American comedy series have become a bit clichéd these days. They typically follow the same, safe formula and feature a stereotypical cast of characters. There’s the likable nerd (Ted Mosby/Ross Gellar), the über-player (Joey Tribiani/Barney Stinson), the career driven Miss Complicated (Rachel Green/Robin Scherbatsky) and of course, the hopeless romantics (Lily Aldrin/Monica Gellar). Yes, we realize Friends and How I Met Your Mother are not the only American comedies in existence, but you get what we’re saying. We’ve become so tuned into the banality of these shows that we actually need the annoying laughing tracks to keep us on our toes. Perhaps that’s how you can tell a good comedy show from yet another pathetic attempt at original humor? Those that come with laughing tracks seem to be begging, “Please laugh now,” desperately trying to combat bored eye-rolling.
Are you pining for hilarious comedy shows that go beyond your usual boy-falls-in-love-with-female-roomie storyline? Would you like to get into a show that promises originality and brilliant dialogue that guarantees tears of laughter and hardcore belly-aches? Then get ready for the British invasion of comedy shows! The Brits have already proven that comedy is their speciality; the States have tried to replicate the British comedic wit time and time again but have never really succeeded. The American The Office doesn’t even come close to the British version, which was created by and starred Ricky Gervais; Shameless just isn’t quite the same set in a trailer park when in reality it was born in Manchester’s most dodgy council estate.
So let us introduce to you the very best British comedy shows that haven’t yet made it across the pond, complete with flippant characters, snazzy music and strangely exciting plot lines. By the end of this week you’ll be yelling: “Well smack my arse and call me Charlie—there are still hilarious shows around!”
10. The Mighty Boosh
From: Julien Barratt & Noel Fielding
The Mighty Boosh is unique in so many ways and deserved rewards up the wazoo. Not only are Noel Fielding and Julien Barratt a dream team of the weirdo variety, they will also introduce you to snazzy wardrobe choices, new genres of songwriting and a glimpse into shamanistic realities.
The show follows Jazzercise enthusiast Howard Moon (Barratt) and his mod fashion-whore co-worker Vince Noir (Fielding), who are zoo-keepers in Dixon Bainbridge’s (Matt Berry) “Zooniverse”. They are polar opposites: While Moon considers himself a suave, sophisticated “thinker” who woos (or scares, more like) the ladies with gentle jazz tunes, Vince is a sweet, naive glitter-glamour addict who communicates with animals and spends way too much time on his hair. Vince dresses extravagantly, often blinding his environment with brightly burning neon colors and his disco ball suit, and is always the first to point out how incredibly drab Moon’s fashion choices are.
Together with their mates Naboo (Michael Fielding), the Shaman and Vince’s best friend Bollo (Peter Elliot) the gorilla, they set out on crazy adventures that take them beyond the Zooniverse and into the Arctic Tundra or under the sea. Bollo’s often “got a bad feeling” about Noir and Moon’s infamous road trips but despite his premonitions, they always go for it full speed ahead anyway.
Throughout the three seasons of The Mighty Boosh, Moon and Noir encounter the strangest characters and the most bizarre situations. In one episode Moon gets kidnapped by the hermaphroditic merman “Old Gregg” who owns the funk and is obsessed with watercolor painting and Bailey’s Irish Cream; another episode introduces Rudi van DiSarzio, the High Priest of the Order of the Psychedelic Monks who “goes by many names” and sometimes comes accompanied by his “bongo brother” Spider Dijon.
