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The Best 7 Imports to Migrate to America

By Ethan Alter | Indiewire August 14, 2014 at 12:58PM

Here are some of the top imports that made it to these shores within the past three decades.
1
'Black Mirror'
'Black Mirror'

Editor's Note: This post is presented in partnership with Pivot TV and the second season of their critically acclaimed original comedy series “Please Like Me” - airing Fridays at 10:30pm ET/PT only on Pivot.  

America has never had a true monopoly on must-see TV, but it sure seemed that way for a while, back when it was harder for domestic audiences to see some of the terrific programs being produced by the rest of the globe.  That's changed a lot in recent years, as emerging cable networks and streaming services have brought the wide world of television stateside.  Case in point: the acclaimed Australian-made coming-of-age comedy/drama "Please Like Me," which aired its first season on Pivot TV in 2013

The series, which follows creator/writer/star Josh Thomas's alter ego Josh, returns to Pivot TV on August 8 at 10:30 PM. To mark the return of "Please Like Me" -- and celebrate this new Golden Age of Imported Television we find ourselves in -- here are some of top imports that made it to these shores within the past three decades.  Also, much like "Please Like Me," these shows all aired domestically in their original form and haven't been remade with American writers and actors... at least, not yet.  (In other words, "Kath & Kim" didn't make the cut.) 

"Black Mirror" (2011-present) 

Country of Origin: U.K.
Original Network: Channel 4
U.S. Run: DirecTV

Many have tried to replicate the peculiar genius of Rod Serling's groundbreaking anthology series "The Twilight Zone," but few have gotten closer than "Black Mirror" creator Charlie Booker.  When the series premiered in England in 2011, it was instantly lauded for the way it seized upon mankind's uneasy relationship with technology and treated that as a source for thrilling and thought-provoking standalone narratives.  For example, the third episode of the first season -- which may be given the big-screen treatment by Robert Downey Jr. -- depicts a version of Earth where an implant allows people to record their memories and play them back for viewers, a seemingly helpful technological advance that instead causes major headaches for the characters at the center of the story.  To borrow a line from Serling, you're about to enter another dimension.  Next stop, the "Black Mirror Zone."      

Currently Available On: It's tough to find, but select episodes are available via DirecTV On Demand.


Foreign TV shows like "Borgen" may be Americans' only glimpse of foreign cultures.
Foreign TV shows like "Borgen" may be Americans' only glimpse of foreign cultures.

"Borgen" (2010-2013)

Country of Origin: Denmark
Original Network: DR1
U.S. Network: Link TV

The Danish political world might not sound like the most interesting milieu for a television show, but storytellers as esteemed as Stephen King would disagree with you.  In 2012, America's favorite boogeyman became one of the many cultural commentators to shortlist "Borgen" as one of the best TV series around not named "Breaking Bad" or "Mad Men."  The three-season, 30-episode drama follows Brigitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is suddenly elevated from minority party leader to the rank of Prime Minister -- the first woman to hold that office in her country's history.  And if you were under the impression that Danish politicians play nicer than their American counterparts, prepare to have your perceptions challenged... along with your willpower to not watch all 30 episodes in a single sitting.        

Currently Available On: DVD

"Degrassi High" (1989-1991)

Country of Origin: Canada
Original Network: CBC
Imported Network: PBS

Most high school shows are nothing like the actual experience of going to high school... which, honestly, is probably one of the reasons why teen and twenty-something viewers enjoy watching them so much.  But that's not the case with Canada's long-running "Degrassi" franchise, which is so authentic and believable, you can practically smell the musty lockers and gym sweat.  "Degrassi High" was the third -- and best -- edition of the series' original cycle, which kicked off in 1979 with "The Kids of Degrassi Street" before graduation to middle school in 1987 with "Degrassi Junior High."  How hardcore was "Degrassi" about keeping it real?  So hardcore that High's series premiere was a two-parter that tackled the lightning rod topic of abortion.  (PBS famously and controversially trimmed the episodes for their U.S. airing.)  Subsequent half-hours dealt with issues of high school life both big (school suicide) and small (romantic crushes and invitations to the big dance) in the same matter-of-fact, insightful and entertaining fashion.  After a decade-long hiatus, the next generation of the "Degrassi" brand kicked off in 2001 and is still running in Canada and the U.S., albeit on TeenNick rather than PBS.  But for a generation of viewers who came of age in the late '80s and early '90s, there's no topping "High."

