“Doctor Who” (1963-present)
“Doctor Who” is probably the most famous British TV science-fiction series. It has been running since 1963 when it was first produced by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and has gone through 13 different Doctors (played by different actors). Here is a fun game to play: Ask two “Doctor Who” fans who their favorite Doctor is and watch them discuss it passionately for the rest of the day.
Seriously, though, “Doctor Who” has a very strong following and dedicated fanbase (group of followers) who are sometimes known by the informal noun “Whovians.”
The main character is an alien known only as The Doctor (never “Doctor Who” and definitely never “Doc”). The Doctor travels around the universe and goes on many adventures with a lovely assistant in his spaceship, which is shaped like a British police box (no, that is not a phone booth!).
Catch a couple of episodes (from any season) and you can join the debate over which actor played him best!
You can watch “Doctor Who” on iTunes, GooglePlay and Amazon Prime.
“Black Mirror” (2011-present)
“Black Mirror” is a creative and often unsettling (disturbing or making one uneasy) anthology series, which means that every episode is a separate and different story focusing on unique characters and ideas. All the stories are connected by their themes: a focus on a dystopian future, which is a society that is unpleasant to live in and has suffering and injustice.
Although the show does not take place in our current society, every episode will make you think about the current state of humanity (people). How will technology affect our lives in the future? How far should people go to become famous or defend their beliefs? You will come away from each episode with many new things to think about, and often feeling a little uncomfortable from it.
In this series, you will learn many different words, but you will especially find technology words like microchip (a tiny electronic implant or device) and AI (artificial intelligence—basically, robots).
You can watch Black Mirror on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
“The Bodyguard” (2018-Present)
This exciting series is full of action and will keep you on the edge of your seat. This means you will be very excited to see more. It also looks at themes such as surveillance, terrorism and anti-war ideas, so it will get you thinking!
The titular (mentioned in the title) bodyguard is an Afghanistan war veteran named David Budd who now works as a police officer. His job is to guard the United Kingdom’s home secretary the MP (Member of Parliament) Julia Montague. Because of this, he must protect Ms. Montague with his life.
He has to do whatever is necessary to make sure that she stays alive. This leads to lots of action and gunfights. Plus, as you might have guessed, things get complicated between the two as they become close. And when David discovers a government conspiracy that puts them both at risk, he must decide who to trust and how far he will go to protect those he loves.
The series is a fantastic way to learn about political vocabulary. You will also learn a little bit about the British police, as well.
Be warned, as some of the accents are quite strong, especially the leading actor Richard Madden’s Scottish accent. Many American and international viewers found his pronunciation a little confusing. For example, when he calls Ms. Montague Ma’am, many viewers thought he was saying Mom, which is a bit awkward!
You can watch the series on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
“Sex Education” (2019-present)
Sex education is a class you take in high school where you learn all about the birds and the bees (sex). It is also the title of a hilarious British comedy series.
The story follows an awkward teenager named Otis who is doing his best to fit in at high school. He faces all of the typical challenges of a young man, such as finding a girlfriend and, basically, not being awkward.
What doesn’t help is that his mom is a famous sex therapist!
Luckily, he has his best friend Eric to help him sort out his problems. Eric struggles with his own issues, as he is openly gay and curious about cross-dressing, but he comes from a traditional family.
Things change for Otis and Eric when Otis and a new friend start giving out sexual advice to his fellow classmates—for a price, of course.
The series will help your English in a number of different ways. First of all, the show is an excellent introduction to British humor and sarcasm. Secondly, it will teach you lots of vocabulary that you would not normally learn in an English classroom, like words for talking about your body and sexuality.
Finally, all the characters speak with clear English accents, especially Otis’ Mom Dr. Jean Milburn (though the actress, Gillian Anderson, has a completely different accent in “The Fall,” mentioned below!).
You can check out “Sex Education” on Netflix.
“Line of Duty” (2012-present)
This series is very popular with both a British and overseas audience. It is also one of my personal favorite TV shows.
The phrase line of duty refers to everything that you are required and allowed to do for your job. It is usually used to talk about jobs such as the police, firefighters or other careers where there is a risk of injury or death. This is why it is common to hear that someone has been killed in the line of duty.
In this case, the series “Line of Duty” looks at a team of police officers whose job is to catch bent coppers. In the United Kingdom, a bent copper is a corrupt police officer who takes illegal money and does illegal things for their own benefit.
The series is great because every season focuses on a different story. Because of this, you will learn why some police officers turn bad and how difficult it is to catch them!
It is a fantastic series to learn proper British slang and lots of crime acronyms such as B&E (breaking and entering) or MPU (missing person unit). If you are a fan of crime dramas, then this is the series for you!
You can watch it on Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Hulu!
“Dracula” is what is known in English as a mini-series because it is only three episodes long.
We might call this a retelling of a classic story. This is because many know the story of the famous vampire, Dracula. But what would happen if he appeared in modern-day Britain?
The story loosely follows the original novel by Bram Stoker. The series begins in a spooky castle in Eastern Europe. However, Dracula makes his way through time and travels west toward the United Kingdom. You will have to watch it to see how this works!
Claes Bang, who plays Count Dracula in the series, gives an excellent performance. The character is charming and very clever. His foes (enemies) in this story are the nun Sister Agatha Van Helsing and her descendant Dr. Zoe Van Helsing. If this sounds confusing then don’t worry! It will all make sense when you watch it.
“Dracula” is a little bit gory (bloody and violent) but also includes lots of humor and fun moments. Plus, there is a big twist in the third episode that will have you saying what!?
Watch “Dracula” on Netflix.
“Derry Girls” (2018)
Derry is a city in Northern Ireland famous for its beautiful walls, green fields and troubled political past. The series “Derry Girls” is set in this city in the 1990s. At this time, Ireland and Britain were in a conflict (battle or war) known as The Troubles.
Although it sounds quite serious, “Derry Girls” is actually a very lighthearted and funny series. There are moments that do reference this difficult time, but overall, “Derry Girls” is a story of four teenage girls and one boy, and their life at a Catholic high school. It balances the seriousness and comedy perfectly.
The friends are what you might call a group of misfits. A misfit is a person who is different from normal and can be awkward. The characters get into many humorous situations but their friendship and support for each other remain strong.
This is a fantastic series for those who want to practice their listening skills with a sometimes tricky Northern Irish accent.
Watch this show on Netflix.
Inspired by the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Sherlock” follows the life and mystery-solving adventures of the world-famous British detective, Sherlock Holmes in modern-day Britain. He is joined by his friend, the army doctor veteran Dr. John Watson.
As the series moves on, you learn that Sherlock Holmes is going up against his arch-nemesis (main enemy), James Moriarty, in a battle of the mind and intelligence.
In this series, you will learn lots of investigation vocabulary, such as what it means to trust your intuition (to believe in your natural instinct or feeling). Sherlock also uses advanced vocabulary words when he speaks, so this is a good show to pick up some more difficult vocab if you are an advanced English learner.
Find it here: Netflix, BBC iPlayer (VPN needed if outside the UK).
“Downtown Abbey” (2010-2015)
“Downtown Abbey” is a hugely popular, award-winning British historical drama. The story follows aristocratic (important and wealthy) families in the early 1900s, and the drama that happens behind closed doors. It is a very entertaining series that is focused on the characters and their development throughout the show.
By watching this series, you can hear the difference in accents between the different types of people—for instance, do servants speak differently from the people who employ them? Pay attention to details like that to learn about speaking the Queen’s English—that is, British English.
Although this is a drama, it is appropriate for most audiences: The show is rated PG, which in the UK means it is only unsuitable for very young children.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime and PBS Passport.
