In the time that we have been in the United Kingdom, I have watched significantly more television and film than I should have as a person traveling abroad. I could have gone out and seen the sights, I suppose, but once in a while, a night in sounds perfect.
Extremely helpful with that is Netflix, which is completely different here. Rather than the icons being vertical posters to try to entice someone to watch the film of television show, they are horizontal. I’m not really sure why that is, but it must have tested better here than the vertical version. Also, the background is black, which I found entirely amusing because of that stereotype that the British wear a lot of black. This also causes the red of the Netflix logo not to stand out quite as much. In the United States, our background is white, which makes that logo stick out like a sore thumb. That actually makes a lot of sense. In the United Kingdom, I’ve noticed that they are all about subtlety, but in the United States, we like it loud and bold.
With the help of my high fever keeping me in bed, I was able to finish a very interesting show that is only available on Netflix in the United Kingdom. In fact, there are a lot of films and television shows available here that are not available to us in the United States. Many of these include Netflix original series made specifically for the United Kingdom. They feature casts made entirely or almost entirely of British actors and actresses, and feature stories that we would not normally watch in the United States. Very interesting and lucky for me is that many television shows made for and by the BBC and ITV are available to stream on Netflix. The show that I mentioned above is called Mr. Selfridge, and is made by ITV.
Mr. Selfridge is a television show made up, very strangely, of 10 episodes for every season. I have watched the BBC production, Sherlock, before. I assumed its 3 episode seasons were abnormal, and they are rather short for the United Kingdom, but I did not realize it is typical here for a series to have seasons we would consider very short in the United States. 10 episodes in a season like Mr. Selfridge has, is actually pretty normal here. In the United States, after 10 episodes, it’s about time for the mid-season break for a couple of weeks, not the end of the season. An average American television show runs for about 20-24 episodes in a season. I’m not sure if that many episodes in a season would be overwhelming for the British, but 10 would certainly be underwhelming for us. There are a few exceptions to this however. Channels like HBO and Starz often have very short seasons, which points to the real reason behind the short seasons here: quality. The United States is all about quantity, but that doesn’t cut it here. Obviously there are throwaway shows, but for the shows stations like BBC and ITV expect masses to watch, quality is the better option. They pour in tons and tons of money to ensure that what they are making is top notch in the way that HBO does for something like Game of Thrones. Pouring more money in for better quality means having to make fewer episodes. You can really tell the difference with them too. Shows like Mr. Selfridge and Downton Abbey are incredibly intricate and look expensive, which impresses the audience. The shows look and feel like more effort was put into them, which is perhaps the reason several shows made in the United Kingdom have become worldwide phenomenon. People in the United States wait for the next episode of Sherlock, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, etc. with anticipation, and it ties the two nations together in a way that few other things could. At MSU alone, there are clubs devoted to Doctor who and Downton Abbey, likely with many more across the country.
One major difference between American television and British television was extremely noticeable to me when watching Mr. Selfridge: time period. We don’t really do period pieces in the United States. Most of our television shows take place during the present or the future, which is mostly what the United States is all about. We don’t have a long and extensive past with a rich history in the way that European countries do, so there isn’t a whole lot for us to pull from. The bigger issue is money, however. A lot of people don’t really consider how expensive it is to make a television show or movie that takes place in a different time period. The costumes are ridiculously expensive, cars have to be made or bought, facts have to be checked, historians have to come in to ensure historical legitimacy of every prop that has to be made, and it goes on and on. This goes right back to what I mentioned above. We like to maximize profits, and that means making everything for as little money as possible. The way that British television focuses as much money as possible into fewer episodes allows them to make incredible shows that take you to another time.
Another major difference was how the story of Harry Selfridge was presented. Mr. Selfridge was an American businessman that built his way up from nothing to become the king of Oxford Street and create a new era of shopping. In the United States, the show would have played the aspect of his rising from nothing story until it wore out because that is what we love. We love an underdog story, but specifically, we love a tail of someone coming from nothing to become something amazing. It’s the promise the United States was built on, and it still sells today. Mr. Selfridge being a show made in the United Kingdom, however, that aspect of his story is almost entirely glossed over in favor of his story as a rich and powerful man. He is also presented differently here than he would be across the pond. When the United States creates a show with a rich and powerful figure, he has several undeniable characteristics: charming, smooth talker, handsome, cocky, and brilliant. This Harry Selfridge is stiff, more honorable than charming, is barely able to keep a happy marriage, and is just above average in looks. He’s realistic, which wasn’t something I was ready for. The actor who plays him is terrible considering his stiff acting and inability to make the viewer believe a word he says, but when that is ignored, Harry Selfridge is just a normal guy who happens to own a very important store.