TV review: ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ series a thoroughly charming addition to PBS Masterpiece

This winter, one of my favorite times of the week has been Sunday nights. No matter how cold or dreary it is outside, or how stressed I am about work on Monday, I know I’ll be getting a new episode of the TV series All Creatures Great and Small on PBS. I go down to the basement, cuddle up with my cat under a warm pile of blankets, and settle in for a nice, cozy hour of feel-good TV. 

You’ve probably already heard of the series of books this show is based on, written by British veterinarian James Herriot (although technically, the author’s real name is James Alfred Wight; “James Herriot” is a pen name). The new TV show takes place in 1930s Yorkshire in a charming village called Darrowby. James Herriot (played by newcomer Nicholas Ralph) is a young veterinarian fresh out of school and is thrilled to be starting his new career. 

His enthusiasm is dampened by the somewhat prickly exterior of his employer, Siegfried Farnon (played by Samuel West). Siegfried can be strict and demanding (not to mention difficult to work with), but he comes to respect the dedication James has for his work, and the two end up becoming good friends. 

Throughout the first season of this series, James gets to know the residents of Darrowby. While they’re suspicious at first of a new vet, they come to trust him and care for him as one of their own. Darrowby may be a small town, but there’s never a dull moment, as the team of veterinarians tries to provide the best possible care for a wide variety of animals: dogs, cats, chickens, cows and whatever else happens to wander through the door. 

All Creatures Great and Small feels like the television equivalent of sitting down with a steaming cup of tea on a cold day and chatting with a friend you haven’t seen in a very long time. It’s gentle and heartwarming in a way that feels authentic rather than forced. As much as I loved the juicy drama of Bridgerton and the high-intensity action of The Mandalorian, sometimes it’s nice to settle in with a simpler, slower-paced series that fills you with this warm and fuzzy feeling. 

As a main character, James is the perfect sort of everyman to guide us through this story. While I don’t have any experience as a vet myself, I can relate to James’ struggles to prove that he’s worthy of his new job, and the compassion he feels towards both the animals he treats and their owners. 

Last year, the Netflix reality TV series Tiger King showed us some of the worst attitudes people can have towards animals and their care. One of the details that is so charming about All Creatures Great and Small is the affection the vets and the owners have for the animals. One family in the show is nearly in tears after one of their farm animals is diagnosed with a potentially fatal medical condition, and it’s lovely to see the joy on their faces when James comes in and saves the day. 

The show has plenty of colorful side characters, including housekeeper Audrey Hall (Anna Madeley), who is one of the few people who can actually keep Siegfried in line, and Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), Siegfried’s mischievous younger brother. 

There’s also a lovely cameo appearance from the late Diana Rigg as the wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey, whose lapdog Tricki Woo presents a number of challenges for James. It now stands as one of her final performances, and she is, as always, a delight.  

My only complaint about this series is that the first season has only seven episodes, the last of which is scheduled to air on PBS this coming weekend. It doesn’t feel like nearly enough time to spend in the village of Darrowby, especially when so much about the real world still seems off balance. Never fear, it has already been renewed for a second season!  

If you love historical dramas or animals or are simply in need of a little cheering up, I highly recommend All Creatures Great and Small. 

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