“Peaky Blinders” (2013-present)
Thomas Shelby, played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, is the head of the Birmingham crime family, the Peaky Blinders. The Peaky Blinders are known for wearing typical working-class flat caps (a style of hat) and hiding razor blades under them—providing a quick weapon to use in a street brawl (fight).
The show follows the rise and fall (ups and downs) of gangster families in post-WWI Birmingham, providing the added benefit of training your ear for a sometimes difficult and strong Birmingham accent.
In addition to giving you a look into older English and plenty of slang, you will also hear lots of crime and war vocabulary such as artillery (large munition/weapons) and strategic intelligence (information required in the planning of military operations).
You can catch “Peaky Blinders” on Netflix.
“The Fall” (2013-2016)
“The Fall” follows the journey of policewoman and detective Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson of “X-Files” fame) as she struggles to catch the terrible killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), who targets young professional women in the Belfast city area.
The series is a British-Irish drama so in addition to the drama thriller aspect of the show, there is also a political subplot (secondary storyline to the main plot) focused on the relationship between the police and government.
Watching this series is a great way to learn vocabulary related to psychology and criminology (the study of criminal behavior). Be ready for some thick accents that require even some native English speakers to turn on those subtitles!
The show is rated 17+ due to the dark themes and confronting content.
You can watch it on: Amazon Prime, YouTube (for a fee).
“The Crown” (2016-present)
“The Crown” is a beloved historical drama that has won three Golden Globe awards. It follows the early years and reign (royal leadership) of Queen Elizabeth II and is packed full of political drama.
Although the drama follows plenty of historical events featuring important people like Winston Churchill, it is not 100% factually or historically accurate. In this way, the writers and producers have taken what we call artistic license (moving away from the facts for the sake of the art or enjoyment). This makes the show a good place to see some history but also enjoy a lot of great moments of drama!
Watch “The Crown” on Netflix.
“The Office” (UK Version) (2001-2003)
“The Office” is a British comedy in the style of a mockumentary (a fake documentary that mocks or ridicules a particular subject). The boss of the office is played by famous comedian Ricky Gervais.
The TV show examines the life of a company boss who believes he is well-liked and entertaining in the office environment—but not everyone in the office shares his opinions. In this show, you will hear some everyday vocabulary but you will also get to know “management speak,” which is when meaningless words and phrases are used to sound impressive or important.
You will also become familiar with typical British comedy, which involves many themes of embarrassment and ineptitude (inability to complete a task or lack of skills). There are many moments that will make you feel embarrassed for the characters on screen—a feeling we call “cringey.”
It is worth noting that there is an American version of “The Office,” where the boss is played by Steve Carell. It might be a great exercise to watch both series and compare the comedy styles between the US and the UK.
You can watch “The Office” (UK Version) on Amazon Prime.
“Gavin and Stacey” (2007-2019)
Many know comedian James Corden as the host of “The Late Late Show” and his viral carpool karaoke videos, but to many Brits (British citizens) he was the loveable character “Smithy” and writer of widely popular romance drama “Gavin and Stacey.”
“Gavin and Stacey” follows the romantic story of a young man from Essex named Gavin and his girlfriend from Wales, Stacey. The TV series incorporates lots of typical British cultural practices such as grabbing an Indian (ordering takeaway Indian food) and a stag do (a party between a man about to be married and his friends close to the wedding day).
The conversations throughout the show are also typically British and the series includes several British accents, giving you a chance to practice your listening skills.
You can watch “Gavin and Stacey” on Amazon Prime.
“The Inbetweeners” (2008-2010)
The inbetweeners are a group of four high school friends struggling with all the difficulties of teenage life. They are known as the inbetweeners because they sit in-between the different groups of “cool” and “uncool” groups of students.
This is an irreverent (disrespectful and perhaps offensive) comedy-drama, and it deals with themes of sex and alcohol. In the series, you follow four “coming-of-age” stories, so you get to watch the development of the characters in their personal lives through their teenage years.
It is a great series to learn typical British English slang and vocabulary like what it means to grass (to inform or to snitch), how much a ton is (a hundred) and the ever-useful wellies (wellington gumboots).
