British Comedy: A Guide (Part II: The SitCom Tier 2)

Yesterday was the top tier of British SitComs.  This is Tier Two, which means these shows may not be classics, but they’re so much fun that they’re a must-see if you want to be satisfied that you’ve tried out the best.  You may not be fully literate after you’ve seen them, but, really, do you want to have to see all that dreck just to know what’s good and what isn’t?  You’re not one of those idiots who thinks Good can’t exist without Evil, are you?  Don’t be such a wanker.  Too much Peep Show, far too much Peep Show.

Tier Two – Buy It, or At Least Borrow It From the Library As Soon As Possible

The IT Crowd (2006-10)

Nerds.  Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and Moss (Richard Ayoade) are nerds in the IT department of Reynholm Industries.  They are placed in the basement and are given that level of respect.  Jen (Katherine Parkinson) is hired to lead the team despite knowing nothing about computers.  That is, she’s there to be the office idiot–i.e., the audience.  They get into some crazy spots and they’re very nerdy.  That’s basically the show.

There’s something about the show that gives off the impression of broad comedy such that I feel like I shouldn’t like it.  And yet, somehow I hang in there and everything pays off.  Of all of the shows mentioned so far (and well down the list), this has some of the weakest performed dialogue on a regular basis.  Not all lines are going to come off in every show, there’s no question, but Jen probably falls down the most on the delivery.  Or is it that she delivers the lines like a hay-maker so that you can’t miss the meaning.  It’s not every line, but it is every line that is ponderously contrived, like when she kerblams the name of the episode as if to say, “Get it?”

Again, surprisingly, I really enjoy this show.  Nerdy references and getting no respect just resonates with me.  I should also point out that their antics and their styles have a great deal of charm.  Then you get this–hey that’s Graham Linehan screaming.  I started on Series 2 Episode 1, so I might suggest you do the same.

Available in region 1 and on Netflix Instant.

Miranda (2009-10)

Miranda (Miranda Hart) is a very large young woman who has some difficulties in wooing Gary (Tom Ellis).  Her friend/co-worker Stevie (Sarah Hadland) is not always a help.  Her mother Penny (Patricia Hodge) certainly isn’t.  But can you really help someone with a serious balance problem and being gigantically tall?  But really the show is about being a little (or a lot) awkward and knowing it.  Miranda will turn to us/the camera and just ask us “What am I doing?” either in words or pure facial expression.

That’s what makes the show work despite being ‘what I call’ in the classic mold.  That includes catchphrases that aren’t particularly funny in themselves, liberal prat falls, unbelievably overwrought situations, and a level of personal violence that wouldn’t go unmentioned.  I would probably say that if you liked Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), then you’ll like this show.  If you act like an idiot, you can make some people laugh.  If you act like an idiot and ask us why you did it, you make us all laugh.  Well worth the time.

You’ll only find this in Region 2.

Peep Show (2003-)

Mark (David Mitchell) lives with Jeremy (Robert Webb).  Mark is an office drone, incredibly awkward, and relatively obsessed with World War II.  He also is trying to get close to Sophie (Olivia Colman) and that leads to distressing awkwardness–and I mean distressing awkwardness, as in, “No, Mark, stop doing that, no, you’re going to…you’ve been caught.”  Jeremy is trying to be a pop star with Super Hans (Matt King), thinks he’s quite hip, and constantly has girl problems–he’s not getting periods or anything, I mean he’s got problems with women.  To be clear.  Ultimately, though, Jeremy is still a kind of normal, just like Mark is a kind of normal.  It’s a bit hard to describe beyond that. It’s just really funny.  The most distinctive thing about the show is the incredible closeness of the filming.  The audience is very much with the characters.

This show is fantastic because we get to hear Mark and Jeremy’s thoughts.  Man do things get awkward, did I mention?  Now, be warned, of all the shows listed so far, this is easily the rudest.  In fact, there’s only one–The Thick of It (2005-)–that has more swearing.  I didn’t really do the show service, but I’ll say this, I’m watching the show right now and I’m laughing like a fool.

