Saturday Night Live's closest approximation of a young, urban American hip-type person, Andy Samberg, recently left the show to pursue other projects. He's starring in a movie with Adam Sandler that opens this week, and now it's been announced that he'll be starring on a new TV show... on BBC 3. Yes, it seems that Andy Samberg is the latest young, urban American hip-type person to fall prey to a virulent new strain of anglophilia currently sweeping the nation.
Have you noticed it? The most obvious example of the phenomenon is the frenzy over Downton Abbey, the ITV/PBS period program that has everyone wishing they wore bloomers so they could have them in a bunch. The show, about post-Edwardian life at an English manor, has been an unexpectedly broad-sweeping sensation in the States, the kind of thing that, with all its accents and old clothes and furtive glances passing for high drama, would normally only find a very niche audience among Yanks. So Downton Abbey, such a chatty bloggy hit, has kicked the new American anglophilia — which seems to mostly affect coastal people in their 20s and 30s — into higher gear. But the craze probably took root earlier. It's still the TV that did it, though.
We'd say that you can trace the most recent strain of Union Jack saluting to The Office, the original British version, which first lapped up on American shores ten years ago. The show, starring Ricky Gervais as frustrated low-level paper company manager David Brent, had an American cult following that slowly trickled out of college dorm rooms and crummy apartments into the broader grownup mainstream. Suddenly the country was aware of British comedy in a way it hadn't been for decades. Sure there were always the diehard fanboys who obsessed over videos of Red Dwarf and Blackadder and Alan Partridge, but The Office registered even with the non-nerdy, with the normals. Or, at least, with a certain group of people who might be considered the country's tastemakers.
Stoked by The Office's success, networks like HBO started importing other foreign properties like Gervais' Extras, and BBC America, a cable channel that had quietly existed since 1998, actually started getting some attention. The British stuff was cool and a little edgy or weird, and though American comedy television was going through its own mockumentary-fueled renaissance, more and more Americans started looking across the pond for entertainment, a complete reversal of the long established flow of media. We're supposed give to them, and only rarely ever take something of theirs. What was happening?
It has something to do with access, for sure. Netflix and these crazy computer devices of ours have made once rare things easily available. We likely wouldn't have watched Skins or The Inbetweeners or Never Mind the Buzzcocks if we hadn't stumbled upon them on YouTube. And we've Netflix to thank for making great detective shows like Idris Elba's Luther and the modern day Sherlock readily accessible. So material is proliferated more easily, but that still doesn't explain the interest that's popped up in the last decade.
While it might sound overreaching, we'd suggest that this new legion of American anglophiles was born out of a dissatisfaction with America in the post-millenium years. Bitter and divisive politics, economic cratering, social unrest, etc. has turned the heads of a generation of Americans who were adolescents on September 11th toward greener pastures. Toward something quirky and cute and smart and cultured and mostly untroubled. Something, well, English. Of course the reality is that, as evidenced by last summer's London riots for example, the UK is just as messed up as the United States is, but we new anglophiles (yes, we're counting ourselves here) can easily shake off that annoying fact by putting on another episode of Spaced or Peep Show. (Both great British comedies that you should watch.) Bowing before British culture as if a subject of the crown is a time-honored American tradition, it's just that right now we have both the frustrated motive and the simple click means to indulge the tendency to a greater degree. It starts with television, because that's what easiest.
It doesn't necessarily end there, though. There are of course English movies, and English books (we just finished The Line of Beauty and might still be crying). And then there are the fringier parts of the culture. Like, say, oh just hypothetically, mop-topped English YouTube stars that we can't stop watching. In those guys' case, the content is worth watching for itself, at least we think so, but the fact of their Britishness is, in truth, the real draw. And then, obviously, we have the royals, who've just restoked American interest by introducing us to Kate Middleton, the newly dubbed Duchess of Cambridge and the someday queen. Middleton and her party-hearty sister Pippa have become tabloid fixtures even here in the States, though that doesn't stop us from analyzing all the British coverage too. Now is a great time to be an anglophile, and it seems that more are joining our ranks by the day.
It's a sad kind of passion, really. Most British people we know think we're a little nuts for somewhat blindly adoring everything about their gray and rocky homelands. But we can't stop. And now we have Andy Samberg. And we could soon have you. There are literally thousands of ways to enter the faith, but probably the best way is, again, through the television. Downton Abbey not to your liking? How about the foul-mouthed teen superheroes of Misfits? Or the moody and grim Red Riding movie series (featuring Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield!). Or MI-5 or, hell, even Doctor Who. (If you worship Community, watching Doctor Who will be like meeting god. Just ask Emily Nussbaum.) British TV has been experiencing a rather golden era for the past decade or so, and you, silly cultureless un-accented American, you could be one of its devotees. Being an anglophile doesn't mean you have to lose your stuff over Jane Austen anymore. It can be cool now!
Well no, not cool. Sweatily adoring English culture always comes with a vague, sad whiff of inadequacy ("They talk so nice and drink tea and wear sweaters! I mean 'jumpers'!") and a touch of the haughty or pretentious ("Actually it's called a series, not a season."). So it'll never be cool. But it can be fun. And it's become more mainstream — maybe eventually the cultures will just bleed together across the ocean, borne on an internet bridge — meaning you don't have to worry about looking like too much of a weirdo. (And better to be an anglophile than a Degrassi/Slings and Arrows/Flashpoint-watching Canadianista.) So come, join us. There's plenty to see.
Now if you'll excuse us, we true fans are going to go back to sighing wistfully at London apartment listings on Craigslist.