Don't get me wrong. There are some great shows on American TV. Once Upon a Time, Dexter, Revenge. Some great shows that were cut before their prime like Dollhouse, Terra Nova, Alcatraz and so on.
But of late I have discovered the wonders of British television. I blame it completely on iTunes putting up a huge sale.
One thing that I find very different but in a good way is that British shows tend to tell tales in shorter bursts. For someone that is a bit hyper and generally short on time getting to start to finish in a tale in handful of weeks isn't always that bad. Some shows even feature episodes that are actually more like tv movies at 90-120 minutes of length. The real pity is that some of them are so dang good that the 2-3 tales told in a 'series' is just too little to have at once. So I find myself indulging in repeated viewings at a rate that not even some of the best American shows encourage.
Also, British shows often feature more common characters and stories. Sure there are some that are outlandish and even fantastic with literary inspired characters like Merlin, Sherlock etc. But more often than not, the super model good looks, nice cars etc often seen in American TV are missing and in their steed are fat and paunchy cops, weathered faces and really very ordinary but pretty girls. British shows are often less flashy in terms of the camera work, the FX etc. Their stories are just as much character as action sometimes even more so. When they do use a big of flash in shows like Primeval they are still very careful to make it look real rather than cheesy. It's a fine line that sometimes the best of shows on our side of the pond miss.
Another thing that tends to benefit British shows is that they generally film the whole 'series' well before it airs. This could be a factor of the shorter batches, it could even be part of the cause. But the effect seems to be the ability to take more time in getting things polished and less of the changing things up after the pilot episode which is shot in Feb/March to sell the show and the rest in August that often happens in America television and tries my sense of continuity completely over the edge.
If there was any major fault (other than my sense of greed) that I would find with British TV it is that, like our American producers, no one is willing to post things for digital consumption globally after the first airing. So I get to be teased with details about things I won't be able to see for a good six months. My participation in the industry makes me loathe to use tactics like torrents and the like but the temptation can sometimes be strong, particularly when I have watched a good deal of a show and am anxious for more. I stand strong in resisting but I do feel that the time has come for such things to be tried in the market and I feel like it would be a financial success both in terms of reducing the use of illegal tactics like torrents and in increasing revenue that can keep shows funded (particularly mid rated but cult favs in America like Terra Nova, Firefly etc). So I keep fingers crossed that one day soon someone will have the nerve to give it a shot. And of course that we'll get all of this up to speed on iTunes 1080p quality (and even 720p on many) for all seasons.
Some of the shows from overseas that I recommend be given a viewing (some are ongoing, some are limited akin to the American 'miniseries'). Some of these are part of the current BBC America sale for my US readers (and perhaps in other markets)
Any of the BBC nonfiction stuff like Human Planet