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

Looking over 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.  Right this way…


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…

As you can see, this is a combination of all the prior posts on SitComs.  When I see a SitCom I hadn’t reviewed previously, it will be to this article that I shall add the entry.  What’s more, I will probably give the show its own review as well, but most likely only if it was very good or very bad.  In which case, follow me on Twitter and I’ll post these middling additions there.

Tier One – Buy It, Buy It, You Fool, Buy It

Blackadder (Series 2, 3, and 4) (1986-89)

Each series takes place in a different historical era with Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) and his faithful dogsbody, Baldrick (Tony Robinson)–or their descendants–as central characters. The comedy specializes in the elaborate simile and making fun of historical figures.  After the first series, they decided to change Edmund Blackadder from another one of the idiots to the cunning schemer who occasionally gets his own way.  The dialogue is sharp and witty and the characters are brilliant.  It also showcases some of the other wonders of the BritCom world in Stephen Fry (in the latter three series) and Hugh Laurie (in the latter two series).  Also, Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I is pretty much priceless.

This show is consistently good and entertaining for all.  It blends the best of British performance (including the physical side) with the wordier sort of British writing.  It’s also an allusion factory that teaches you history–of a sort.  Ben Elton is the co-creator and a part of the lengthy partnership with Atkinson.  One of the greatest.

Fawlty Towers (1975-79)

Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) runs a hotel on the seaside of Britain.  This he does with the aid of his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) and the help Polly (Connie Booth) and Manuel (Andrew Sachs)–he’s from Barcelona.  The service industry is tough work and there are, apparently, no end of troubles.  Improving the clientele, keeping the cook sober, not killing your nagging wife, dealing with builders, the list is endless.  Oh, and some kids seem to take endless pleasure in rearranging the letters in the sign out front.  Although I would class it in the zany category, it is a classic that is both physical and yet not low brow.  Basil is forever throwing tantrums, Sybil is always badgering him to fix something that’s gone wrong with the place, and Manuel is forever screwing up with his English or his duties.  I’m not sure what Polly is doing.  Working, I guess.

This show gets into the top tier mostly through popularity.  While it isn’t my favorite, I accept that it is probably one of the most accessible and lightly-entertaining.  A fine show.

Good Neighbors (1975-78)

The Goods, Tom (Richard Briers) and Barbara (Felicity Kendal), are breaking out of the system and going to farm suburbia in their attempt to leave the droning existence of modern middle class life.  Their best friends and neighbors are the Leadbetters, Jerry (Paul Eddington) and Margo (Penelope Keith) who are firmly in the mainstream.  Good Conservatives, Jerry’s an executive, Margo is in the musical society, that sort of thing.  They make it work.  In a way.  But for us, they make it work absolutely.  They’re the best friends you’ve ever fictionally had.

This is probably the best British SitCom you will ever see.  The characters and situations are so charming that words cannot describe.  At the same time, it is extremely literate, moving, and hysterically funny.  It really is an all-rounder.  It’s $23 on and free to stream if you’re a Prime Member.  Do yourself a favor, you won’t regret it for an instant.

Outnumbered (2007-11)

Pete (Hugh Dennis) and Sue (Claire Skinner) try to keep up with their three young children Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey), Ben (Daniel Roche), and Karen (Ramona Marquez).  Jake is a shyish adolescent going through that unpleasantness of puberty.  Ben is a chronic liar and walking disaster area.  Karen is the grand inquisitor asking the kinds of questions that parents dread–they may sound simple, but they call on a degree of knowledge most of us fail to have.  As odd as they are, calling them dysfunctional is probably both over and understatement, and they still seem to play the straight man to society.  There’s really no better social commentator than inquisitive children.  “Mum, why do…” is the phrase that should make us all shudder and wince.

It’s a strange thing, but to say this is the best family comedy I’ve ever seen doesn’t really do it justice.  Here’s a subgenre that should have loads of brilliant examples, but really only includes legions of mediocrities.  What separates this, I think, is both the fictional parents and the writers actually treat the children with respect.  You can tell that the writers have listened.  I think you’d be stumped to find another example.  Absolutely fantastic show and has the distinction of being watchable with the whole family (and everybody getting it).

