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Once you've enjoyed a few British TV shows, you'll probably start looking for more. Eventually, you may find yourself signing up for a British TV subscription service like Acorn TV. Once you get your subscription, though, you might be a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of titles.
As of today (late June 2020), I count 327 different titles on Acorn TV. Some are amazing, some are pleasant, and a few seem less likely to have broad appeal.
Keep in mind – Acorn TV is not strictly limited to British shows. They often use the line “Britain and Beyond” in their marketing, and that's very accurate. British programming is definitely the most common, but every passing month brings more varied selections.
Along with British shows, you'll also see English-language programming from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland (technically part of the British Isles, but not exactly “British”), and Canada, along with the occasional series from Scandinavian or mainland Europe.
The Best Shows on Acorn TV
For those new or returning Acorn TV users who aren't sure where to start, we've created this list of what we believe are some of the best shows on Acorn TV. I'm sure there will be some disagreement here, so please feel free to share your favorites in the comments. Happy watching!
The Best British Mystery Shows on Acorn TV
Midsomer Murders – It doesn't get much better than Midsomer Murders. The show has been airing for roughly two decades now, and it combines grisly murders with gorgeous Cotswolds (and near-to-the-Cotswolds) scenery. It's cozy without actually being a “cozy mystery”, and the acting is excellent. If you watch closely, you'll notice a lot of your favorite actors have guest-starred in various episodes over the years. Everyone from Robert Hardy to Sarah Alexander to Richard Briers seems to have made an appearance in this classic British tv show.
Rebus – Rebus is based on the wildly successful Rebus series of detective novels by Scottish author Ian Rankin, and the show lasted 4 seasons (though Eleventh Hour Films recently snagged the rights to a reboot, so there may be more Rebus yet). Inspector Rebus is a gruff old-fashioned detective in nearly every sense of the word. He smokes, drinks, and doesn't have a lot of luck with his personal life. Unfortunately, Season 1 is not available.
My Life is Murder – This delightful Australian mystery stars Lucy Lawless as a retired police detective who helps out on the occasional case. Though I wouldn't call it a true cozy mystery (it occasionally skews just a bit too dark for that), it definitely has a lot of fun cozy elements – including bread baking and a cat!
Loch Ness (UK: The Loch) – If you appreciate dark and atmospheric mysteries that feel vaguely Scandinavian, check out Loch Ness. Set in a small town along the banks of Loch Ness, this mystery sees a quiet community ripped apart after a body is found murdered. If you enjoyed Monarch of the Glen, you may appreciate seeing a now older “Archie MacDonald” in a slightly darker role.
Hamish MacBeth – Hamish MacBeth is a nontraditional mystery set in the Scottish Highlands and based on the series by M.C. Beaton (aka Marion Chesney). The series stars Robert Carlyle as an extremely clever and capable small town constable whose main goal in life is to do as little as necessary to perform his job honorably, thus allowing him to avoid promotion to another police force. It's hard to decide which is better – the colorful townsfolk who round out the cast, or the stunning Scottish scenery.
Agatha Raisin – Another M.C. Beaton series, this one is a true cozy (Agatha is an ex-public relations expert, not a cop) AND it's set in the Cotswolds. While the show probably could have done a better job of sticking to the book and making the main character more likable, the scenery and supporting characters make up for those issues. Once canceled with no hope of return, Acorn TV brought it back to life by commissioning a second, and later a THIRD series.
Balthazar – While this one's French, it's worth dealing with subtitles. It's a one-mystery-per-episode series with a number of ongoing storylines related to the two main characters. Given that the main character is a forensic pathologist, there are some gruesome bits, but the characters have great chemistry that elevates it above the standard procedural. We also understand that many viewers are quite find of the numerous shirtless scenes involving lead actor Tomer Sisley.
Pie in the Sky – For those who enjoy a lighthearted mystery, Pie in the Sky is sure to delight. When DI Crabbe leaves the police force to open a restaurant, they continue to pull him back in for part-time crime-solving. The show follows his efforts to balance his dual lives.
