CLOSE

10 Addictive British Reality Shows You Should Stream Right Now

There are seemingly endless streaming possibilities for American reality shows on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and beyond. Chances are you’ve wasted an entire weekend binge-watching a bunch of them already. But if you’re looking to break out of the stateside streaming reality series mold, don’t fret. There are plenty of reality TV shows out there that are similar to your favorite shows, but with subtle differences—like, say, people with English accents. So grab a spot of tea and start streaming.

1. FOR FANS OF CAKE WARS: THE GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW

While Cake Wars counts professionals among its contestants, The Great British Baking Show (also known as The Great British Bake Off) is made up of a gaggle of hopelessly endearing amateur bakers from across England and elsewhere. But there’s nothing unprofessional about this delightfully delicious British export. Each themed episode sees a group of contestants square off to impress expert baking judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry with their expertise in creating cakes, tarts, pies, puddings, and more.

The series made some major news last year when Berry and hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins exited the show, meaning it will go through some drastic changes next season when it airs on a new network. So now’s your chance to get whipped up by the classic lineup of the only reality cooking show where people can say “spotted dick” without anybody snickering.

2. FOR FANS OF HOUSE HUNTERS: ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY

This long-running daytime television series is for people who love to daydream about what it would be like to live in a cottage in the English countryside without ever having to leave the comfort of their own, less-British home. Each episode focuses on a family who decides to retreat to a more rural setting, and is presented with three potential sites that could be the country house of their dreams, all within their specified budget.

The first two choices are usually blissful locales that adhere to their strict specifications like en suite bathrooms, multiple bedrooms, big kitchens, a farmside setting, or—gasp!—maybe even a garage. But the third is what the show calls the “mystery house,” which is a kind of residential wildcard filled with a wide range of controversial details like bedrooms on the ground floor or cavernous living rooms because the house was refurbished from a centuries-old church.

3. FOR FANS OF JACKASS: AN IDIOT ABROAD

If you're a fan of Ricky Gervais and his brash brand of humor, you’ll love this travelogue show that follows the comedian's supposedly dim-witted buddy, Karl Pilkington, as he crisscrosses the world and intentionally pushes the limits of his—and everybody else’s—comfort zones.

An Idiot Abroad is kind of like Jackass, but without the gross humor. Each episode features Gervais and his The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant sending Pilkington on missions to different locales, forcing their impressionable friend into the most achingly awkward fish-out-of-water situations imaginable. The Manchester native does everything from meeting a gorilla in Uganda and going to a “cuddle party” at a New Age retreat along Route 66 to learning the samba for Carnival in Rio and trying to go on a whale watch in Alaska, even though he’s susceptible to severe seasickness. Okay, so maybe the show does have some gross parts.

4. FOR FANS OF JERSEY SHORE: THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX

You didn’t think America had cornered the market on trashy reality television, did you? If you ever tried to imagine what the tawdry exploits of the roommates of MTV’s Jersey Shore would sound like with nearly incomprehensible English accents, The Only Way is Essex is your show.

Now in its 20th season, the series is an endless parade of bartenders, club promoters, and would-be models getting drunk, fighting with each other, stabbing anyone they can in the back, and then doing it all over again in perfectly, semi-scripted ways. It’s so bad you can’t look away.

5. FOR FANS OF FLEA MARKET FLIP: DEALERS: PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS

If you're more into antiques than intoxicants, look no further than Dealers, a.k.a. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. Each episode features professional, secondhand maestros who peruse yard sales, swap meets, and auction houses with a set budget, searching for a collection of items that will be compared to the hauls of fellow/rival antique dealers. They see which heap of collector’s items could be turned around to be sold at a bigger profit. Will a Victorian tea kettle be enough to secure a victory? Stream all the available episodes to find out.

6. FOR FANS OF SHARK TANK: FOUR ROOMS

If Shark Tank featured family heirlooms instead of start-up business owners looking for cash, it would be Channel 4's Four Rooms. The show features high-profile collectibles dealers bidding big money for priceless pieces being sold off by willing contestants—with a reality show twist, of course. Each seller enters a succession of four rooms to sit down and pitch their luxury item to a different dealer. Once a dealer’s offer is declined, the contestant can’t go back to a previous room. So if the dealer in the second room offered £20,000 for the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock and the dealer in the fourth room only offered to put up £10,000, the seller either has to take that lower five-figure offer or walk.

7. FOR FANS OF THE INCREDIBLE DR. POL: THE BIONIC VET

If you’re a fan of the animal care techniques seen on shows like The Incredible Dr. Pol, but want to see what more cutting-edge technology would be like when saving the lives of animals in need, look no further than The Bionic Vet. The series follows veterinarian Noel Fitzpatrick, whose practice includes a team of over 100 vets in Surrey. They attempt to help animals whose problems are so serious that euthanasia is often the only suggested alternative. The Bionic Vet is not for the faint of heart, especially for animal lovers, but it’s that rare reality series where there’s a sense of genuine drama behind it all. Plus, where else will you get to see a Border Collie’s pelvis being rebuilt after it was hit by a car, or what a reconstructed barn owl’s wing looks like?

8. FOR FANS OF COPS: MOTORWAY COPS

Bad (British) boys, bad (British) boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when the motorway cops come for you? Police shows are a reality TV staple, but Motorway Cops puts the perfect British spin on the normal recipe of televised law enforcement. The series showcases highway patrolmen and women from different jurisdictions, like the Central Motorway Police Group, busting perps attempting such unlawful acts as stealing copper wire off main highways and drug trafficking along backcountry thoroughfares.

9. FOR FANS OF WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE: HEIR HUNTERS

Technically, Heir Hunters is a show about probate researchers contacting relatives of the deceased, and when you put it like that, it sounds like a bummer. But if you describe the series as investigators searching the world over to contact hidden heirs to potential fortunes, it becomes a lot more enticing. The show tracks the researchers, whose job it is to race against time and find long lost relatives who stand to be the beneficiaries of the estates of people who didn’t leave behind a will. If they aren’t around to collect, the leftover estate goes to the British Treasury. This kind of thing is usually a footnote or a means to push the story along in a fictional drama, but Heir Hunters also attempts to humanize this potentially sensationalized story for reality TV consumption. With plenty of twists and turns, it’s like a mini detective series that usually has a happy ending.

10. FOR FANS OF UNDERCOVER BOSS: EXTREME APPRENTICES: SLUM SURVIVORS

The questionable premise of this British series rivals something like Undercover Boss. But instead of putting the boss in the center of learning the true ways of their particular business, Extreme Apprentices highlights the workers on the bottom rungs of their particular professional ladder. Apprentices in technical jobs like plumbers or mechanics are transplanted from their British gigs and given the same job in places like Nigeria or Mumbai to see if they can last for 10 days. No whiners need apply, especially when you see how horrific the plumbing is in some places.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES