhtar, David Harewood, Douglas Hodge, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Laurie, Michael Nardone, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hollander
Rating: TV-14

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Night Manager on Amazon Prime for free
49.

Small Axe

This impressive body of work defies any classification: it’s a collection of five films that have been put together into a miniseries. Director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) collected a timeless set of stories set from the ‘60s to ‘80s about London’s West Indian community and their struggle with rampant racism.

The first film, Mangrove, bears the name of the restaurant at the center of the story. As a sanctuary for the community, the restaurant quickly becomes the target of a racist police division that employs various tactics to disrupt  its popularity. The local chapter of the Black Panthers and its charismatic leader (played by Letitia Wright) get involved.

Mangrove and Lovers Rock, the next episode, were in the selection of the Cannes Film Festival that got canceled because of the pandemic.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama

Free Watching Options:

Watch Small Axe on Amazon Prime for free
48.

Trying

Trying is a realistic but charming take on couples venturing to build a life and stable future for themselves. Heavy themes are tackled here, like infertility, infidelity, and parenthood, but the immensely likable couple that is Nikki and Jase guide us through the murky ups and downs of them all. Their heart and humor aren’t just comforting to watch, they're also inspiring in a TV age obsessed with heavy dramatics. Like Ted Lasso, Abbott Elementary, and other well-meaning shows like it, Trying is a bit of lighthearted fare that we’d do well to indulge in every now and then.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Esther Smith, Imelda Staunton, Oliver Chris, Ophelia Lovibond, Rafe Spall
Rating: TV-14
47.

A Very English Scandal

Led by fine-tuned performances from Ben Whishaw and Hugh Grant at the top of their game, this three-episode series dives headfirst into the sex scandal between Norman Scott and former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe with devastating wit. Neither character is treated as morally superior over the other, as both become consumed by the media frenzy surrounding the English justice system's thirst for controversy. And Russell T Davies' writing and Stephen Frears' direction allow the show's tone to pivot from brilliantly timed notes of humor to profoundly sad stretches of tragedy and drama. Given its short length, A Very English Scandal seems to be designed for binge-watching, but it should still reward patient and attentive viewing.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alex Jennings, Ben Whishaw, David Bamber, Hugh Grant, Jason Watkins, Jonathan Hyde, Monica Dolan, Naomi Battrick, Patricia Hodge

Free Watching Options:

Watch A Very English Scandal on Amazon Prime for free
46.

Extraordinary

Imagine if the show Girls was Marvel-ized (or if you like, Derry Girls blended with Encanto): that’s kind of what this series is, but actually good.

It has all the trappings of a quarter-life-crisis sitcom—broke 25-year-olds with big dreams and little prospects living under one roof—while also being set in a world where everyday humans develop a superpower by the age of 18. The British series follows Jen, a late bloomer who has yet to find her power. Having had enough of sucky jobs and boyfriends, she sets out to discover her power in the hopes of finally knowing more about herself. It’s a bizarre premise with an authentic, endearing core that's certainly worth checking out. 

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy
Actor: Mairéad Tyers, Robbie Gee, Safia Oakley-Green, Siobhan McSweeney, Sofia Oxenham
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Extraordinary on Hulu for free
45.

Hijack

The show’s premise is plain, but it’s also endlessly, edge-of-your-seat gripping. It’s steady and unhurried but never boring, and each episode, which represents an hour on the seven-hour flight, gives you a sliver of hope for the passengers, especially since they have pro-negotiator Sam Nelson (Idris Elba) on their side. Or do they? The show has fun playing with Sam as the anti-hero, but his heart is too big and golden to achieve that complexity. It also doesn’t bother to paint the hijackers as anything other than terrorists (at least not in the first few episodes screened for review). Instead, the show narrowly chases that mid-flight suspense, and it works. It successfully builds up to it with small but revealing moments. 

