If you limit yourself to American television, you’re missing out on some of the best and bleakest drama available. There are several British series that have deservedly received a fair amount of play stateside — Ricky Gervais’ “The Office,” “Doctor Who,” and Stephen Moffat’s brilliant “Sherlock Holmes” series, to name a few — but there are several other series that haven’t been spoken about much in the United States. In part, that’s because America is only now acquiring a taste for the bleak. “Breaking Bad” has demonstrated that we don’t always need happy endings and likable anti-heroes, and “Game of Thrones” has illustrated that we don’t mind seeing major protagonists killed off. British drama, in part because it’s government subsidized, is allowed to take risks without fear of alienating its audience or upsetting sponsors and, as several of the shows on this list attest, neither are they afraid to piss off the very institution providing the funds. No one hates big government as much as British television writers, and they have no reservations about intensely developing characters and then jerking them away from us.
I would not go so far as to suggest that British drama is better than the best American drama, and that’s in part because British drama lacks a sense of humor. I don’t think they’ve ever heard of comic relief. But overall, it often is more intense, more harrowing, and almost always more unpleasant. But if you like to squirm, if you like television ultra-violence, and if you don’t mind having your soul broken in two, here are five British shows you might just appreciate.