Dr-WhoIf you’re familiar with the sprawling virtual landscape that is Tumblr, you’ve almost certainly experienced two things: first, you’ve been told to check your privilege; second, you’ve scrolled through hosts of images featuring BBC television shows, marching along your dusty computer screen like a hoard of crusading knights.

It’s an inescapable bubonic plague of adoration, whether the posts are fawning over the preposterously British Benedict Cumberbatch, squabbling over the merits of the 10th or 11th Doctor like Yorks and Lancasters, or otherwise partaking in shameless anglophilia that befits a generation of hapless Harry Potter lovers still awaiting the day they are whisked away to the magical place within its pages. And for many, such a “magical place” isn’t just Hogwarts. It’s the English landscape they’ve read about, seen in films, and ran through in their dreams. So if you’ve looked at Tumblr, you know what’s out there. A phenomenon. It’s like The Beatles or smallpox. It’s the BBC. In America. And it’s taking over.

The starting ground for many who delve into the BBC’s repertoire of programming is the very popular science-fiction-but-with-minimal-science series Doctor Who, a show about a madcap Time Lord with twice the brains and twice the hearts of any human (He has two hearts. The biological kind.) and the zany adventures he has with his team of earthly companions. With his trusty blue police box – the TARDIS – The Doctor can take his companions anywhere in time and space, from Arles, 1890, to the very end of the universe. Though the plots range from cheesy to brilliant, it is unquestionably the characters that elicit such devotion within its fervent fanbase.

All those images on Tumblr bare The Doctor’s and his companions’ faces, chronicling their numerous joys and tragedies. Because essentially, the viewer is also The Doctor’s companion, ushered into the TARDIS which then beckons them into a whole new world of televised airwaves, one where “seasons” are called “series,” and they really like the word “quite.”

bbc-sherlock
Of course, Doctor Who isn’t the only BBC show to gain overwhelming popularity across seas. Returning once more to the fanatical breeding grounds that is Tumblr, it would be very difficult to miss the love for Sherlock, the adaption of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes that takes place in the present day. It doesn’t take a consulting detective to deduce what makes Sherlock so popular.

Its leading men, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, maneuver through twisting plotlines with wit and affection, and the show delights in addressing the dynamics of everyone’s favorite homoerotic relationship. The dialogue is acerbic, the mysteries properly intriguing, and, well, stuff is quaint. So what’s not to love? (Besides, of course, the rather terrible middle episodes of both released series.) Even though the series takes place in a thoroughly technological modern day, there nevertheless remains something escapist about sitting through each episode’s ninety minutes.

Perhaps it’s the murders, or the superhuman deductions by one Sherlock Holmes. Regardless, experiencing Sherlock’s world of present-day London is as mythical as walking through the corridors of Hogwarts, or through wardrobes, or whizzing through space in a little blue box. Perhaps it’s the accents.

You may languish, “No one cares about Tumblr, it’s filled with people who label themselves as both pansexual and omnisexual.” If such is the case, let us then move our attention to Downton Abbey, the BBC series so critically acclaimed on a conventional level that it was nominated for no less than sixteen Emmys in 2012 – including Outstanding Drama Series, the four major acting categories, Outstanding Costumes, and the coveted Outstanding Sound Mixing.

For those who have never seen the show, it’d be easy to presume why it would amass such honors: “it’s a period piece set in the early 20th century that takes place on a British estate and comments on like class and society and stuff. And Maggie Smith is a wisecrack.”

Downton-AbbeyWhile all such claims are true, the series remains absurdly melodramatic, bizarrely edited, and has inconsistent characterization. So why has it been lavished with so much praise? Despite its shortcomings, it is also immaculately detailed, its world so fantastically realized that it’s possible for one to disregard the flaws, to perhaps even forget that they’re watching a show at all. Like Doctor Who, and like Sherlock, it’s the allure of escapism, taking you to a place where telephones are marvels, where people are always wearing hats, and where dead fiancés rise from the depths of the sunken Titanic to claim their inheritance and then are never mentioned again.

Of course, shows on the BBC thrive by their own devices, entirely separate from an American audience’s fantasy. For the target audience of actual UK citizens, there is, naturally, no escapism found in the allure of their own array of accents. A show doesn’t find success in viewers relishing its quintessential British-ness, squealing at the mention of tea or monarchy, in the same way a show on NBC doesn’t capture an audience by portraying definitive Americanisms such as Taco Bell or the sight of eagles flying over the Mississippi River, fireworks blazing all around them like the flames of freedom. When a show is produced on the BBC, it is merely the creation of a story like any other. Sherlock isn’t made with the intention of whisking American (etc.) viewers away to the fairytale world of modern day London. It’s made to tell a good story (or to make money, depending on your levels of cynicism). That it can provide a dreamlike escape for many foreign viewers is merely a perk.

Beyond the three shows mentioned, there’s then The Office. And Peep Show. And Misfits. And Skins. And my personal favorite, The Hour. There’s a seemingly endless amount of television shows waiting to be consumed, as disparate as apples and oranges yet nevertheless connected in the mind by tenuous threads.

For an American viewer, the fact of the shows’ “British-ness” can unite them together, creating a bond that American networks cannot similarly enjoy. Just because someone likes Fringe on Fox, doesn’t mean that they will proceed to watch Glee because it’s on the same network. However, enjoying a show on the BBC unlocks a new world, tickling curiosities hitherto unknown. It transports the spectator to a far, foreign land, where popinjays feast upon shepherd’s pie in Ye Olde Pollydoodle Taverne, where buckled shoes clap upon cobblestone roads, and where every mother sings like Julie Andrews. It’s a beautiful land, and once you sit amongst the trees of a wooded glen, a unicorn nuzzling your cheek while you awkwardly avoid being gored in the face, it’s hard to ever leave.

So from Doctor Who, you move to Life on Mars, then The Hour, and before you know it, the BBC owns your soul, like how England owned half the world before everyone told them that that’s just not cool.

And that’s okay with you. God save the Queen.