Most of the characters such as The Hitcher, The Spirit of Jazz, The Crack-Fox and Sandstorm are portrayed by Fielding and Barrat, although Richard Ayoade (IT Crowd), Rich Fulcher and Dave Brown also make appearances under the brightly shining light of The Moon. With its peculiar costumes, an abstractly artsy backdrop and an even better soundtrack, The Mighty Boosh is hard to categorize; it’s not your typical comedy show! Or can you name any other show that introduced a new genre of “rap” in the form of “Crimps”? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Here are some of the best Boosh songs:
9. Green Wing
From: Victoria Pile
Aired: 2004 -2007
???Forget about ER and Grey’s Anatomy, Green Wing introduces a hospital that is more of an amusement park than anything else, and it wouldn’t surprise me if people would actually want to check themselves in voluntarily, whether they are sick or not. Starring some of the best actors known to British comedy such as Mark Heap, Tasmin Greig, Stephen Mangan and Michelle Gomez, this is the wackiest “hospital show” you will ever come across.
The first episode introduces Caroline Todd (Greig) on her first day at Green Wing hospital along-side anesthetist Guy Secretan (Mangan) and surgeon Mac (Julian Rhind-Tutt). Although she is smitten by both, Guy is a bit too overpowering in his attempts and seems to be obsessed with his Swiss past. She soon finds herself infatuated with Mac, but is constantly cock-blocked by the staff liaison officer Sue White (Gomez), who goes out of her way to be noticed by him. Miss White, the Scottish nutcase with killer legs, is supposed to lend a supporting ear to the frustrated workers of the hospital but has a lot more fun torturing them and developing new eccentricities to entertain (or exasperate) staff members with.
Joanna Clore (Pippa Haywood), the head of human resources, is a 48 year old who sees herself as a twenty-year-old and refuses to acknowledge her son Martin Dear (Karl Theobald), a training doctor who desperately craves her affection. She has an absurd affair with Alan Statham (Heap), with whom she explores her kinky desires, but is reluctant to admit to their strange mating-dance. Statham is not exactly a hunk; he fails to impress Joanna in his distastefully saggy briefs and has a rather weird take on romance (a necklace pendant filled with sperm, anyone?). Statham has a special relationship with his student doctor Boyce (Oliver Chris), who really knows how to make the stuttering consultant radiologist blush.
Reserve the coming weekend to immerse yourself in the outlandish world of Green Wing and within no time you will kiss the ground Mark Heap walks on! Here’s a video to prove it:
8. Black Books
From: Dylan Moran & Graham Lineham
???If you like grumpy, drunken Irish bastards, Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) will soon become your new hero—he sure as shit is mine! His constant bed-headed, chain-smoking self is a thing of pure beauty, even more so when he highlights his unbothered talents by pissing into his book shop’s sink rather than making the long way out of his chair and into the bathroom. He has no interest in selling his books whatsoever and rather hates people on a grand scale. The only one welcome in his shop is his oldest friend Fran (Tamsin Greig), who owns a bric-a-brac shop full of “wank” next door to his.
One day, Manny (Bill Bailey) enters the shop frantically looking for “The Little Book of Calm,” hoping to find a way to deal with his stressful job. The next day he comes back to interview for a position as Bernard’s shop assistant. True to his style Bernard takes Manny to the pub and proceeds to get hammered. Way past wasted, Bernard offers Manny a room in the apartment above his shop and a job as an accountant. However, upon sobering up, Bernard is sickened by Manny’s positive, optimistic outlook on life and things in general and regrets his having hired him. But Fran gives him a talking to and forces him into keeping Manny on.
Fran’s cunning plan was to get Manny to bring a bit of order into the chaotic shop that is Black Books, but more often than not poor Manny is forced to succumb to the gruesome twosomes’ wicked lifestyle of binge drinking, chain-smoking and overall havoc. Bernard develops a love-hate relationship with Manny, and if it wasn’t for Fran acting as constant buffer, one might actually feel rather sorry for Manny. Despite the fact that Bernard and Fran are both business owners, they prefer to spend their hours getting up to no good and leave Manny to clear up their mess more often than not.
