There is a coronavirus factor when it comes to TV. People are watching more than ever, looking for good, smart shows, of course, but also sometimes looking simply for ESCAPE ― escape from lockdown, escape from the fear of getting COVID-19, escape from the grief for those who’ve died of it, escape from the economic effects of it, and, of course, escape from a political world that remains unstable. A show can be good, or merely good-ish, or even bad-ish (see: “Emily in Paris”), but if it successfully takes you out of the here and now for a few hours, it has done its job for now.
Which brings me to “All Creatures Great and Small,” a current PBS “Masterpiece” series based, like an earlier BBC series, on the books by Alf Wight (published under the pen name James Herriot). The Sunday night show on GBH 2 — six episodes and a Christmas special — more than does a good job of taking you far away from the present tense. It falls into the category of good-ish, as well as picturesque (no ish), wholesome, and utterly soothing. It’s easy on the soul and on the eyes, as it follows a veterinarian in the 1930s practicing for the first time in the spectacular English countryside. The show is a veterinary procedural, but it’s also about decency, humanism, and love.
Nicholas Ralph stars as the shy James, who winds up working for and living with a tough-loving, exacting, and ultimately kind vet named Siegfried (Samuel West). Siegfried, still grieving his wife, makes the book-smart James work hard, and so do the local farmers, who aren’t accustomed to younger faces and new methods. Before long, Siegfried’s carefree brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), also a new vet, joins the household, which is run by the affectionate Mrs. Audrey Hall (Anna Madeley). The four form a family of sorts, with all of them developing romantic attractions of some sort. (The late Diana Rigg does make a brief appearance in the series, by the way, as a dog owner.)
People helping animals, people quietly falling in love, people romping through the green dales, people valuing honor … it’s all lovely and comforting. It will transport you to a world far from our own, a place where character and service matter. And unlike a few recent “Masterpiece” series, a second season is guaranteed; it has already been renewed.