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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.

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Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
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Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
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In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
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Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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