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Catching up on the best of British television

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Michael Scott or David Brent? If you chose David Brent, you're clearly a fan of British television.

Yes, when push comes to shove for many Canadians, they'll tell you they greatly prefer the antics of David Brent (Ricky Gervais) in the British Version of The Office to Steve Carrell's turn as Michael Scott in the American version. Whether it's The Office, Coronation Street or Doctor Who, Canadians seem to have a love affair with British television.

"We love British television because it's better," says Rob Salem, television critic for the Toronto Star. He says it's the shortened British TV seasons that make for higher quality TV — something Canadians respond to very well.

"It's quality over quantity," Salem adds. "There are seasons of six or eight episodes instead of squeezing it out to 20 episodes. They're not out to milk something until it's done."

Barry Hertz, arts and entertainment editor for the National Post, agrees. "You have a lot of concentrated storytelling and really well-planned, carefully constructed character and plot developments," he says.

Don't believe British TV is better? Try checking out a few of Hertz and Salem's top picks of the best in British TV.

Fawlty Towers: This John Cleese classic actually ran for only two seasons in the '70s, but with a few years in between seasons, during which Cleese and co-star/co-creator Connie Booth were divorced. But that doesn't mean the quality was any less. "This was the best sitcom ever made, anywhere," Salem says. "It stands up to repeated viewing."

Coronation Street: If you haven't watch "Corrie" before, no need to worry, you can still jump in head first and fall into the lives of the working-class crew from Manchester. For more than 40 years, audiences have followed the ups and downs of the inhabitants of Coronation Street. "It's much more relatable than American soap operas," Salem says. "They're much more working-class than the perfectly coiffed Americans. They have real-life dilemmas."

Are You Being Served?: This sitcom ran from 1972 to 1985, and was an hysterical look at the British class system. Starring Mollie Sugden, John Inman and Frank Thornton, the show followed the misadventures of the staff working at a major retail store.

Black Adder: Rowan Atkinson, best known to North American audiences as Mr. Bean, really shone in this scathing black comedy. Unlike the bumbling physical comedy from Atkinson's Bean, Black Adder was a showcase for dark, satirical humour, Salem says.

Doctor Who: Whether it's the cheesy Who from the '60s and '70s or today's revamped Who, you won't be disappointed by checking in with this Doctor, no matter who is playing the title role. "It's just a fantastic show," says Hertz. "There's a reason the main character can change and we're happy for it. They can shake it up without causing the fan base to revolt."

By Alison Dunn

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