Queens of Mystery – If you enjoy light mysteries, definitely give this new Acorn TV Original a try. Young and single detective Mattie has just been promoted to DS status, and she's assigned to her hometown of Wildemarsh where her three mystery-writing aunts live. Though she does her best to keep them out of her cases, it never seems to work. Check out our full Queens of Mystery review or our interview with Julie Graham.
No Offence – This edgy, fast-paced Manchester-based crime drama has more than its fair share of big, fun characters. It comes from the creator of Shameless, and features a female-led team of officers who track down serial killers. It's a one-mystery-per-series kind of show, and there's quite a bit of character backstory that comes into the episodes.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries – In 1920s Melbourne, Miss Fisher occupies a class all her own. She's a thoroughly modern woman running her own private investigations practice in a male-dominated world. It's well-written, atmospheric, and highly recommended. The 2020 Miss Fisher movie is also available on Acorn TV.
Ms. Fisher's Modern Murder Mysteries – This recent Miss Fisher spinoff takes us to 1960s Melbourne, where Phryne Fisher has gone missing, declared dead, and her niece Peregrine takes over in her footsteps. While it's a very different feel from the original Miss Fisher series, it's no less delightful – assuming you're able to mentally separate the two.
Line of Duty – This one's not everyone's cup of tea, but the people who like it seem to REALLY like it. It's about a group of dedicated officers who work to uncover corruption within the police, and it definitely leans toward the gritty, action-packed end of the spectrum. Though it's quite distinctly British, it has a lot in common with the more intense, action-oriented American police programmes.
The Best British Comedies on Acorn TV
Detectorists – There aren't a lot of shows I've watched more than once, but this is one of them. It's tough to explain the appeal to someone who hasn't watched a couple of episodes already, but it's a different sort of comedy. It's calm and quiet and it has a realism you don't see very often. The characters could easily be obnoxious and unlikable, but writer/director/star Mackenzie Crook has done such a good job with the writing that we see the things each character is struggling with – and that makes them more human.
Doc Martin – After the bright but socially awkward surgeon Doc Martin develops an aversion to blood, he relocates to a Cornwall fishing village to serve as the town's doctor. Though his stiff demeanor is at odds with small town familiarity and closeness, he manages to get by. Series 9 arrived on Acorn TV in Autumn 2019, and with any luck, we'll be seeing a Season 10 of Doc Martin in 2021 or perhaps 2022 (who knows what the virus situation is going to do to production schedules).
The Rebel – If you like shows about mischievous and slightly misanthropic old people getting into trouble, you'll enjoy this 2016 Simon Callow comedy. Acorn TV has Season 1, but a second season came out in late 2017. With any luck, they'll get that one before too much longer.
After Henry – Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers) stars in this great female-led comedy from the 1980s. This series focuses on a mother, daughter, and grandmother who all live together in the same house after the death of the mother's husband. Though it's a bit dated in some ways, it's also surprisingly contemporary and still quite funny.
Boomers – Once the kids are gone and work is no longer an issue, these seaside Norfolk retirees find all sorts of trouble to get into. Gavin and Stacey fans will be delighted to see Alison Steadman here, funny as ever.
The Worst Week of My Life – Ben Miller (Death in Paradise) stars in this comedy about a man who seems to muck up pretty much anything and everything. Sarah Alexander (Coupling, Jonathan Creek) stars as his long-suffering romantic partner.
Trivia – This charming Irish show focuses on an initially unlikable man who's obsessed with the local pub quiz. Over the course of the series, we realize it's because there's a void in his life – and he begins to make real changes.
The Best British Dramas on Acorn TV
Delicious – I've heard this series summed up as “food, love, and infidelity in Cornwall” – and while that's highly accurate, it doesn't capture just how shocking the show can be at times. The show feels much like a British version of something that might air on Showtime or HBO (with much better scenery than the average American show). If you like Dawn French in the Vicar of Dibley, you might find this role a bit strange. Still, she (and the rest of the cast) are pretty fantastic.
