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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-May of 2019), I count 291 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. 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.
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 series that came out in late 2018/early 2019. They currently have Season 3 in the works.
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.
Agatha Christie's Marple – Acorn TV's parent company, RLJ Entertainment, holds a substantial percentage of the rights to Agatha Christie's works, so it makes sense that this would be the place to get your Marple fix. This series features Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie in the iconic role.
Agatha Christie's Poirot – Most hard-core Agatha Christie fans agree, there is only one Poirot – and that man is David Suchet. Acorn features 13 series of the popular Christie classic, with the episodes spanning a period of more than 20 years.
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.
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.
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. We're expecting to see Season 9 of Doc Martin on here later this year.
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.
Goodnight Sweetheart – A normal guy in 1990s England slips through a portal to WWII-era London, and begins a split life between the two. While the series is over 20 years old, it doesn't feel as dated as you might think.
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.
Brief Encounters – Set in the early 1980s, this show about 4 British lingerie and sex toy sales women is both dramatic and hilarious.
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.
Honest – Though it came out in 2008, I'm still a bit disappointed at the lack of a series 2 for this show. With her husband in jail, Lindsay (Amanda Redman) vows to transform her criminal family into an upright and respectable bunch – with more than a little resistance from her children.
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.
Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier's famed novel about smuggling in Cornwall is magnificent on the screen. Set in 1821 and released in 2014, it feels odd at times – very definitely a period drama, but the moody and atmospheric camera work and lighting give it a very modern feel. This Cornwall feels a bit different than, say, the Cornwall we see in the older Poldark series.
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!