British Comedy: A Guide (Part II: The SitCom Tier 4)

Here’s Tier 4.  Things are getting into the wasting time arena.  And, thus, for these shows I would just skip it.  Like drugs, know that they’re out there, but when your friends suggest trying them out, just say no.  I know it’s tough to stay away from the hard stuff when everybody’s doing it, but if everyone turned on Benny Hill, would you watch?

Tier Four – If It’s On PBS, Don’t Flee, Just Walk

Are You Being Served? (1972-85)

I put this in Tier 4 for historical reasons only.  It is really set the mold for BritComs.  You have a set of characters set in a department store.  Officious Captain Peacock (Frank Thornton) runs the floor.  Equally officious Mrs. Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) heads the women’s department with Ms. Brahms (Wendy Richard) of the common persuasion.  A series of old men, the first being Mr. Grainger (Arthur Brough), heads menswear with effeminate Mr. Humphries (John Inman) (left) his junior and the lascivious Mr. Lucas (Trevor Bannister) the most junior.  Mrs. Slocombe has a cat, which she generally refers to in the ridiculous double-entendre. Mr. Humphries minces so aggressively with cocked wrist that it should be categorized as a hate crime.  They get themselves into ridiculous situations and have a series of catchphrases and inflating breasts to cope with them.

To say that I hate it would be an overstatement.  But it’s a level of cheapness in comedy that is difficult to stand.  As a child, basically I laughed with the audience at the silliness.  Now, though, I don’t even find it charming at all.  When you ask what the alternative comedy movement was alternative to, watch Are You Being Served? and you’ll get a good idea.

Black Books (2000-04)

This show is basically about a not too nice book seller, Bernard (Dylan Moran), and his adventures with co-worker Manny (Bill Bailey) and his friend Fran (Tamsin Greig).  Bernard doesn’t like people and attempts to get him out don’t necessarily meet with success.  This show is co-written with Graham Linehan (of The IT Crowd and others) and it certainly has that flavor of SitCominess–that is a situation with characters and watching them go.  That sort of approach to television surprises me since the people involved don’t seem to be the particularly jolly people that you might expect.  You say the characters are gloomy and angry, but that’s in a way secondary to the formulaic approach to creating a show.  I think there’s a paradox there.

I haven’t seen too much of this show, but I know it is available on Hulu and in Region 1…wait, what?  I think I know, let me count…one, two, three…no one who has seen this show, let alone enjoyed it.  That’s not to say I know a great many people, but they’re keen.  Well, wait.  That can’t be true because I don’t remember stumbling upon this show at any time, so someone must have said something.  Well I rue the day!  Not really, it’s pretty funny.  I just think you can do better.  Say it with me, “I’m better than the Gap.”  Great movie.

Coupling (2000-04)

Here’s a show I know very little about and I’ve seen possibly two episodes.  This is billed as the British version of Friends.  Stupid twentysomethings running around town trying to get, keep, or get rid of girl/boy friends.  Oh, there’s so much tension.  Are we going to get together?  Oh, shut up.  Yeah, so just like Friends.

Man, I hate Friends.  Well, I hated Friends until I found out that No, in fact, “Reality” TV was the real opiate of the masses that slowly dragged expectations and plot into the celler and tortured it without even the bitter taste to give them puzzles in the vague hope that they might escape their doom.  Too much Peep Show.  You can walk away from this show because nothing will happen that might do you an injury at any speed greater than a walk.

Father Ted (1995-98)

Another Graham Linehan show.  Hey, it’s about three priests and a lady.  One priest stupid and the other is a criminally insane alcoholic.  The third is just kind of hopelessly going through the motions of being the only sane priest in town.  This one, unlike the others, doesn’t actually have the kind of charm that makes it worth watching.  That’s funny because it’s basically an Irish Catholic version of Vicar of Dibley without the sense of place and a greater degree of extreme violence and mayhem.  Kind of like The Young Ones meets Vicar of Dibley.

You’ll notice I don’t have a bit about The Young Ones because I can’t be bothered to actually watch it.  They got a lot of previews on the VHS tapes of Blackadder I used to watch and I can’t say it had much to recommend it.  Like AbFab, but more manic.  For similar reasons, you won’t see anything about The Mighty Boosh.

Gavin & Stacy (2007-10)

Here’s a show that has a little charm to it–but doesn’t really have enough else.  Gavin (Mathew Horne) is from London, friends with Smithy (James Corden).  Stacy is from Wales (Joanna Page) and is friends with Nessa (Ruth Jones).  Gavin and Stacy fall in love over two episodes and then decide to get married.  It’s got an interesting tone for the show because it’s funny but without the audience to confirm.  It also seems to be filmed with one of the cheapest cameras they could find.  The episode goes along for a bit, ends, then starts right up like it’s a really long and poorly constructed movie.

It’s in Region 1, of course it is.  In the infinite wisdom of whoever makes these decisions, Girl-Meets-Boy premise beats actually funny execution every time.  If only men controlled the world, then we’d see some really good telly.  Oops.

Hyperdrive (2006-07)

This show doesn’t really get off the ground for me.  I tried as hard as I could for the benefit of Nick Frost and Miranda Hart, but it just didn’t happen.  Frost is the captain and thinks he’s Kirk, Hart is in love with him for some reason, and Kevin Eldon plays a semi-lunatic.  While Red Dwarf has a consistent charm and enjoyable characters, Hyperdrive relies on murmurs and the occasional gag.  But there are monsters and pompous attempts to be ambassadors of humanity to get through.

Really that’s all there is to it.

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 4)

  1. SW/AWW says:

    Really enjoyed your reviews, though I confess to a few quibbles. I would definitely have put Father Ted on a higher tier–same with Black Books and The Thick of It.
    I wouldn’t suggest you rush to The Young Ones; while it’s funny, it is definitely reflective of its time.
    Any thoughts on Not Going Out or the Inbetweeners?
    Yours,
    Agatha
    Everyone Needs an Algonquin

    • Thank you for enjoying. I’ll say Black Books and The Thick of It may well move if I watch more of them. I own series 1 of The Thick of It and Black Books, as I say, is on hulu. But Father Ted is very unlikely to move–just too silly.

      As for Not Going Out or the Inbetweeners, I haven’t seen them as yet. They look great, though, I’ll put them up as soon as I see them.

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

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