The Syndicate: All or Nothing – Each series of The Syndicate follows a different group of lottery winners as they grapple with personal dramas, newfound wealth, and temptation. It can be a bit dark at times, but it's highly entertaining and each series feels both familiar and completely unique. Acorn has just one series, but there are two others floating around. The one on Acorn gives us a group of employees on a struggling estate. Of the three series, it may be the most interesting because it has the added drama that comes with a staff that suddenly has more liquid funds than the employers.
Rake – This Australian legal comedy-drama focuses on Cleaver Greene, the brilliant but self-destructive barrister who gets his kicks defending some of the most hopeless cases to hit the Australian court system.
Behaving Badly – This is another show that didn't last nearly as long as it should have. In Behaving Badly, Judi Dench plays a wife who's been left for a much younger woman. Though she initially falls into the role of well-mannered divorcee, it doesn't take long before she decides she's had enough of doing what everyone else wants.
Pitching In – This Welsh dramedy stars Larry Lamb (Gavin & Stacey) as a man who wants to sell his camping park to an attractive estate agent (played by Hayley Mills). His daughter sets out to change his mind.
The Good Karma Hospital – After a relationship sours, a young British-Indian woman decides to move to India to work in an impoverished hospital. Little does she know, she's got a lot to learn. Amanda Redman stars alongside Amrita Acharia.
The Best Documentary & Lifestyle Shows on Acorn TV
Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages – Dame Penelope Keith (of The Good Life and To the Manor Born) takes us on a guided tour of some of Britain's loveliest villages. Armed with her trusty Batsford travel guides, the series includes East Anglia, North Wales, Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Wessex (the historic region). Unfortunately, seasons 2 and 3 are no longer available on Acorn – but we can still enjoy the first season.
Penelope Keith's Hidden Coastal Villages – You can almost smell the salty air in this fun journey along Britain's coastline. In this one, Dame Penelope breaks out the Batsford guides again, venturing to the Isle of Wight, Northumberland, West Sussex, the Scottish Borders, East Anglia, and Suffolk.
Penelope Keith's Village of the Year – Originally broadcast back in 2018 in the UK, this delightful competition gives us a great deal of insight into what makes villages tick. Rather than just looking at the scenery, we get to meet village inhabitants and find out what they love about the places they call home.
Being Poirot – Generally regarded as the best Poirot of all time, David Suchet held the iconic role for roughly a quarter of a century. In this three-part series, he attempts to share some of his experiences and explain why people have loved Poirot for so long.
Discovering Britain – In this fun travel series, Maureen Lipman (Metamorphosis) and Larry Lamb (Gavin & Stacey) join a number of their fellow British actors as they travel the country exploring its heritage.
Coastal Railways with Julie Walters – Julie Walters (of Harry Potter fame) takes us all over Britain via its coastal railways. The series is full of stunning scenery and light-hearted, fun commentary.
Julia Bradbury's Coast & Country Railway Walks – Keen rambler Julia Bradbury takes us on a trip around the abandoned railways of Great Britain. In the last century, the UK has shut down thousands of miles of train tracks – leaving behind lovely places to go walking. The walks in this series are a lovely mixture of urban and rural scenery, with plenty of educational stops along the way.
Digging for Britain – Professor Alice Roberts shares her passion for Britain's history as she takes us to a variety of exciting archaeological sites. From Roman burial sites to Viking treasures to history as recent as World War II, there's a bit of everything in this one, along with plenty of expert commentary to help add context.
Savile Row – This fascinating documentary series goes behind the scenes of the iconic Savile Row storefronts most of us will never visit. Here, skilled craftsmen apply their talents to make some of the finest suits in the entire world. Now threatened by chain stores and a decline in appreciation for fine handiwork, we see the shops struggling to stay relevant and pay rent in one of the world's most expensive cities and neighbourhoods.
Vintage Roads: Great & Small – Actors Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison (both of All Creatures Great & Small) host this fun journey into the golden age of motoring. In each episode, they hop into a classic car and take a road trip to explore vintage routes from a time when people were just beginning to love traveling by car.
The Best Shows on Acorn TV – Your Thoughts?
We're quite certain we've overlooked some gems, so feel free to chime in with your recommendations for the best shows on Acorn TV – or if you disagree with our assessment, don't hold back. It may be useful to someone else who happens upon this post!
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