This is the first show you will have to get on Region 2 DVD or, of course, by less official means.  The prices are so low, they’re insane, so you don’t need to go that far.

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.

By the way.  Series 4.  Best. Series. Ever.

Moved from Tier 2

Rev. (2010-11)

Rev. Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander) is trying to run St. Savior’s of the Marshes, a church in the bustle of London.  It’s a challenge.  The numbers are down and the only thing going for it is the church school, run by the lovely Ellie Pattman (Lucy Liemann).  The Rev. also gets support from the semi-psychotic Colin (Steve Evets), who I expected to be a severe annoyance, but his “Morning, Vicarage” turns out to be third only to Hollander’s charm and Liemann’s … uh … in things that make me consistently smile.  Well, I guess with Liemann it’s less of a smile and more of a leer.

The show is incredibly charming and Hollander is such a sympathetic character.  While its urban setting provides for some very un-religious activity, it is interestingly more concerned with religious questions than you might find in some other shows we could mention.  You will enjoy this, I guarantee it.

Season 1 on DVD in the UK (region 2) with Season 2 having aired and on DVD in the near future, presumably.

Thick of It (2005-)

Sometimes it’s nice to hear a string of incredible, inventive cursing once in a while.  Boy does Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) provide.  It’s like The Office meets an uncensored episode of Hell’s Kitchen.  Billed as Yes, Minister for the new century, the Prime Minister’s message man–a thinly veiled Alastair Campbell–Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) runs around enforcing his iron will on every idiot minister that gets in his way.  His way is broad and often changes course, so that can make things confusing for minions wishing to remain alive and free of teeth-marks.

To say that this is Yes, Minister for the modern century and for that modern century to implicitly mean PR and spin would be both to suggest the Civil Service is not the enemy anymore (and the media is) and that spin wasn’t around back then (and bureaucracy is just something Tories hate).  Both are terribly in error and I imagine the people who made the comparison either haven’t watched Yes, Minister, didn’t understand it, or confuse politics with government.  This show is about politics.  It’s so vicious and the government people are so spineless and inept that I get a little exhausted with it.  But it’s just so funny.

Moved from Tier 3.

Yes, Minister/Yes Prime Minister (1980-88)

Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) has won reelection and his party has gained a majority.  It’s time for the PM to dish out the prizes (ministries), so what will he get?  It’s the Department of Administrative Affairs, a graveyard of political ambition.  The head civil servant, Sir. Humphrey Applebee (Nigel Hawthorne), is a genius of obfuscation and delay.  Hacker’s personal private secretary, Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds), is a young civil servant with very seriously divided loyalties.  Hacker will want to do something, Humphrey will not want to do something, something will probably not be done.

I will admit that this is controversial for Americans (perhaps even for Brits, I don’t know)–it is easily the wordiest comedy I’ve ever encountered.  Myself, I say it is the best of them all.  It is sharp as a tack and dry as the finest ginger ale.  It is political humor that has virtually no reference to party political issues–so I guess that makes it government humor.  As Hacker says, “The Opposition isn’t the opposition…  They’re only the opposition-in-exile. The Civil Service is the opposition-in-residence.”  That joke, that one just there, is a kind of synopsis of the show.  Hacker has to deal with politics to stay alive and the Civil Service is there to give him as little help as possible.  Yes, you’ll have to strain a touch through the first episode, but from there on out, you will love the characters and take joy in the great game.  Also, the opening titles are, without a doubt, the best of all time.

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.

Not Going Out (2006-)

Here’s a show that I really shouldn’t like.  It’s a SitCom very much in the American tradition–three main characters with romantic pretensions between at least two.  In the first series, Lee (Lee Mack) lives with Kate (Megan Dodds)–Humina humina humina–who used to go out with Tim (Tim Vine).  Lee is a bit of a wastrel, but man is he good with the puns (which the other characters don’t usually like).  Tim is an uptight prude of an accountant.  Kate did something, publishing I think, but that doesn’t matter because she buggered off to America in between Series 1 and 2.  Then Lucy (Sally Bretton), Tim’s sister, moved in and bought the flat (with Lee remaining).  Also in series two, Barbara (Miranda Hart) started “cleaning” for them (usually breaking things).

