If you watched “Downton Abbey”, chances are you’ve heard of “Call the Midwife”. Advertised alongside Downton’s run on PBS, and sharing the whole “British period drama” aspect, “Call the Midwife” is just as enjoyable as its Regency cousin, although quite different. I liked it instantly, and soon plowed my way through the two seasons. (Side note: If you’re interested in recaps, do let us know. We watch an excessive amount of television ’round these parts.) It was about halfway through the first season – or series, rather – that I realized: “Call the Midwife” is a prime example of imported British television. Whether indicative of the actual TV climate across the pond or not, the fact is that the shows that gain popularity here in the US tend to have a few key characteristics, and Midwife has just about got them all. And lucky you, I’m going to elaborate on those right…………………………..NOW!
“Call the Midwife” is set in the late 1950s, in the poor East End of London. For such a homely setting, the show doesn’t miss an opportunity to take sweeping harbor shots and light every character in the most angelic way. There’s no mistaking it: this show is gorgeous to look at.
And it’s the same with “Sherlock” and “Downton Abbey”. Some moments are so stunning you simply can’t help but take notice.
Normal-Looking People Falling in Love
A little random, right? But it’s true. For whatever reason, the UK is far more comfortable with average-looking folks having romance. I’d even say they expect it. That’s not to say that British TV doesn’t have glamourous actors – those are not in short supply, to be sure. But almost immediately in many of these shows a romantic story line is established between two people who are, well, normal-looking (see “Doc Martin” and “The Vicar of Dibley”, for example). And they don’t need to undergo makeovers to fall in love, and they don’t quietly lose weight over the course of the show’s run. They’re just themselves. Now, since I hate spoilers, I’ll not say which characters fall in love in “Call the Midwife”, but I will share a screen cap from the amazing “Love and Marrige” episode from “Vicar of Dibley”. That was easily one the funniest weddings I’ve ever seen in my life – Teletubby ringbearer and all.
Quirkity Quirk Quirkiness
Not much needs to be said about this, right? Dr.Who, The Office, Miranda, Vicar of Dibley, Doc Martin, Sherlock, Absolutely Fabulous, and on and on: the butter to their bread is quirk. Goofy characters that are often awkward or even misanthropes. And what’s more, they usually come from small communities within British culture – weird village folk, you see. And Call the Midwife is no different, with its parade of local charcters each episode. My favorite? The utterly bizarre identical twins Meg and Maeve. They dislike nearly everyone but each other, and decided to simply marry one husband to share between them. Because of course.
For all of Britain’s (well-earned) reputation for farce and cynicism, there’s some heavy representation from the opposite end of the spectrum, too. Brits have mastered sap in a way that Americans just can’t quite approach. Case in point – how many acts from Britain’s Got Talent have you seen? And cheered for? Paul Potts, Susan Boyle, Connie Talbot, Andrew Johnston (the little boy who sang “Pie Jesu” and gave you chills). They’re internet phenoms, and not just because of their talent. Go back and watch those clips again: part of why you cried when Susan Boyle sang was her voice, but mostly it was the editing. The storytelling that happens with British shows often plays for your tears, and it doesn’t back away. There’s a point in Midwife when one of characters scoffs, “There are no Hollywood endings here.” And I’ll tell you, I laughed out loud, because there’s practically nothing but Hollywood endings! But that’s part of the fun in these shows – tidy little melodramas where the bad guy gets their due and good triumphs and we all have a good cry.
Now apart from all of this, the stories are engaging, the people are likeable, and the writing is pretty good. In short, this show is charming, and isn’t that the most quintessentially British quality of them all? Now off to Netflix with you! And take some tissues, too.