Currently Available On: DVD and Amazon Instant

Michelle Dockery in a photo from the upcoming season of 'Downton Abbey'
PBS Michelle Dockery in a photo from the upcoming season of 'Downton Abbey'

"Downton Abbey" (2010-present)

Country of Origin: U.K.
Original Network: ITV
U.S. Network: PBS

Yeah, yeah so Season 4 of "Downton" was bollocks.  You still watched, didn't you?  And you'll almost certainly watch Season 5 as well, even if it means putting up with the walking cloud of doom and gloom that is Mary Crawley.  Fact is, "Downton"'s blockbuster first year has more or less given it a lifetime pass amongst its large, devoted fanbase on both sides of the Atlantic.  We may complain and gnash our teeth at the increasingly strained attempts to wring more drama out of the upstairs/downstairs goings-on at the titular manor, but that's only because we know how good this show can be.  Though if Carson ever leaves, we may just have to exit with him.  

Currently Available On: DVD, PBS and Amazon Instant

"People Like Us" (1999-2001)

Country of Origin: U.K.
Original Network: BBC
U.S. Network: Amazon Instant

If you thought Ricky Gervais invented the small-screen mockumentary format with "The Office"... think again.  Two years before viewers were introduced to a crew of white collar wage slaves in Slough, fictional BBC interviewer Roy Mallard (played by a mostly unseen Chris Langham) took them all over England to meet supposedly ordinary working people who inevitably turned out to be anything but.  In one episode, he's sitting down with a pair of married solicitors who primarily handle divorce cases (quite badly, for that matter) and in another he spends time in the company of a struggling actor whose career is quite obviously going nowhere fast.  Today, the cast list for "People Like Us" reads like an all-star guide to the finest and funniest British actors around; Tamsin Greig, Bill Nighy, Lucy Punch, David Tennent and Jessica Hynes are just some of the then-unknown or little known folks who pop up in guest spots.  Overshadowed by the deserved hullabaloo that greeted "The Office," "People Like Us" never made it to terrestrial television in the U.S., but the first season has been streamable for a while on Amazon Instant.  It's like "The Hobbit" to "The Office"'s "Lord of the Rings." (Not the Peter Jackson "Hobbit" -- the Tolkien "Hobbit.")     

Currently Available On: DVD, Amazon Instant and iTunes

The Returned

"The Returned" (2012-present)

Country of Origin: France
Original Run: Canal+
U.S. Run: SundanceTV

In place of "Walking Dead"-style gore, this French twist on the traditional zombie narrative offers a surfeit of mood and atmosphere.  The action unfolds in a remote mountain village where the population is suddenly trending upwards.  The bad news is that this spike is due to the unexpected return of previously dead citizens, ranging from a suicide victim to a serial killer.  And even stranger things follow in the wake of these already-strange resurrections, setting up mysteries that will no doubt continue to be explored in the show's second season, which is in production now.  Also in production?  An American remake commissioned by A&E and overseen by "Lost"'s Carlton Cuse.  But don't look for it before 2015, which should give the French version plenty of time to wrap things up in a typically ambiguous, but strangely satisfying way.    

Currently Available On: DVD and Netflix 

"Slings & Arrows" (2003-2006)

Country of Origin: Canada
Original Network: The Movie Network
U.S. Network: Sundance Channel

You don't have to love the immortal work of the Bard of Avon to love this riotous peek at the behind-the-scenes goings-on at one of Canada's top Shakespeare festivals... but it helps.  That's because the show's writers (including co-creator, co-star and occasional Kid in the Hall, Mark McKinney) brilliantly crafted each of the show's three seasons to tell their own contemporary stories while also reflecting the arc of a specific Shakespearean tragedy; hence, Season 1 did "Hamlet" and Season 2 tackled "Macbeth," which left -- what else? – "King Lear" for the third and final season.  A drama club geek's delight, "Slings & Arrows" features a sparkling ensemble of terrific actors and writing that's so consistently rich, funny and emotional, it would have made ol' Bill himself swell with pride.        

Currently Available On: DVD, Amazon Instant and iTunes

Indiewire has partnered with Pivot TV and "Please Like Me" - airing Fridays at 10:30pm ET/PT only on Pivot TV. The comedy/drama series was created, written and executive produced by 27-year old comedian Josh Thomas and is inspired in part by his own experiences. Season 2 gives viewers another glimpse into Josh's awkwardly hilarious life with ten all-new, half-hour installments. Catch a glimpse of what's coming up on season two of "Please Like Me" with a sneak peek here.


This article is related to: Downton Abbey, The Returned, Black Mirror