Mary, Edith and Sybil.
Rose, Martha, and Donna.
Molly, Anderson, and Lestrade.
Are these names ringing any bells?
If not, then you have managed to avoid what many feel is akin to a second full-throttle British obsession (after The Beatles, that is).
“Doctor Who,” “Downton Abbey” and “Sherlock” are among the most popular British shows which have migrated to households across the pond.
“Downton’s” third season premiered Jan. 6 to a record-breaking 7.9 million viewers in the States. And, with the rest of the seventh season of “Doctor Who” fast approaching, American fans of British shows are prepping for another season of Googling British slang and trying to keep up with the often-unpredictable and fast-paced plot twists.
So what is it? What is it that gives these shows that extra bump which pushes them to break ratings barriers and wedge their ways into American viewers’ hearts?
Although there’s never been a formal raising of hands, it seems as if—as history teacher Daniel Neukom put it—the quintessential “Britishness” of the programs is what draws viewers in and keeps them hooked.
“(On British programs) you never have canned laughter. You treat the audience like they’re thoughtful people,” he said. “Things can be more complex. You’re aiming at a higher intellect.”
“(In ‘Downton Abbey’) you look at these sophisticated people who are trying to hold onto something. It’s melting away to them. It’s a tragedy in its own right. It’s like the fall of Rome. In this case it’s the destruction of the upper class in the UK.”
BBC’s “Sherlock” premiered in 2010 to rave reviews. A modern take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes takes pride in being the only “consulting detective” in the world, a position he himself coined.
In the remake, Holmes assists Scotland Yard along with flatmate Doctor John Watson (fueling the running gag of “are-they-aren’t-they?” that inevitably comes when two young men share a flat).
Junior Troy Hoddick is an avid fan of the show and the original stories.
Fellow “Sherlockian,” junior David Myers also weighed in on the show’s success.
“Does nationality really have that much of an effect on television?” Myers asked. He paused to think it over.
“So much is affected by subtle things. It really has such a large effect,” he said.
The downside? There are only three episodes of “Sherlock” per season. Although each episode is an hour and a half long, fans can often be heard bemoaning the lack of quantity.
“Doctor Who” fans have a different problem. With six seasons of the 2005 remake on BBC America, “Whovians” may not have time to watch them all.
While “Downton” tends to appeal to audiences without being necessarily relatable to the viewers (due to the rather obvious differences between living in a very pomp-and-circumstance 20th-century England and modern-day America), “Doctor Who” seems to appeal on a more personal level.
“It either cheers me up or teaches me a lesson, and it’s always there for me when I need it,” junior Kerina Blue said. “It’s the ultimate comfort blanket.”
Now that we know why the shows are popular, the only question left is “Why now?”
After all, “Doctor Who” has been around (and practically a British staple) since 1963. However, since it started up again in 2005, there is no denying that this 1,000-year-old alien, who was introduced to the States in 1972, has never been as popular in the U.S. as he is now.
And although the lives of wealthy debutantes during the 1900s are filled with scandal, there’s no doubt that “Downton” became an American sensation much faster and to a greater effect than even “Upstairs, Downstairs.”
And, as proven by the Robert Downey Jr. remake, Sherlock Holmes is a classic. But the success of a show so popular that viewers would stick out the three-episode seasons seems improbable at best.
Neukom is among the many who waited with bated breath for the return of the period piece “Downton Abbey.”
Neukom credits part of the sudden surge to a change in availability.
With British networks allying with American counterparts (PBS, SyFy, etc.) and directly importing networks (ex: BBC America), Americans are becoming ever more aware of the increasingly popular UK shows.
The networks have begun to acknowledge their American audience, catering their latest advertisements to American viewers.
What once were promotional videos only viewable in the UK (via ITV and BBC’s own iPlayer) now are fully available worldwide on YouTube.
Moreover, “Downton’s” Facebook page often tailors posts to its American viewers and even has two separate links to their shop, one for the UK and another for the U.S. (featuring items not found in the UK section).
The “Doctor Who” Christmas Special piqued the curiosity of viewers by “re-introducing” the formerly-dead character Clara Oswin Oswald (who first debuted in the season premiere) and teasing fans with a preview of what’s to come when the series continues in April.
“Downton” further intrigued American viewers by introducing Shirley MacLaine, a witty and outspoken American, as a sort of rival of the famously snarky Dowager Countess.
However, “Sherlock” fans aren’t as lucky: filming for the third season was pushed from beginning this January to March and the show isn’t expected to air until 2014.
But the excitement surrounding these shows and their new episodes is unanimous and, frankly, contagious. Although Americans have to wait anywhere between a five days and a year for the next episode, they are just as excited for the episodes to come.