Spaced (1999-2001)

Tim (Simon Pegg) has been dumped and needs a place.  Daisy (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson) is a non-practicing writer who wants to leave the squat.  They meet in a cafe (and get along immediately) and find this perfect place that requires a “working couple.”  So they act as if they are.

Marsha (Julia Deakin) is the landlady.  Brian (Mark Heap) is an artist who has a special deal with Marsha.  Also, Tim’s got his best friend Mike (Nick Frost), who is pretty crazy and violent.  As you may be able to tell from the cover (not to the right, but if you click the link), these guys are serious fanboys and aren’t afraid of make some grand allusions to Star Wars and other nerdy stuff.  But ultimately, it’s all about the friends and the kind of shenanigans people get up to–well, not me, but I’m sure other people free animal test subjects.  Terrific.

Yeah, it’s got some weirdness, but that’s alright, just go with it.  Here’s a taste that I promise you’ll love: Gunfight (two scenes).  If you didn’t like that, I don’t want to know you.  It’s a bit on the cheap side as far as production values go, but that material is classic.

The Thin Blue Line (1995-96)

Inspector Fowler (Rowan Atkinson) is pretty uptight and his girlfriend Sgt. Dawkins (Serena Evans) has some trouble dealing with it–more than seems perfectly reasonable.  The rest of the station is filled with the stupid, the inane, or the stupidly inane.  Are they’re police officers.  Misunderstandings take place, disappointment in the slowness of the police work, and such are the mainstays of the show.

Doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, but it’s another Ben Elton show and therefore quite good.  What makes or breaks this show is your response to Constable Goody (James Dreyfus).  He’s the rather effeminate fella in the back.  He is so stupid and inane that he will either delight your or annoy you.  Those are really the only options.

This is a pure SitCom in the sense that it’s really about a situation (a police station) with a cast of basically 1.5 straight men (usually Fowler and Dawkins)–that’s in the comedy sense–and 5.5 oddities.  Much like Miranda and The IT Crowd, this is a show that gets by on a kind of witty charm alone and fights to overcome its established formula.

Vicar of Dibley (1994-2007)

There’s a new vicar in Dibley.  Geraldine (Dawn French) is a woman.  Dibley is the country.  That’s where strange people live.  She’s really cheery, but sometimes the incredibly dense residents can get on her nerves.  If only they weren’t so heart-meltingly charming and sympathetic.

That doesn’t really sound like an endorsement, it sounds painful and sarcastic.  Well, I’ve been watching Peep Show all day and that’s how I feel.  But I know that if I put on a little Dibley, then I’ll be happy and enjoy all these farmers’ crazy antics and stutters.  No, no, no, no, yes.  I like it.

WhitesWhites (2010)

Roland White (Alan Davies) is the executive chef at The White House, a up-scale restaurant in rural-ish England assisted by weak-willed sous chef Bib (Darren Boyd), persnickety manager Caroline (Katherine Parkinson), irreverent apprentice Skoose (Stephen Wight), and incredibly stupid waitress Kiki (Isy Suttie).

It does sound very heavy on the situation for a good British comedy, but the writing from Matt King and Oliver Lansley isn’t the kind of one-line machine you might fear.  No, this is your good ol’ slightly uncomfortable moments with roguish-to-criminally negligent characters brand of comedy.  It looks terrific (David Kerr) and the acting is pretty restrained.  It only went for one series ostensibly for costs which at less than a million per episode seems unlikely.  It’s a steal at Amazon.co.uk.


So that’s tier two of British SitComs.  Come back again to see as these shows get less and less enjoyable.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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3 Responses to British Comedy: A Guide (Part II: The SitCom Tier 2)

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

  2. 2manybooks says:

    Thanks for the link to Spaced- hysterical. It’s helpful to read about BritComs from a single source as opposed to, say, customer comments on Amazon. This way, if I’ve agreed with your description of a series I know, there’s a better chance I’ll like the others. Nothing like waiting a few weeks for a dvd from UK, popping it in the player and spending a few hours being bored (or shocked), occasionally yelling “5 stars?!? Really?” at the tv. Looking forward to the following tiers as you’ve covered most I’m familiar with.

  3. Pingback: British Comedy: A Guide (Part 2: The SitCom Complete Guide) | Prof. Ratigan

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