“The Inbetweeners” is rated 15+ because it deals with mature themes.
You can watch it on Channel4 (account and VPN may be required) and Amazon Prime.
“Firefly” is a short science-fiction series that is considered a cult classic because, although it is a short series, there are many fans. Because the show was canceled before they finished filming, you can watch the end of the series with the film “Serenity.” This series combines classic western and sci-fi influences and follows the adventures of a crew on a transport ship.
You can learn many scientific terms while watching this show, including genetic words. For example, you will hear the term artificial incubators, which is where people can keep and grow animals and humans using technology.
The show is rated for ages 13+ and you can watch it online on Hulu or Amazon.
“Game of Thrones” (2011-2019)
“Game of Thrones” is an incredibly popular fantasy show based on books written by George R. R. Martin. It takes place in the fantasy world of Westeros and Essos. It follows the drama of different people trying to become the ruler of the land by fighting wars with swords and magic.
The series is made for adults, so it is rated R and aired on HBO. Because it is in a fantasy world similar to the Dark Ages (500-1500 AD), it sometimes uses old-fashioned English. You will also hear many fantasy terms, such as “Valyrian steel,” which is the strongest material for swords in that world.
“Game of Thrones” is available to watch online with HBO Go.
“Nikita” is a show about a woman spy and assassin who tries to get revenge on the people that she used to work for. This series is packed full of action and different love interests, making it a thrill to watch.
It is made for a more mature audience but is rated for ages 13+. The show has words and phrases related to the government and spies, such as espionage, which is the use of spies by governments.
You can watch “Nikita” online with Amazon Prime.
“Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” (2007-2012)
World-famous chef, writer and traveler Anthony Bourdain shares his passion for life and food in this travel series, originally produced by the Travel channel. Each episode focuses on a different country or city that is known for its cuisine (a style or type of food that is specific to a region).
On his travels, Bourdain tries lots of local delicacies (an expensive, very delicious or unique food) and meets local people who expose him to the culture and way of life in the area that he visits.
In this series, you will learn lots of food and travel vocabulary such as what a layover is (a stop on a long journey, usually by plane) and what rustic food is (simple, local and common food).
Why not check out “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” and see if your city or country has been featured?
Watch it here: TravelChannel, Hulu.
“Tiger King” (2020)
What starts as a documentary exploring the exotic animal trade quickly turns to a story of deception (lying to people to benefit yourself), murder and possibly the most unique characters you will ever meet.
There is an expression in English that says “truth is stranger than fiction” and this documentary is something that you really need to see to believe!
The vocabulary is an interesting mix of crime vocabulary, animals and pop culture. You will learn phrases relating to the black market (the illegal trade of goods and services), activists (people who promote a particular cause) and conservationism (a movement to conserve the environment or natural world).
The documentary has become a favorite topic for people to talk about, has led to the creation of many memes (funny images meant to be shared and reused) and has even led to many famous people to comment on the show and what they think about it.
You can watch “Tiger King” on Netflix as it is a Netflix original series.
Dexter is a brilliant man who both solves and commits crimes. Even though the show is about catching killers, the main character is secretly a killer himself, which brings even more intensity to the drama.
There is a lot of violence in this thriller series, because it is about police work and crimes. This show can teach you terms about the justice system, medical terms and police terms. For example, you will hear “crime scene,” the area where the crime happened, and “dismember,” to take something apart.
You can watch “Dexter” on Hulu, Amazon Prime and Showtime.
“House of Cards” (2013-2018)
“House of Cards” is a revenge story of a politician who was denied a job that he was promised in the past. While this drama was still running, it was one of the most popular shows in the US.
It is rated for mature audiences and has a complex plot about politics. You can learn phrases and words about the government from this show, such as “Secretary of State,” which is the term for the person in charge of relationships with other countries.
