British Comedy: A Guide (Part II: The SitCom Guide)

Looking over Comedy.co.uk and its list of comedies can be a little daunting–perhaps more daunting for me, as someone who takes themselves to be pretty knowledgeable of the genre.  Well, I’ll see if I can’t cut through some of that for you.

Guidance

A SitCom, or situation comedy, generally means that there is one general set-up.  “This show’s about a [kind of character] in a [place where it oughtn’t be].”  The character is someone who fills a role we either know well (works in an office) or for which we have strong preconceptions (vicars/priests).  The place is generally where the contrivance begins to show itself.  “It’s a priest on Mars.”  The show is in a half-hour slot, which in Britain actually means something approaching thirty minutes, whereas in America it generally means twenty.

When you go approach a British SitCom, it must always be with care.  It is unfair to judge the show only after the pilot or premiere and find you don’t like it.  It is probably too fair to watch an entire season having found every episode disagreeable.  Baby Bear–or is it Goldilocks–would watch two or three episodes to be sure of it.  That’s somewhat superfluous advice because I’m about to list a couple dozen shows and tell you what to think about them.  But, assuming that new shows will be made or that it is possible to disagree with me (not likely), then the Two/Three Rule stands as useful.

What to expect?  The unexpected.  But now that you expect that, it’s probably the expected that you should expect.  Or, wait, now…forget it.  As I mentioned in the Introduction, BritComs have spectacular range and so it is true that you have to take each show as it comes.  Some will rely more so on falling down or being hit by things.  Others will simply use the weight of their words to tickle you.  Others will just be too damn close to reality to need any such devices.

But there is one very interesting commonality that is a surprise to most American viewers and that is the amount of episodes that make up a season (or “Series” as they like to call it).  A single season consists of six episodes.  That will often mean that the show is better thought out and consistently strong.

The Guide

It’s taken me all sorts of time to think about how to organize this list of shows.  As you will see in my next posts, I have the show, a blurb, and the nearest thing I come to a rating.  So, do I do it alphabetically, by subgenre, or in absolute order of preference?  Each has its difficulties–mostly involving me spending more time than is reasonable.  I think that the best way about it is to present them in tiers of quality.  Again, as you may be so foolish as to disagree in the appreciation of humor, you might find these shows out of place.  Then I suggest you calibrate your philistinity to my system and take the recommendations as condemnation and vice-versa.  BFI TV 100, you’ve been warned.  Pressing on…

…tomorrow.  I found that as I wrote out these comments on each show, that the article got up into the 2000 word count.  That’s like seven real pages.  It’s probably fairer to you (and especially to me) if I separated each of the tiers into their own articles.  They will be, aptly, Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4, and–you guessed it–Tier 5.

Well, until next time.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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3 Responses to British Comedy: A Guide (Part II: The SitCom Guide)

  1. Musha Slater says:

    British comedy sometimes do seem unusually unexpected and have extremely bad luck. One show that I like is Keeping Up With Appearances but I can’t seem to imagine meeting someone like Mrs. Bucket (pronounced Bouquet). Is someone with that kind of attitude really exist? Seems over the edge, if you ask me. Anyways, I guess that it why most British sitcoms when adapted for American versions don’t get good ratings because Americans give more thought than British who are used to laughing to silly situations that present itself in their sitcoms.

    • I’m not sure that successful American sitcoms can be accused of requiring much in the way of presence of mind or being more closely chained to reality. But there are certainly societal differences–the relative lack of conscious class destinction in the US being a large one–that might hamper translation.

  2. Pingback: British Comedy: A Guide (Part 2: The SitCom Tier 1) « Prof. Ratigan

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