At the back of all the hubbub, there is also a running joke about what happens when you get stuck with the worst people you know. The passengers are characters you may be familiar with—the family with loud babies, the nosy seatmate forcing a chat, the lowkey racist eyeing everyone who doesn’t look like him—and it gets doubly entertaining to see them collaborate when they otherwise won’t.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Aimee Kelly, Archie Panjabi, Ben Miles, Christine Adams, Eve Myles, Idris Elba, Jack McMullen, Jasper Britton, Kate Phillips, Max Beesley, Neil Maskell, Zora Bishop
Rating: TV-MA
44.

Black Cake

We don’t really know our parents the same way they know about us. Black Cake recognizes this, and takes that discrepancy to create a compelling mystery, expanding on that hidden world with themes of generational trauma, intercultural dynamics, and lost heritage. With the show doing justice to the book’s moments, the mystery of Eleanor Bennett’s former life is already compelling in and of itself, but it’s made even more so as her children try to make sense of it, changing their strained dynamic. It’s layered, well-written and deeply personal. It’s a unique story that has to be told.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Adrienne Warren, Ashley Thomas, Cara Horgan, Chipo Chung, Faith Alabi, Lashay Anderson, Mia Isaac, Rebecca Calder, Rupert Evans, Simon Wan, Tom McKay
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Black Cake on Hulu for free
43.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

If you’re expecting the sleek, playful, and totally over-the-top spy shenanigans of 2005’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith, you’re not going to find it in this 2024 version, not that it’s a bad thing. In fact, this show stands on its own, reinventing the spy couple into a professional partnership rather than an immediate spark that leads to marriage. This decision makes the show feel like the film’s opposite– as the longer runtime and naturalistic aura enables more focus on the incomparable Donald Glover and Maya Erskine rather than the explosions– but it makes the danger feel more unpredictable and not just action set pieces. Mr. & Mrs. Smith may not be the star-powered, guns-blazing action comedy we’re familiar with, but it’s certainly a more thoughtful, fresh take that improves on the concept.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Actor: Donald Glover, Maya Erskine
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Mr. & Mrs. Smith on Amazon Prime for free
42.

Gentleman Jack

A quick look at Anne Lister’s Wikipedia page will let you know that the English landowner lived a full life. She dutifully attended to her tenants, traveled widely, wrote frequently, and loved oh so deeply. With Gentleman Jack, a nickname Lister received during her lifetime, Director Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley) gives her story justice by telling it with sufficient skill and sensitivity. Wainwright isn’t afraid to explore her voracious sexual appetite, her intellectual rigor, and her at-times questionable stance on land tenure. Wainwright’s decision to make the show as much about Lister as the servants and tenants is reminiscent of dramas like Downton Abbey, which give us a fuller picture of life back in the 1800s. Though it can sometimes make the show tonally discordant (is this a lesbian erotica, a day in the life period piece, or a family drama?) it ultimately adds to the richness of the story.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Amelia Bullmore, Gemma Jones, Gemma Whelan, Joe Armstrong, Rosie Cavaliero, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Rundle, Suranne Jones, Timothy West, Vincent Franklin
Rating: TV-MA
41.

Landscapers

In Landscapers, what could’ve been a tedious story based on yet another true-crime affair is transformed into a fantastic fable that challenges and reimagines truth in imaginative ways. It’s more like a play than anything, complete with revolving sets, multicolor lights, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall. But when it’s not staged like a theater show, then it has fun experimenting with form and genre. The series is masterfully edited to blend reality with the cinema Susan and Cristopher love so much, so sometimes they’re in soft-focus black and white, other times they’re in technicolor flair. It’s a technical wonder, but thanks to Colman and Thewlis’ performances, it’s also a twisted love story and an emotional roller coaster.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Actor: Daniel Rigby, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Dipo Ola, Felicity Montagu, Kate OFlynn, Olivia Colman, Samuel Anderson
Rating: TV-MA

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