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You know what they like in Sweden?

No, that's not a set-up for a punchline. I'll tell you what they like in Sweden: It's Mr. Robot. The critically acclaimed paranoid thriller was the most-watched U.S.-made TV show in Sweden this year.

I know this because Vulture, the online offshoot of New York magazine, recently ran an excellent series of articles called The Ratings Game. It looked at how the U.S. TV industry works, what a hit is and how it gets to that status. One piece, The Most Popular U.S. TV Shows in 18 Countries Around the World, made for interesting reading. In Canada, we love The Big Bang Theory and ditto for Australia. In Britain, Homeland is still huge because it airs on Channel 4, not on cable or a satellite provider.

There is, of course, more to TV than what the American industry creates and sells. Here, a lot of people would pass on Big Bang if a good British comedy were available. We love our Britcoms and so does much of the world.

Take Doc Martin (Vision, 9 p.m.), which returns Wednesday night. And you might wonder why. I mean, hasn't this thing been going for years and years, wearing out the same old plot line?

It's still about Dr. Martin Ellingham (Martin Clunes), who harrumphs his way through life as the local doctor in a Cornwall village. The comic twist is this: Dr. Martin was a successful surgeon in London, but developed a phobia: He couldn't stand the sight of blood. So he relocated and now ministers to the yokels in the village of Portwenn, but avoids blood. The plot has been the same since it started airing in 2004. The only variation is the doctor's occasional longing to move back to London, or a hiccup in his romantic life.

When this new season opens, the doctor is solo. His missus is in Spain for the weather and to see her mother and has taken the kid with her. Also, she's there "to get some perspective on their marriage," and Martin is supposed to see a therapist for the sake of their relationship. He's formidably cranky, among other things.

Mind you, if the character were to see a therapist who cured what ails him, there would be no series. As it is, the series rests entirely on Clunes and his ability to be a character who is both a brilliant doctor and clueless about most other things in life. He does cranky with aplomb.

That's the appeal, right there. All the other characters are rather thinly drawn and are either fools or lovable con artists. Unlike The Big Bang Theory, which faces the challenge of its characters aging and thus being less plausible, Doc Martin could go on for years because as he gets older, our ornery hero can get even more plausibly grumpy.

The appeal of Doc Martin will remain a mystery to many. After all, we live in a era of excellent, sophisticated TV when a drama such as Mr. Robot appears out of nowhere and deals with important issues, such as storytelling itself, in a precise and provocative manner. But Doc Martin has an enduring appeal. Among its fans, by the way, is Sigourney Weaver, who turns up in a guest role later this season.

And a certain writerly respect for the kind of entertainment that Doc Martin embodies is gaining ground. Nick Hornby's most recent novel, Funny Girl, is mainly about this type of television – light comedy that is powerful in its ingenious delicacy. The novel is a defence of the genre.

In fact, a key scene in the novel is a debate on BBC TV about the value of populist entertainment. Clearly, populism wins the debate and the entire novel is a tribute to the skill that goes into creating it.

That's fair enough. The Swedes are super-cool in their appreciation of Mr. Robot, but there's a nobility in Doc Martin, too, and nobody should be ashamed of enjoying it.

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