2021 hasn’t exactly been the magical reset we’d hoped it would be. Thank God for good television, then! If you’re looking to decompress, I have found the television equivalent of a calm in the storm. That tranquil oasis is All Creatures Great and Small, airing now on PBS.
The show is based on the immensely popular books by James Herriot, who chronicled his career as a British country veterinarian. If your childhood didn’t include these heartwarming and hilarious tales then I am deeply sorry. You missed out. They were favorites of mine, and now I read them to my children from the same illustrated children’s edition that my mother read to me.
But regardless of whether you’ve read the books, the show is perfection. Not just for the nostalgia, but from the absolute comfort it wraps you in. It’s a cup of tea, made just the way you like it; the scented bath that’s the perfect temperature. It’s the deep sigh while feeling the warm sunlight on your face. It’s classically, quaintly British, with the uplifting charm of Great British Bake Off minus the sadness of saying goodbye to a baker every week.
If a television show could smell like freshly baked bread and sprigs of lavender, it’s this one. And it’s exactly what I need right now.
All Creatures Great and Small is the wholesome palate cleanser we need
The show opens with our introduction to the mild mannered James Herriot in 1939. Gone is the unflappable, seasoned veterinarian of my childhood. In his place is a fresh-faced young man, newly graduated from veterinary school and rather unprepared for the dirty realities of country vet life.
He is expertly portrayed by newcomer Nicholas Ralph, who brings the necessary kindness and warm affability that makes Herriot so beloved. Trust me, watching him gently play with cats after having gotten accidently drunk will have you clutching your chest from the sheer preciousness. He also looks amazing in sweater vests.
The softest show on television
Another part of the show’s appeal is that it is visually gorgeous. Sweeping vistas, rolling hills, puffy white clouds in an endless blue sky ; the cinematography takes full advantage of the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales. The old farm houses, drystone walls, and green fields liberally sprinkled with sheep immediately transport you to a simpler time. It’s soothing and idyllic, as long as one studiously ignores the considerable abundance of mud and other… barnyard detritus undoubtedly mixed in with it.
In All Creatures Great and Small, this pastoral serenity is beset by only the mildest of perils, so harmless you could spoon feed it to a baby. It’s not neccesarily accurate, as I’m sure life in the 1940s had its fair share of troubles, but a welcome change from the turmoil and uncertainty in the real world. It’s a utopia of happy endings; the breech calf is successfully turned, the mislabeled cat correctly identified before being neutered. Even Siegfried, Herriot’s grumbling and capricious new boss, is only mildly vexing at his worst.
Seriously, this show is softer than a wobbly newborn Yorkshire lamb and I am living for it.
A cast with a few familiar faces
In episode one you meet James, his new boss Siegfried (Samuel West), Siegfried’s housekeeper Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), and Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), farmer girl/future love interest we all see coming.
Upcoming episodes will feature several familiar faces; Callum Woodhouse (Leslie from The Durrells of Corfu), Matthew Lewis (good old Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter films) and the incomparable Dame Diana Rigg (Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones), in her last onscreen role before her death last year.
If you have fond childhood memories of James Herriot, or just enjoy animals and low-stakes British dramas, then All Creatures Great and Small is a must watch. And this joy is not going to end anytime soon: after it aired in the UK last year to rave reviews, the show has already been renewed for a second season.
Watch All Creatures Great and Small Sundays at 9pm on PBS or on the PBS Masterpiece Theater streaming app.
All images courtesy of PBS
Food. Books. Naps. Deeply obsessed with Tolkien, Baby Yoda memes, and traveling as often and as far as possible. Determined to live in Scotland. Amateur historian. Professional stay at home mom. Rabid consumer of scotch, peanut M&Ms, and Reylo fanfic. Creator of possibly the best PB&J ever. A little too in love with Kylo Ren.