Many Americans have little or no exposure to foreign television programmes, even when those shows are still in the English language. The American media has never shown a plethora of interest in importing British, Australian, or Canadian shows in their original form for the American audience. This is interesting, because all of these countries import vast amounts of American TV.
Despite not being mainstream stateside, these shows are wildly popular in their respective countries, and can be found easily if one knows where to look for them.
If you're a TV/telly buff who loves comedy, you'll love these shows.
Till Death Us Do Part is the oldest show on this list. So old, in fact, that not all of the episodes are known to exist; before the 1970s, the BBC had a policy of wiping old tapes for reuse. Till Death Us Do Part is a sitcom centred around the family of Alf Garnett, a politically conservative racist who despite his bigotry is likeable, not least because his rants are hilarious. The show was later adapted into a well-known American version- All in the Family. Earlier surviving episodes give a unique snapshot of the political situation present in Britain at the time. Often, the show makes references that even many Britons wouldn't know today. But don't let that scare you, the vast majority of the show is accessible for anyone from any country. You don't have to know British history to laugh at Garnett claiming that Jesus was an Englishman!
Steptoe and Son was a contemporary of Till Death Do Us Part, debuting in the early 1960s and running well into the next decade. Steptoe and Son is unique for shows made in its time period in the fact that all episodes still exist, as the producers of the show, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, had BBC technicians produce professional recordings for Galton and Simpson’s own private collections.
Steptoe and Son is about an aged junk dealer (known as a "rag 'n' bone man in the UK), Albert Steptoe and his unhappy business partner and son, Harold.
The show remains one of the most successful and popular sitcoms in British history. Steptoe and Son shows a gritty, realistic life of lower class hard work. The character Harold always wants to move up in society, but feels stuck in his humdrum rag 'n' bone man job because of his old, enfeebled father. Because of its realism not only of the monotony of everyday life, but the portrayal of Harold's depression and frustration due to his social status, Steptoe is sometimes described as a dark comedy. In my opinion, however, you'll get a good laugh from any episode and feel better afterward than you did before.
American viewers may recognize the similarities between Steptoe and Son and Sanford and Son. This is because Sanford and Son is an American adaptation of Steptoe and Son. Some of the earlier episodes of Sanford and Son seem to follow scripts from corresponding Steptoe episodes almost word for word.
What has become the coup de gras of British television history, the most popular British sitcom even today, over twenty years after the end of its original run, and Americans have never heard of it. Between 1981 and 1991, viewers were treated, sometimes weekly, to the antics of Derek "Del Boy" Trotter. Though his nickname may sound like something from a children's cartoon, Del Boy was a sly, shrewd, though not evil, black market dealer in just about any stolen or defective merchandise he could get his hands on, frequently getting in trouble for not asking questions before buying merchandise to resell.
The show's creator, John Sullivan, was a comedic genius who also wrote many of the episodes. After its end in 1991, the show continued to have Christmas specials until 2003. In 2014, a short episode featuring David Beckham was shown on Comic Relief.
Let's get back to our side of the Atlantic, though not necessarily stateside. In that country north of the United States, that mystical winter wonderland known as the Great White North, there is a show known as Royal Canadian Air Farce. It is a sketch show which makes fun of Canadians. Canadians know that people in other countries, especially the United States, like to make fun of them, but are too busy to do so; therefore, they do it themselves. Thus is Royal Canadian Air Farce. Nevertheless, the Canadians have kept this show a secret because they only want dedicated Canada hecklers to know about it.
The show makes fun of everyone, from former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to Larry King, who once made an appearance on the show.
Though the most recently released episodes of Deutschland 83 are from late 2015, the show is on hiatus and will return in 2018. Deutschland 83 is notable as the first and to date only foreign language television show to be broadcast on American television in its original version with subtitles. This exemplifies the lack of media importation into the United States. But Deutschland 83 is not only worthy of mention because of its American airwaves milestone, it is a very enjoyable show in its own right. Unlike the other shows on this list, which are comedies, Deutschland 83 is a cold war spy thriller centering around the political turmoil which existed between East and West Germany at the time.
The cinematography and staging of the show are also excellent, with iconic German music from the 1980s and other cultural references featuring prominently.