I kind of preferred Kate to Lucy, though Lucy is really the stronger comedic actress.  It was much easier to believe that she might like Lee while I can’t really see Lucy ever standing him.  Still, the show is so full of puns I can hardly help myself.  If they aren’t your thing, well, you’re not going to enjoy this.  But if you do, then you won’t go wrong in picking it up.

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

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.  Series 2 only increases the soullessness.  “No more Mr. Niceguy.”

This show is incredibly 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?

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.

If the Giggle Loop is the best this show has to offer, then…it must not be very good.

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.

Tier Five – Flee, For Your Lives, FLEE!

Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2004)

Yeah, they’re drunk, such hijinx, oh shut up.  I actually am not familiar with the plot of the show, but I’ve seen it happening in front of me and I find it completely valueless.  Apparently, Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) is a PR agent who drinks, smokes, and does drugs.  Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) is a magazine editor who drinks, smokes, and does drugs.  They’re self obsessed.  They’re trying to stay young.  They pamper themselves.  This isn’t about people, this is about gesticulating and going far over the top.  Some people like comedies that are over the top.  Well, sometimes I do too, but they’ve got to be about something beyond…I don’t know, what is this?  The mundane world is perfectly fine and ripe with observational opportunities, but this is about fashion and PR in the most general way.  No references are made that make me laugh or even smile.  That’s probably because I’m not hip or fabulous.  Life goes ever on.

‘Allo ‘Allo (1982-92)

I’m incredibly surprised it lasted ten years.  The bloody war didn’t last that long! This show is about a French cafe owner, Rene (Gorden Kaye), who is in the middle of two wars.  One between the Nazis and the Resistance and one between his wife Edith (Carmen Silvera) and his paramour Yvette (Vicki Michelle).  The Nazis are a bunch of sweethearts, of course, except for the SS officer Herr Flick (Richard Gibson)–ha freaking ha.  Oh, and there’s the painting of the “Fallen Madonna with the big boobies” which people seem to steal from one another when they can’t think of any other plots to play with.

The show has one funny trick up it’s sleeve–when people speak French, they speak English in a French accent, when they speak English, it’s in an English accent.  When their accents don’t align, they can’t understand one another.  Pretty good.  Too bad the rest of it is full of catchphrases, zany farce, and organized stupidity.  I can’t stand this show.

As Time Goes By (1992-2005)

Here’s a show I just never got into.  Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer) and Jean (Judi Dench) were together briefly in the 1950’s.  They went their separate ways and almost 40 years later met up when Lionel was finalizing his book with the use of Jean’s secretarial agency.  Alistair (Philip Bretherton) is Lionel’s agent and he falls for Jean’s daughter Judith (Moira Brooker).  They…sit around and…talk and stuff.

Like I said, I never got into this show.  The premise was too mundane perhaps.  The characters too far outside my own sympathy.  Alistair, I remember, annoyed me a great deal.  He’s a kind of caricature business type who has virtually nothing in common with Lionel.  Maybe I just don’t get it.  That’s probably it.  Either way.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95)

That Bucket woman drives me insane!  I can’t take it.  If I’m watching this show longer than ten minutes, then I’m in a bad mood until I can cleanse my mind of its tension.  Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge) pronounces her name Bouquet–which is the worst running joke in the world.  She’s married to Richard (Clive Swift) who’s perfectly happy with the original pronunciation. He’s so hen-pecked I really can’t imagine how either of them have survived this long.  I’ll mind my fist right into your @#$%^& face!  She has two sisters: Rose (Mary Millar), a slag, and Daisy (Judy Cornwell), a waistrel married to the oaf Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes)

Last of the Summer Wine (1973-)

I feel a little stupid now that I’ve found out that the show is almost forty years old!  It’s age alone demands respect.  The show is about three men from Yorkshire who don’t act their age.  They get up to all kinds of hijinx.  Only one character, Norman Clegg (Peter Sallis), has maintained his role from the beginning.  That’s 40 years playing an old man.

