The Best of British TV: 10 British Comedies You Must See
Tired of the Same Old Shows?
Television in the Digital Age
In the past, Americans were lucky to catch a BBC-produced show occasionally on their local PBS station. Fortunately, those dark days are now behind us. Rejoice, for British television is now readily available!
We, as a society, are no longer at the mercy of whatever is currently being broadcast on our televisions. In fact, we no longer even really need our televisions. With the advent of YouTube, Netflix, Amazon instant video, and other streaming digital services, quality television shows from all over the world are now at Americans' fingertips. Here is a list of ten of the fine British comedies that everyone should see.
Pulling is a sitcom co-written and starring Sharon Horgan as Donna, a woman who works in an office and has just broken off her engagement. She moves in with Karen, an aggressive, promiscuous, alcoholic grade school teacher, and Louise, a naïve girl who keeps her head in the clouds while working a dead-end job in a cafe. The show follows the day-to-day adventures of these three single women living together in London.
Pulling ran for two series, 2006 and 2008, and concluded with a one-hour finale which aired in 2009.
9. Gavin and Stacey
Written by James Corden and Ruth Jones, Gavin and Stacey is a comedy about Gavin, an Essex boy, and Stacey, a Welsh girl, who fall in love.
While Gavin and Stacey are the primary focus of the series, the show's secondary storyline is what really stands out. It follows the rocky relationship between their friends Smithy (played by James Corden) and Nessa (played by Ruth Jones), who detest one another other, but have a succession of one-night stands, eventually resulting in Nessa becoming pregnant.
Gavin and Stacey ran for three seasons, from 2007-2010.
8. Peep Show
Peep Show is a Channel 4 sitcom about two flatmates, Mark (played by David Mitchell), who is financially stable but awkward and cynical, and Jeremy (played by Robert Webb), who is an optimistic, chronically unemployed musician. The show is filmed in an unconventional style, with the events of the two main characters' lives seen almost exclusively from their own points of view and voiceover providing their internal thoughts.
Peep Show first aired in 2003, and it is still running, with series 9 slated for release sometime in 2013.
The Ill-Fated Todd Margaret
7. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret
Is The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret British? Or is it American? It's actually both. This joint venture, set in England and starring an American (David Cross, from Arrested Development, who also co-wrote the show) in the lead role of Todd Margaret, aired in both the U.S. (on IFC) and in the U.K. (on RDF Television).
This comedy of errors follows our protagonist, Todd Margaret, from a menial desk job to, by a sudden twist of fate, a job in London as the chief marketer for an energy drink called Thunder Muscle. Todd's complete lack of business sense and unfamiliarity with British culture lead to a series of increasingly dire mishaps that are both funny and painful to watch.
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret ran for two series of six episodes each that aired in 2010 and 2012.
Spaced is a quirky sitcom written by and starring Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) and Jessica Stevenson as Tim and Daisy. Having just met, the pair decide to pose as a young professional couple in order to obtain a flat together. As flatmates, the two maintain a platonic relationship (although it is, at times, fraught with romantic tension) and embark upon a series of unusual (and sometimes downright absurd) adventures along with their friends and neighbors.
Spaced ran for two seasons of seven episodes each and aired in 1999 and 2001 on Channel 4.
Gareth's Stapler (clip)
5. The Office (U.K. version)
The Office is the rarest of shows -- an excellent original British series that was actually able to survive crossing the Atlantic to be remade for American television. In fact, it has been remade so successfully that the U.S. adaptation ran for nine seasons. Both versions, however, are worth watching.
The Office (U.K.), created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, was filmed in mockumentary style and starred Gervais as the painfully politically incorrect regional manager of a paper company in Slough, England. His assistant, Gareth (the parallel to the character of Dwight in American series), is particularly funny.
The show ran for two six episode seasons, and any fan of The Office (U.S.) should watch these episodes to truly see the show from its inception.
Blackadder was a period sitcom that ran on BBC 1 for four series. All four series starred Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) as Edmund Blackadder and Tony Robinson as Blackadder's servant, Baldrick, but each was set in a different era with the two portraying different characters (although they are presumably descendents of those in the previous series).
All of Atkinson's Blackadder characters are similarly cynical, greedy, and opportunistic. However, with every subsequent season, each successive Blackadder seems to become both more clever and less wealthy.
Blackadder's series aired in 1983,1986,1987, and 1989 but, due to its widespread popularity, specials and sketches were still being periodically produced into the 2000s.
Monty Python: The Killing Joke (sketch)
3. Monty Python's Flying Circus
Okay, this one is hardly a surprise. You'd probably have to have lived in a cave for the last forty years to have not heard of Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was a comedy sketch show created and performed by the incredibly talented troupe of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. But why include Monty Python's Flying Circus when its been around forever?
Because Monty Python is timeless. This series is still funny, which is far more remarkable now than it was when it aired in 1969-1974. Comedy tends to lose its funniness as it ages. Humor that is topical or pushes the current envelope may amuse the audiences of its time, but it quickly becomes dated; the shocking comedy of one decade invariably appears tame and uninteresting in the next. This is why Andrew Dice Clay today looks like nothing more than a slightly more foul-mouthed Rodney Dangerfield.
Absurdity, on the other hand, has a much better shelf-life. The delightful absurdity of Monty Python remains fresh even today. An exploding penguin is forever.
2. Black Books
Black Books is a sitcom created by Irish comedian Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan that stars Moran as Bernard Black, the anti-social owner of a London bookshop. Bernard actively dislikes people, especially his customers, whose presence he finds a nuisance. The show follows Bernard's antics with his assistant Manny and his friend Fran.
Although a bit slap-sticky at times, Black Books is, nonetheless, extremely funny. It ran on Channel 4 for three series from 2000 to 2004.
1. Fawlty Towers
Fawlty Towers is quite possibly the funniest show of all time.
This sitcom was written by John Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth, both of whom starred in it. The show follows the misadventures of Basil Fawlty (played by Cleese), a rude hotel owner, Sybil, his bossy wife, and the hotel staff, Manuel and Polly (played by Booth)
Fawlty Towers ran for two seasons of six episodes each that aired on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. If you have never seen it, go watch it now!
Fawlty Towers: A Room with a View (clip)
More Interesting Viewing Choices
- 8 Musical Films for People Who Hate Musicals
Hate musicals? You're not alone. But the musical films in this list are different. Weird, creative, and flouting typical conventions, you may find that these 8 musicals actually delight you.
- 8 Disturbing Movies You Must See
This article examines eight disturbing must-see movies that are guaranteed to linger in viewers' minds long after their closing credits.
- Viewing List for the Apocalypse: 10 Great Zombie Movies
This article examines notable zombie movies and mini-series and offers a list of 10 entertaining viewing recommendations suitable for ushering in the apocalypse.