Lending a farm hand: Reboot of 'All Creatures Great and Small' airs on PBS

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Rachel Jones / TV Media
Nicholas Ralph stars in "All Creatures Great and Small"

Nicholas Ralph stars in "All Creatures Great and Small"

Hot on the heels of hits such as "Downton Abbey" and "Grantchester," PBS has done it again! There's a new bingeable British drama ready to warm your heart — "All Creatures Great and Small" is coming to the network on Sunday, Jan. 10, and is slated to follow the adventures and misadventures of a well-meaning veterinarian's assistant in Northern England during the 1930s.

The show is based on a series of semi-autobiographical books by James Alfred Wight (who wrote under the pen name James Herriot), which delved into his own life as a country veterinarian in Yorkshire during the '30s and '40s.

In a fairly unusual move, the lead role, James Herriot, named so for the author himself, will be played by newcomer Nicholas Ralph. Despite not having any previous on-screen credentials, it appears from the trailers that Ralph, who graduated from the highly respected Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama), is the perfect fit. As the story goes, Herriot is reluctantly taken on by the quirky Dr. Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West, "Mr Selfridge") to help with a rural veterinary practice's day-to-day responsibilities and gain some valuable new experience.

Rounding out the cast of main characters is Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley, "The Royal"), the resident housekeeper of Skeldale House, and the lovely and likable — albeit moderately less integral — Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton, "Hollyoaks"). But on a sadder note with regard to character news, the current remake is one of the last shows to feature actress Diana Rigg ("The Avengers"), who played the eccentric Mrs. Pumphrey in just two episodes before her death this past September.

All the action takes place in the breathtaking English countryside, which has become a character in its own right, but it looks like Herriot will be falling in love with more than just the pleasant farmland and attractive waterfalls in this series remake. It's pretty clear from the trailer that Helen has captured his attention, though her current boyfriend, Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," 2011), might have something to say about that.

In a bit of exciting news for PBS, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Masterpiece, the renowned series responsible for the new show. As Masterpiece fans continue to tune in as they have done for half a century now, "All Creatures Great and Small" is sure to draw many new viewers to the program as well, each of them eager to dive into the lives of its newest show's unique characters. Others tuning in to Masterpiece for the reboot may have fond memories of the original British television series, but rest assured that while the storyline remains more or less the same as its predecessor, no one should expect to see an exact replica of it.

Rachel Shenton as seen in "All Creatures Great and Small"

Rachel Shenton as seen in "All Creatures Great and Small"

"It's a completely new adaptation," Ralph said in a recent interview with The Irish News. "The storyline will not be the exact same." And although many longtime fans loved how the earlier version played out, the writers of the reboot decided to branch out in a new direction and generate some new anticipation and excitement. That being said, fans of the original series or the books will find no reason to stress as the producers have taken a great deal of care to handle the new material with the same empathy and sensitivity as always.

The original series, which ran sporadically between 1978 and 1990, featured Christopher Timothy ("EastEnders") as Herriot, Robert Hardy ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," 2005) as Siegfried Farnon, Mary Hignett ("Doomwatch," 1970) as Mrs. Hall, and Carol Drinkwater ("A Clockwork Orange," 1971) as Helen Alderson. Also based on the same series of books, the later episodes — from the late '80s into 1990 — picked up where the initial story left off, expanding upon the already exhausted source material that Wight's books had to offer. With Wight's permission, the show's producers were able to create their own material, thus giving birth to a second series. All in all, 90 episodes of the series aired, going on to become very popular with many countries outside the U.K. as well, including the United States.

One of the reasons that the original show was so popular both in the U.K. and, later, in North America is because of its strong emphasis on community. The slower pace of life in the '30s and '40s, paired with era's deep sense of community, reminded viewers of a simpler time; one when banding together was preferable to pushing each other apart. And for what it's worth, the critics liked it, too.

The original show garnered several awards, including a Peabody Award in 1981, several British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards and nominations in the categories of Best Drama Series in 1979 and Best Actor for Robert Hardy in 1980.

The new series of "All Creatures Great and Small" has already aired in the United Kingdom and has been received positively by both viewers and critics — it has even been renewed for a second season! If you're thinking that (as the British say) the show is not your "cup of tea" — think again and give this sweet show a chance to show you that it's made from good stock.

Watch your favorite characters come to life as "All Creatures Great and Small" premieres Sunday, Jan. 10, on Masterpiece on PBS.