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10 Best PBS Shows – Best Shows to Stream on PBS
If you’re a true streaming warrior, surely you’ve studied up on the offerings available through heavy-hitters like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. But unless you’re really metal, you’re likely sleeping on one underdog streamer: our old pal PBS. Maybe you’ve written PBS off as a network for elderly folks, or perhaps you stopped loving public television after your Reading Rainbow days ended, but we’re here to tell you that you’re missing out. PBS has more to offer than just Miss Marple or Downton Abbey—in fact, the network boasts a vast library of sumptuous period dramas, mysteries, adventurous culinary programming, riveting documentaries, and more.
Here’s how to get your PBS fix. If you use a cable package or an antenna to access your local PBS station, you’re all set. But if you’re a cord cutter, you’ll need Passport, PBS’ streaming service. For as low as $5/monthly, you’ll get access to thousands of hours of content, including Masterpiece, NOVA, Nature, and countless other distinguished PBS series. And don’t ask if the bang is worth your buck because it is. PBS gets by with the help of viewers like you. Don’t you remember the PSA?
So what are you waiting for? An undiscovered country of top-notch programming is exactly what your ho-hum streaming routine needs.
Jane Austen’s final novel, left unfinished when she died in 1817, gets the small screen treatment in this winning adaptation. A chance encounter brings forward-thinking Charlotte Heywood to Sanditon, a seaside resort town staring down dramatic change, where she meets Sidney Parker, a gruff businessman with a secret heart of gold. With a luscious eye for romance and a biting, characteristically Austenian send-up of social strivers, Sanditon will please any period drama lover.
Based on a series of cozy mysteries by James Runcie, Grantchester is an old-fashioned whodunit. Our hero is Reverend Sidney Chambers, a handsome, jazz-loving, scotch-drinking Anglican priest in mid-century England, where he solves crimes in his pastoral parish alongside the gruff, overworked Inspector Geordie Keating. Sidney is compassionate, self-sacrificing to a fault, and above all, an excellent listener, which drives witnesses and criminals to confide in him with a confessional booth-style intimacy that local detectives can’t inspire.
From the producers of Downton Abbey comes a sexy, spirited historical drama about the first women to arrive in Jamestown, Britain’s first American settlement. After twelve back-breaking years building the colony, the men of Jamestown are eager to make subservient wives of these women, but Jamestown’s newest residents won’t go through marriage quietly. Charting both the degradation of women and our nation’s troubled colonial beginnings, Jamestown brings a socially conscious imagination to a familiar chapter in history.
Secrets of the Six Wives
Historian and PBS fixture Lucy Worsley takes us back to the life and times of Henry VIII in this gripping documentary series about the Tudor king’s famed six wives, but with a twist, shaping the story through the perspective of these beleaguered women. Through historical reenactments, Worsley deconstructs Henry’s framing of the narrative to reveal the real women behind the familiar mythology, who were smart, dignified royals, even if they were doomed.
If you like The Crown, you’ll love Victoria, a sweeping, majestic costume drama about the youth of one of England’s longest-reigning monarchs. The young Queen Victoria manages affairs of state in a rapidly-modernizing country, while also fighting the everyday sexism of advisors and ambassadors who believe that a woman cannot rule effectively. If you’re not sold yet, you’ll love the depiction of Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert—a steamy rendering of one of history’s greatest love stories that would scandalize the makers of The Crown.
Adapted from Hilary Mantel’s bravura Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall dramatizes Mantel’s first two books, following Thomas Cromwell’s meteoric rise from his humble beginnings as a blacksmith’s son to Henry VIII’s chief minister. Mark Rylance is a revelation in the delicious part of Cromwell, while a young Claire Foy dazzles as doomed Anne Boleyn. Sumptuously filmed and painstakingly detailed, Wolf Hall is event television at its finest.
World on Fire
Starring Helen Hunt, Lesley Manville, and Sean Bean, this epic World War II-era drama follows the intersecting lives of ordinary civilians, from a translator smuggling his Polish lover into England to an American war correspondent fighting censorship in Germany. Harrowing and deeply felt, World on Fire reminds us that not all war stories need unfold on the frontlines.
America’s Test Kitchen
Even fairweather PBS watchers have likely binged The Great British Baking Show ever since it became a Netflix sensation, but behind every smash hit is a precursor that’s been changing the game all along. GBBO’s forerunner is America’s Test Kitchen, a long-running program offering everything from step-by-step recipe demonstrations to cooking equipment reviews. Twenty-one seasons in, this veteran cooking show is the most-watched culinary program on public television, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Before she was Beth Harmon, Anya Taylor-Joy was Nella Brandt, a young Dutch bride who receives an extravagant wedding gift from her absentee husband: a dollhouse replica of their lavish home. When tiny furnishings arrive from the local miniaturist, Nella grows increasingly alarmed by their resemblance to the items in her new home, as well as their ability to seemingly foreshadow the future. The Miniaturist blends the trappings of a period drama with the mesmerizing undertow of a psychological thriller, making for a singularly unusual series.
Set during the twilight of the British Raj in 1932, Indian Summers charts the birth of modern India in Simla, a sleepy tourist town where British power brokers and Indian freedom fighters collide. Juxtaposing India’s emerging independence against Britain’s desperate attempts to maintain power, Indian Summers is a gripping political thriller that never skimps on any of the soapy, steamy character intrigue we expect from a costume drama.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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