You can watch “House of Cards” on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
“Suits” follows the lives of Harvey Specter and Mike Ross, who work as corporate lawyers—even though Ross is not a lawyer himself. The show is about their work (legal cases), relationships and personal lives.
You will hear different legal terms while watching this show, such as witness, someone who saw (witnessed) a crime, and will and testament, which is a document where you write what should happen with your possessions and money when you die. Because the legal cases (problems between two sides, which are resolved by lawyers in court) can be serious or violent, this show is also rated as mature.
You can watch “Suits” on USA Network and on Netflix.
“Breaking Bad” (2008-2013)
“Breaking Bad” is about Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has cancer. He decides to make drugs with a past student and sell them to pay for his cancer treatment.
The show involves drug rings (people involved in making, selling and buying drugs), crime and the struggles of illness. The show has won over 20 TV awards. It is rated for mature audiences, and you can learn science terms and modern English slang.
You can watch “Breaking Bad” online using Netflix or Amazon Prime.
“Revenge” is a show that follows a woman named Emily Thorne who moves to the Hamptons to find the people who hurt her family when she was a child—to get revenge on them. She investigates (researches/studies) families to get information, and meets new friends and enemies while she does.
This show is rated for ages 15+ and has formal or elite (people who are wealthy or very successful) level English used—with brand names like “Couture”—as well as casual modern English.
You can watch “Revenge” on Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney+.
“McLeod’s Daughters” (2001-2009) (Australia)
“Mcleod’s Daughters” is an Australian drama series that follows the lives of two sisters who live on and run a cattle station (a large cow farm). They face lots of personal problems in the management of the farm.
Their life in the wilderness of Australia—better known as the “outback”—is not always easy, but the characters are tough!
You will learn some typical Australian English such as G’day (a contraction of “good day”) and a drover (a person who moves cows over long distances of land).
You can watch Mcleod’s daughters on Amazon Prime.
“Trailer Park Boys” (2001-present) (Canada)
A trailer park is a large area where mobile homes or smaller fixed homes are located and it is generally a lower cost. In this series, the main characters are an odd group of misfits (people who do not fit into society) who all live in a trailer park together. They get up to lots of adventures, and the series has a huge cult following as well as mainstream success.
Just like “The Office,” “Trailer Park Boys” is also a mockumentary, meaning there are lots of awkward and funny situations.
Catch “Trailer Park Boys” on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
“Queen Sono” (2020) (South Africa)
Not only is “Queen Sono” an incredibly exciting and action-packed series, it is also the very first original African series to hit Netflix—making it a must-watch! It is considered a breakthrough (significant and pioneering) work and will hopefully lead to more African-produced series making their way onto the streaming service.
Queen Sono is a spy who is tasked with secret missions across the African continent. Because of this, you will be exposed to lots of spy language such as intel (a common abbreviation for intelligence) and asset (a person or something used by a spy to complete their mission). You will also learn heaps of great South African slang.
You can watch “Queen Sono” on Netflix.
“Top of the Lake” (2013-2017) (New Zealand)
The award-winning series “Top of the Lake” was written by Jane Campion, who is a very successful and highly respected writer from New Zealand. The story centers around the mysterious disappearance of a local girl who is also pregnant, and the police investigation that follows.
The series is set in the stunning (beautiful or breathtaking) South Island of New Zealand. The landscape is incredible and the mystery is intense.
If you love plot twists (unexpected events in the storyline), you will enjoy this one!
“Father Ted” (1995-1998) (Ireland)
“Father Ted” is a series that is quintessentially Irish—which is just a big way of saying that it is really, really Irish. It is a beloved series in Ireland and across the UK, as well.
The show follows the lives of three priests who have lots of mishaps (unlucky experiences) and find themselves in very funny situations.
The series is packed full of vocabulary related to the church such as the afterlife (the life after death) and typical Irish expressions such as it suits me down to the ground (it is perfect, or sounds perfect to me!).
You can watch “Father Ted” on YouTube (don’t worry, it is officially licensed) and Amazon Prime.