Though the weather (and, let’s be honest, the current state of the world) may paint a different picture, there are pockets of light shining through this dismal season and difficult time. Enter All Creatures Great and Small, a charming, guileless program about James Herriot, a young Scottish veterinarian surgeon who moves to the English countryside to join a veterinary practice. The cast of characters and stories represent very real people, and you’ll find not one scintilla of contempt in this show. And with season 2 coming out this Sunday, it’s the perfect time to introduce your family to this delightfully hope-inspiring show.
When All Creatures Great and Small debuted in the United States in January 2021, it was a dark time. No, really, just scroll through Twitter (don’t scroll through Twitter), or look outside at 4:30 in the afternoon — both literally and metaphorically speaking, darkness suffocated the new year and made hope feel almost impossible. But when All Creatures Great and Small premiered on PBS’ Masterpiece series — also the purveyor of such celebrated British fare as Downton Abbey and Call The Midwife — it felt like a burst of oxygen suddenly supplied to my starving system. The show’s total sincerity, lack of cynicism, and genuine good feeling felt like a much-needed antidote for our current times, and a year later, it still feels like exactly what we need.
Inspired by the works of James Herriot (pen name of James Alfred Wight), the TV adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small grew from a successful series of eight books of the author’s stories about his own veterinary work, and has previously been translated into a 1975 film and a 1978 BBC series that ran for 90 episodes before the current Channel 5 iteration that started its run last year. The second season of the new version premieres this Sunday, January 9, and it’s one you’ll want to dive into with as many family members as you can (safely!) gather.
One of the elements that makes this show so special to watch is its lack of antagonist, something creator and writer Ben Vanstone has previously addressed.
“I made a rule quite early on in the process that I don’t think there are any villains in this piece,” Vanstone told IndieWire in February 2021. “You have to find that drama in a different place. And I think that having that restriction, in many ways, forces you to be more inventive with how you express these characters’ conflicted emotions.”
He pulled it off: Look across the sprawling green fields, through the barns and sheds, but you’ll find not one character in this series who harbors any ill will that’s carried throughout the batch of episodes. But a lacking antagonist doesn’t mean the show is without compelling storylines or intrigue: the writers and actors of the series are able to weave together, with clinical precession, the humanity we find in one another with that which we find in our four-legged friends.
Each new episode features James (Nicholas Ralph), his eccentric boss and mentor Dr. Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West), Farnon’s precocious younger brother Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), housekeeper Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), and more as they tend to the community’s animals. From farmhouses to grand estates, each new episode takes audiences to a destination, and on a journey to find the cure or antidote for whatever ails those creatures in need. With its lack of a true antagonist — save for the animals’ ailments and conflicts between characters — All Creatures Great and Small is a heartfelt, hopeful series the entire family can enjoy. During these few months of darkness, when slipping into apathy can afflict any child or adult, All Creatures Great and Small feels like medicine for the heart and an antidote to the season.
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