This should have been the British X-Files. It was brilliant.
Ultraviolet, a 1998 UK TV series, followed a covert government taskforce tracking vampires across London and the UK. It featured some familiar, if younger, faces from British television, including an early role for a pre-The Wire Idris Elba.
The vampires conform to the old myths — they don’t appear in mirrors and they’re susceptible to silver and garlic (and garlic-infused grenades), and some updated ones — their voices aren’t picked up by audio recordings and their bites are only detectable by the ultraviolet lights of the show’s title.
But this was not a clichéd vampire hunter action drama. Shot in the down-and-out shadowy streets of London, Ultraviolet built a convincing atmosphere of gathering gloom and menace that tied neatly to the gathering threat of terrorism lurking in the dark corners of the world.
And it wasn’t afraid to tackle some pretty deep issues. From pedophilia to nuclear winter and climate change, the show was dark, tense and intelligent. It also featured some quite extraordinary set pieces, such as the horrific results of reciting the litany of the Lord’s Prayer in the presence of a vampiric fetus, or when Elba’s character was trapped in a locked room with vampire-filled coffins on time-release locks…with the sun going down.
Sadly, it’s the brightest candles that burn the briefest, and Ultraviolet was cancelled after one season. But those six episodes are still worth the watch.
2. Generation Kill
Based on the true story of a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with a Marine battalion during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this 2008 mini-series was adapted for TV by the creators of cult favourite TV series The Wire. The marines are a juxtaposition of highly trained killers and bored hormonal adolescents.
One moment they are trucking in convoy across the Iraqi desert singing pop songs, the next they indiscriminately mow down some Iraqis on the basis of their ever-changing rules of engagement. As one of them snorts: "The marine corps are America's little pit bull. They feed us, mistreat us, and once in a while they let us out to attack someone."
As you can imagine, it is male television to the hilt; at once masculine and insecure, aggressive yet vulnerable.
3. House of Saddam
Carrying on the Iraqi theme, House of Saddam was a four-part mini-series released in 2008 that charted the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein. The docudrama is a bit light on the international relations aspect, preferring to focus more on the murderous intrigues and excesses of the quasi-royal family of Hussein.
In the vein of the recent Netlix series, Narcos’ depiction of Pablo Escobar, the viewer is never likely to empathise with the sociopathic and brutal Saddam. But his power, violence and cunning is addictive.
4. Red Dwarf
OK. If you’re British, you’ve heard of this one. And can probably even now recite a joke or one liner from this cult favourite.
But for the rest of the world, Red Dwarf was a British comedy franchise that strangely didn’t make it big. Yet it was Airplane-esque in its ability to keep on throwing out stellar gags:
(Faced with a possible threat) Rimmer: Kryten, go to red alert.
Kryten: Are you sure sir? It does mean changing the bulb.
Lister: D'ya think Wilma's sexy?
Cat: Wilma Flintstone?
Lister: Maybe we've been alone in deep space too long, but every time I see that body, it drives me crazy. Is it me?
Cat: Well, I think in all probability, Wilma Flintstone is the most desirable woman that ever lived.
Lister: That's good. I thought I was going strange.
Cat: She's incredible!
Lister: What d'ya think of Betty?
Cat: Betty Rubble? Well, I would go with Betty... but I'd be thinking of Wilma.
Lister: This is crazy. Why are we talking about going to bed with Wilma Flintstone?
Cat: You're right. We're nuts. This is an insane conversation.
Lister: She'll never leave Fred, and we know it.
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