Brits have it pretty good when it comes to streaming. Alongside all the paid-for options, they also get BBC iPlayer, a totally free and very user-friendly service that delivers tons of quality TV, available ad-free to absolutely anyone.
Compared to those in the US and other countries, that means you can realistically get by without paying for any streaming service like Netflix and still have a huge range of shows to watch – from kids content to weighty dramas, reality shows to classic films and a healthy dose of British comedy, all alongside streams of the live BBC channels.
So, if you're stuck with too much choice to make a decision, here we'll be running down the best shows on BBC iPlayer available right now.
- The best US only Netflix shows, as well as UK and other-region exclusives
- Here's how to watch BBC live anywhere
- Stay up to date with our VPN testing: Which VPNs work with Netflix
Watching BBC iPlayer outside the UK
ExpressVPN is our #1 recommendation for accessing the best shows on BBC iPlayer outside the UK. With excellent speeds, unrivalled location spoofing power and easy-to-use apps, it's the perfect choice for watching iPlayer anywhere. Plus, Tom's Guide readers can now claim three months free on any 12-month plan.
If you're not currently in the UK, you'll notice that you won't be able to watch anything on iPlayer. This is because the BBC blocks access for those in other countries due to distribution rights of its shows.
However, if you've left the country on a work trip or holiday and still want to keep up with the best shows on BBC iPlayer, there's a handy workaround to get access.
All you need to do is sign up to a quality iPlayer VPN and then connect to a UK VPN server. By doing this you'll trick iPlayer into thinking you're still in the UK, meaning you can watch whatever you want, wherever you are.
There are a couple of things to note, however. First up, to watch the BBC you're required to pay the TV Licence fee, and using a VPN predictably goes against iPlayer's terms and conditions – so bear that in mind when you're watching abroad.
The best shows on BBC iPlayer
I May Destroy You
Michaela Coel's surreal tour de force is a powerful, affecting and deceptively funny exploration of the Me Too movement, race, sexuality, and millennials at large trying to make it in the 'real world'. Following burgeoning social media personality and reluctant author Arabella (Coel) after she is drugged and raped at a club, I May Destroy You documents her coming to terms with the assault, her plans for revenge, and trying to rebuild her life along the way.
The Terror is a chilling and engaging adaptation of the 2007 Dan Simmons novel of the same name, which is a fictionalized account of Sir john Franklin's doomed expedition of the Canadian Arctic.
Although season 2 isn't available on iPlayer yet, season 1 is a self-contained story – the second instalment skips ahead over a hundred years to WWII. That means you won't be left on edge waiting to find out what happens to Franklin and his crew.
Executive produced by Ridley Scott (amongst others), The Terror is seriously compelling television, and now it's available for absolutely free on BBC iPlayer after a two-year stint of Amazon and AMC distribution.
If you haven't at least heard of Killing Eve, you'll want to get to know sooner rather than later. Based on Luke Jennings' Villanelle novels, Killing Eve follows sacked MI5 officer/newly recruited MI6 operative Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) while the captivating Villanelle (Jodie Comer) goes about her daily business as an assassin. Made even more compelling by the two scintillating leads, Killing Eve's story twists and turns, with the first series (written by Fleabag's Phoebe Waller-Bridge) being a real highlight. Keep an ear out for Comer's accent mastery too – you'd never guess she was a native Liverpudlian until you watch an out-of-character interview.
RuPaul's Drag Race UK
Ever watched RuPaul's Drag Race but wished the contestants embodied British icons like Katie Price and Scary Spice? Drag Race UK should have you covered. It's exactly what you think it is – a British version of the classic US Drag Race (albeit without the hefty cash prize) – and has proved incredibly popular even outside the UK. If you're looking for out-there personalities, essentially meaningless but infinitely quotable lines like 'nipples are the eyes of the face', plus RuPaul, Graham Norton and Alan Carr slating hapless hopefuls, Drag Race UK will be right up your alley. God save the Queens.
Line of Duty
For those looking for something a bit more serious, Jed Mercurio's Line of Duty should do the job. Over six series (the most recent airing as we speak), Anti-Corruption Unit 12 polices the police, busting bent coppers and making sure the long arm of the law stays on the straight and narrow. While the action is entertaining, the highlights of the show are the lengthy interrogation scenes, in which DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), DI Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) drill into suspects and uncover the truth.
Starting off with the first reboot series starring Christopher Eccleston, Doctor Who went from uncertain revival to world-beating success. If you're not sure of the concept (perhaps you're a Dalek), the Doctor is a time-travelling alien who interferes with evil and protects the innocent, usually with a human sidekick or two in tow. But we don't really need to tell you this – all you need to know is that every season of the twenty-first-century reboot is available for free on BBC iPlayer.
Developing from a French and Saunders sketch into a fully fledged bastion of British comedy with the addition of Joanna Lumley, Absolutely Fabulous details the exploits of two apparently successful women who really seem more interested in drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and recapturing their halcyon days than doing any work. Eddy Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) is consistently led astray by Patsy Stone (Lumley), and is very often the child in her relationship with daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha). It's 90s comedy at its finest, and subversive enough to stand its ground against modern competition.
Gavin and Stacey
A Christmas essential in the UK, Gavin and Stacey is available all year round on BBC iPlayer. US viewers might be more familiar with Smithy (James Corden) than they will be with Gavin (Mathew Horne) and Stacey (Joanna Page), but the series is a heartfelt coming together (or not!?) of two very different families – one from the very English Essex, and one from the very Welsh Barry. Co-writer Ruth Jones' Nessa is blunt but brilliant, and Rob Brydon's Bryn is is always entertaining to watch – and what really did happen on that fishing trip?
Death in Paradise
Easy to watch but deceptively clever, the sun-soaked Death in Paradise follows a series of British detectives (currently Ralf Little) as they investigate a seemingly endless number of fatal crimes committed on the fictional Caribbean Island of Saint Marie – think Midsomer Murders holding a rum punch. Supported by an excellent cast of local Saint Marie officers and detectives, Death in Paradise is an excellent way to chase away the lockdown blues.