British Comedy: A Guide (Part II: The SitCom Tier 3)

This is Tier 3.  Now, I’ve started to realize that as these go down in quality, the desire for a novice to read about them probably loses some of its urgency.  Really, you’d just be reading to see how I can be cruel with as much wit as I can muster.  What kind of vicious, mean-hearted schadenfreuder would want to read that?  Oh.  Oh, you do.  Very well then.  That comes later.

Tier Three – You Should Borrow It, At Least Once

Absolute Power (2003-05)

This is about the harem scarem world of PR.  Things move fast.  Real fast.  Basically everyone is selfish, greedy, and play fast and loose with the truth.  It’s about PR.  Charles Prentiss (Stephen Fry) is probably the least ethical of the group.  That’s second to his partner Martin McCabe (John Bird).  The others are really just trying to get rid of their decencies as best they can.  The show basically takes one or two clients on, explains their deviancies, and gives us the best guess on what a soulless PR firm would do.  That includes fronting for a bunch of fascists.  What lovely watercolors.

I haven’t seen the second series as it doesn’t appear to be in print, at least not on Amazon and Amazon has everything–Region 2 only I’m afraid.  Still, I’ve seen the first series and it’s pretty darn funny.  The only problem is that things go so quickly that I haven’t a clue what they’re talking about sometimes–either substantively or what that word was, oh we’re somewhere else now.  This probably should be in Tier 2, for Stephen Fry alone, but decisions had to be made.  They just had to.

Benidorm (2007-)

So this is how the other class lives.  Or at least how they go on holiday.  It’s the all-inclusive folks.  It’s like Sandals is for Americans.  You know what that means, riff raff.  Typically overweight riff raff.  The show alternates between the crass and the truly disgusting.  Now, I’m a Johnny Vegas (pictured right) fan, but I don’t want to see him with his shirt off.  As a matter of fact, I’d rather not see a great many of these people as scantily clad as they are.  To start off the episode, often you’ll get a face full of speedo-encased junk on a 250-pound body.  Yeah, it’s kind of funny the first time, but I’m starting to gag.

It makes it out of Tier 4 because there are no laughs at the expense of people falling over–at least not in the first series.  That’s really enough for me.  I like crass and sometimes I like disgusting, so I’m not really that offended.  Turd in the pool?  Sign me up.  Sexy double-talk?  Yes please.  And the working-class humor–that is, humor at the expense of the working-classes being ill-mannered and generally stupid–works well in the show.  Mostly because of the accents.  Is that wrong?  Is that snobbery?  This is British Comedy, people.  It’s not like we don’t do the same with the southern twang.  Get over yourself.  You’ll live longer.  Just stay out of the sun.

Oh, and you won’t find this in Region 1.

Chef! (1993-96)

Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry) runs a French restaurant in England.  Yes, snobbery will have a strong presence in this show.  He’s married to Janice (Caroline Lee-Johnson) who tolerates him–most of the time.  But she’s money-conscious and he isn’t.  Most of the show takes place in the kitchen where Everton (Roger Griffiths) mucks things up on a regular basis and Lucinda (Claire Skinner–from Outnumbered, remember?) is sue chef (deputy, I guess).  Gareth is incredibly rude to people.  If he didn’t spend so much time just screaming, then this would probably be in Tier 2, but really the only question is how angry he will get this episode and what kind of bodily harm is he going to threaten Everton with today.  But really, it’s done so well that it’s right near the top of Tier 3 both alphabetically and by merit.

It is funny to note which shows get to Region 1 and which do not.  Typically, it has to do with whether PBS airs the show or not. Here, we have the benefit both of PBS and time.  But Absolute Power was also aired on PBS while The IT Crowd has not, and yet is rather popular over here.

Red Dwarf (1988-)

Another mainstay of PBS, Red Dwarf is an early spoof of the SciFi–there are no Y’s involved–genre.  But this doesn’t make fun of SciFi, it just is comedy in space–okay, maybe it does make fun just a little.  There are episodes that put it well in Tier 2, but the balance of it is well at home in Tier 3.  Lister (Craig Charles) does something naughty on the mining ship Red Dwarf and is penalized with a stay in stasis.  He comes out after a very long time to find that everyone on board was killed except for the cat whose descendants have evolved into The Cat (Danny John-Jules).  The computer, Holly (Norman Lovett and then Hattie Hayridge for reasons I don’t recall) has generated a hologram out of the person Lister has had the most interaction with: Rimmer (Chris Barrie).  Sadly, those interactions were not pleasant ones.  Much like the space adventures of old, these guys bounce around space getting into trouble with monsters of various kinds.

Again, this show almost gets itself into Tier 2 except that it just continued and continued into the weird–wait, Rimmer isn’t a hologram anymore?  Who are…?  We aren’t on the ship?  WTF?  Yeah.  Not sure.  But the early stuff is gold.

To the Manor Born (1979-81)

Audrey (Penelope Keith) has just lost her husband and has to move out of the manor and into a little cottage.  Who moves in but some new money foreigner, DeVere (Peter Bowles) who owns some sort of company.  There’s some tension there where they kind of like/love each other but have to wait until they run out of ideas and have to get married and so have to hate each other over misunderstandings and differences in world view.

Come on, it’s Penelope Keith, she’s fantastic.  It’s going to be charming and funny.  The nice thing is that it doesn’t really fit into the kind of one or two-set comedies that rely on the catchphrases and caricature.  Well, no more than one caricature/stereotype of Eastern European old women.  But hey, they have it coming to them, don’t you think?

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 3)

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

  2. Andy says:

    Father Ted!!!!! Not technically a Brit sitcom (Irish) but better than Lineham’s follow up (IT Crowd).

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