My experience of the show is that of the feather-light entertainment sort. Wikipedia calls it “family-friendly.”  The situations don’t get too dirty, the language is G-rated, and the characters are completely non-threatening.  That to me, is a bit of a waste of time when you’ve got so much out there.  I’m not saying it’s all got to be Misfits (2009-), but the best comedy is human and humanity isn’t G-rated.  But if you do have the kiddos, you’ll find plenty to entertain them on this list.  Maybe that’s something worth considering.

This is my most circumspect rating of the lot.  First, it’s so long-running and I’ve seen so little of it that my opinion is of questionable value.  Second, apparently the cast has been completely reworked to have three relatively young characters as the main trio.  That’s got to alter the quality of the show.  But, whenever I watch it, I am instantly bored.  Usually it’s 10:30 pm, so that’s to be taken into account as well.

Mr. Bean (1990-95)

Nothing need be taken into account for this show.  I am pretty sure that I’ve seen every episode.  Now, I love Rowan Atkinson–no I’m not going to marry him, don’t be silly–but I hate this show.  Mr. Bean (Atkinson) is an idiot who goes around trying, failing, and then half succeeding to do things.  It can be quite frustrating.

If I was half the traditionalist I think I am, I would accept this show as a modern Buster Keaton routine and love it all the way.  I guess I’m not because this kind of physical comedy is only beneficial as an experiment.  His not talking is a consistent annoyance.  His social awkwardness is a constant annoyance.  That dumb look he’s pulling above is not charming.  It’s annoying.  Now, there’s a charm that comes across when he pulls off his little trick, whatever that happens to be, but man you’ve got to suffer to get there.  Not gonna do it.

Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)

Apparently, people think that this show is the best sitcom ever.  Perhaps one day I’ll watch it all and come to find myself a fool, but I have no memory of this show that comes close to convincing me of this.  The show follows Del-Boy (David Jason), his younger brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst), and their grandfather (Lennard Pearce)/Uncle (Buster Merryfield) and the constant attempts by Del-Boy to get rich.  Apparently, along the way, things get more dramatic and…I don’t care.

This show is so dopey that unless I find myself incredibly bored and nothing to do for days and every DVD in my collection thrice seen do I track down this show.  Not to mention it’s so ludicrously expensive, Del-Boy would blush.  I’m probably wrong to feel that way considering its acclaim, but I just can’t change the impression I got when I was a teenager.  That the show had nothing going for it outside of your typical sitcom attractions.

Open All Hours (1976-85)

Here’s another one that I just never liked.  Maybe it’s the classic double act of it all that I just don’t like.  Other two-man/person shows don’t have the expected pseudo-witty repartee with gags and punch lines.  The rhythm of it all just bores me.  This show is about a shop owner, Albert (Ronnie Barker), and his assistant Granville (David Jason).  Albert is in love with the Nurse Gladys (Lynda Baron) his fiancee.  Albert’s incredibly cheap.  Granville’s put upon by Albert, his uncle/guardian.  Oh yeah, and Albert’s got a stammer.

Here’s a sitcom for you.  A situation, the shop, and a comedy duo to make the action go from one joke to the next.  It’s not really a story so much as a set up.  The downfall of many a sitcom.

Notice how all of these shows are available in Region 1 and in complete sets (except for Last of the Summer Wine).  I find that annoying, like most of these shows.

To Watch

Please comment with recommendations (or anti-recommendations) for SitComs.  I will add them below:

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-79)

The Inbetweeners (2008-10)

People Like Us (1999-2001)

The Young Ones (1982-84).

About Prof. Ratigan

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

  1. Pingback: British Comedy: A Guide (Part 2: The SitCom Complete Guide) | Prof … - Classic British Sitcom Videos

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  7. Dave says:

    If you can’t appreciate Only Fools and Horses, then you really shouldn’t be appointing yourself the arbiter of quality in British sitcoms.

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