In February of this year, film editor Ben Robins wrote an article looking at five films that, despite critical acclaim or cult appreciation, were never released in the UK. In the spirit of originality, here’s an article about some TV shows that, due to the nebulous, red-tape shrouded mess that comprise international broadcast rights, are not available to watch in the UK, either on the TV itself, or on Netflix or Amazon Prime (or Netflix-lite). What’s the point of telling you about these shows? Well apart from the fact that they’ll never be shown here unless there’s some kind of proof that they’d be watched, they are all available on REDACTED
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: HBO has always made some of the most spectacular, genre-defining television, from The Sopranos and The Wire, which revolutionised what ‘good TV’ meant, to Game of Thrones, arguably the biggest TV series currently broadcasting. And pretty much all of the amazing things HBO produces find their way across the pond and onto British TV screens, thanks to a next-day deal with Sky Atlantic. One show that has somehow fallen through the net though, is Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Each week, British comedian turned American comedian John Oliver takes over the screen to guide us through the week’s biggest stories, ridiculing world leaders and international corporations alike with a wonderful mixture of dry British humour and the energetic, erratic American variety. As hilarious as it is, though, this is nothing new. We have our fair share here in the UK with Mock the Week, or Have I Got News For You. What makes Last Week Tonight stand out is that in every episode, Oliver delves into one important but often willfully ignored topic (kind of like a funny Louis Theroux). These topics range from Miss America Pageants and sexism, to FIFA and how it may well be the most evil organisation in the world. In each of these segments, Oliver manages to contrast comedy with some really harrowing investigative journalism, and while some of the topics he discusses may be centred on America, others have far-reaching implications, or can be seen reflected in our own country.
Edit Note: Now airs Mondays on Sky Atlantic.
Mr. Robot: In May of this year, a pilot episode was broadcast online and on a few on demand services. It was picked up by USA network (home of hit show Suits), and its first season began airing in late June under the title Mr. Robot. The show is, to put it simply, fantastic. To put it less simply, Mr. Robot follows Elliot (Rami Malek), a hacker who spends his time uncovering pedophile rings and saving abused dogs (so an alright kinda guy), who finds himself drawn into a group of nefarious cyber-criminals, led by the eponymous Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) and their plans to destroy what they see as the oppressive social order. It’s essentially Fight Club with hackers.
The show’s characters are incredibly well-drawn, quickly evoking empathy, and it is phenomenally well-made, with the kind of gorgeous cinematography that you usually only see in films. The way the show addresses the issues it raises is similarly well-done. Though in the opening episodes its social commentary seems a little heavy-handed, it gets dialled back as the season progresses, and reflects the current mood well. It plays around with perception quite skilfully, drawing you into Elliot’s point of view without you really noticing. With its first season almost completed, Mr. Robot has received nothing but praise from critics, and has had a second season greenlit. It is genuinely one of the best shows on air, and it would be a travesty if didn’t make its way to Britain, through Netflix or otherwise.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief: Another HBO production that really needs to make a trip across the Atlantic is Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. A feature-length documentary, it explores the structure and nature of the world’s most notorious religion. Made up entirely of interviews with previous members and first-hand footage (including people who, during their time there, were among the church’s topmost echelons), the documentary is surprisingly absorbing, thrilling even, as well as informative. It takes us through the life of the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard (a thoroughly creepy dude) and explores as best it can the church’s current leader, David Miscavige (who is somehow even creepier).
Going Clear looks unflinchingly at several of the darker aspects of the church, including the prison/labour camp that makes up one of the floors of the church’s headquarters, the use of imprisonment and physical and psychological torture on a number of its members, and a segment that will make you really, really not like Tom Cruise. Even for those uninterested by Scientology itself, this documentary is worth a watch: it shows both how easy it is for reasonable people to become wrapped up and sucked in by their beliefs, and how easy it is for them to be manipulated through those beliefs. Despite making waves in the US when it was released in spring, however, the documentary is currently unavailable in Britain (it did receive a very limited cinematic release earlier in summer, but that hardly counts), due to differences in libel and defamation laws here (I think), and the church’s aggressive policy on lawsuits.
Saturday Night Live: Saturday Night Live (SNL) is probably the most famous piece of entertainment that is currently unavailable in the UK. If you look at the profile of pretty much any famous American comedy actor, SNL will be on there somewhere. Since its first broadcast in 1975, SNL has been a staple of American television, garnering the highest number of Emmy nominations of any show ever, and listed as one of the best shows ever made by TIME.
Each episode of the show is hosted by a celebrity guest, who have included Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Bill Murray, and Alec Baldwin (fun-fact, Christopher Walken and Alec Baldwin both have contracts with the show that let them host it whenever they feel like it). The show will then be made up of a monologue by the host, a number of sketches, all interspersed by musical acts from a guest musician (fun-fact 2, Dave Grohl has been the show’s guest musician the most times, performing eleven times since 1992). The sketches performed in each episode are all performed live (hence the show being called Saturday Night Live, rather than Saturday Night Pre-Recorded), which has led to numerous censorship breaches (always fun), famous people making mistakes (also always fun), and other famous people appearing unscheduled to sabotage the show. Some of the regular sketches on the show have gone on to become feature films. Many of these aren’t successful, but two of them, The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World, definitely were successful.
This insane show (insane in the way only American things can be), is even distributed internationally, to Germany, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Canada, and Israel. And yet we don’t have it here.
iZombie: A TV show about zombies, based on a comic book. Don’t we already have one of those? (Two, actually, now that Fear the Walking Dead is a thing). Still, don’t knock it ‘till you try it. iZombie is about as far removed from The Walking Dead as Dora the Explorer is from a Mexican cartel. Rather than be all depressingly serious about an outbreak of zombie-flu, iZombie asks what if there was just the one zombie, and no-one knew she was a zombie, and she used her zombie powers to solve crime. This might be a good time to point out that iZombie is a bit more comedy oriented than its older, more violent brother. Also, the writers of iZombie don’t have some strange phobia of the word zombie, so that’s always a plus.
The show is also much more directly based off of its respective comic-series, it basically looks like a live action comic strip, its credits are written in the comic-font, and the main character narrates pretty much everything, just like she does in the comics. Light-hearted, fun, and thoroughly embracive of the ridiculousness of its premise, iZombie is almost a post-zombie zombie show. The main character eats actual brains (but doused in hot sauce so she can taste them), and spends much of the show bemoaning her undead-ness. With the first season finishing earlier this year to high praise, iZombie has been greenlit for a second season, which is scheduled to premiere on October 6th.