Check this video for some of Fran, Bernard and Manny’s finer moments:
7. The Thick of It
From: Armando Iannucci
???If you’re looking to brush up on your swearing-skills, The Thick of It is truly inspiring for all budding foul-mouths out there. Armando may have done a fine job by granting America their very own The Thick of It by way of Veep, but in terms of pace and dialogue, Veep simply cannot keep up. On top of that, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus came equipped with some killer lines as Selina Meyer, no-one—and I mean no one—has shit on Malcom Tucker (Peter Capaldi).
The Thick of It follows the ministers, special advisors and staff of the “super department” DoSAC. Hugh Abbot (Chris Langham) is the Secretary of State for Social Affairs who lives under the constant scrutiny of Malcolm Tucker, the director of communications. All it takes is for Tucker to enter the room and promptly bladders start weakening, faces are a-flush and people become incapable of uttering a complete sentence without stuttering. After a reshuffle in government, Nicola Murray (Rebecca Front) replaces Abbot and is promoted to Social Affairs and Citizenship Secretary shortly after. A great start to her position—or so we thought. Nicola seems to suffer from foot-in-mouth-disease much to Tucker’s entertainment and frustration. He soon dubs Nicola the “glummy-mummy”, after she makes it clear she is struggling to keep a balance between her work and family life.
Yes people, this is what it must really look inside the British government, and I guarantee you, every office has its very own Malcom Tucker.
& Jessica Stevenson
Aired: 1999 -2001
???Now this is my type of sitcom, one that doesn’t revolve around love-triangles, perky chicks with annoying habits or self-pitiying nerds with no game. This is the kind of roommate reality I can actually relate to, complete with an odd-ball landlord and stoner humor. I wasn’t too impressed by Simon Pegg’s most recent acting endeavors such as A Fantastic Fear of Everything and The World’s End, but thanks to Spaced he will always be the man.
Tim Bisley (Pegg) is a young, aspiring cartoon artist who meets Daisy Steiner (Jessica Stevenson) in a café as they are both perusing the housing section. They come across an ad for a cheap flat near Tufnell Park, but the landlord insists she is looking for a “young professional couple”. Tim and Daisy decide to slip into the role of a happy couple and the landlord Marsha Klein (Julia Deakin) falls for it. Once they move in they are introduced to Brian Topp (Mark Heap), an intensely eccentric artist who doesn’t quite understand the world and the people inhabiting it and seeks shelter in his art. Tim’s best friend Mike Watt (Nick Frost) is a frequent visitor; he’s kind, sweet and somewhat immature and is into everything and anything that has to do with the army, and often goes through life as though he were on a secret mission.
Along with Daisy’s highly irritating and shallow friend Twist Morgan (Katy Carmichael), the four of them form surprising friendships. While the characters of Spaced face the same kind of big questions that the characters on Friends did—such as “What am I going to do with my life?” It has a far more realistic, yet sarcastic take on the philosophical doubts of the modern twenty-something man/woman. Tim, Daisy and their friends seem perfectly content and at ease inventing pot-headed ways of lush entertainment without having to sugarcoat their failed status in life.
Check out this video and let the Spaced crew show you what it’s like when you don’t take yourself too seriously.
5. Inside No. 9
From: Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton
Inside No. 9 is a dark anthology that delivers high-class acting by the likes of Julia Davis, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Oona Chaplin, Tim Key and many others. Each episode tells a different story with different actors. The only thing the episodes share in common is that they all take place in a house or room numbered “9.” In Psychoville, Pemberton and Shearsmith were inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Rope when filming the David and Maureen episode in Season 1, all of which was shot in one single room. They wanted to incorporate the same feeling in Inside No. 9, which is how the idea of focusing on one single room or living space came about.
While each plot is entirely different, all six episodes manifest feelings of entrapment that are portrayed so beautifully the viewer at home is literally gasping for air. In the first episode, “Sardines,” Rebecca (Katherine Parkinson) is celebrating her engagement at her family’s mansion when her father insists on playing “Sardines”. Rebecca hides in a wardrobe and the idea is for the people that find her to join her in her hiding place. Gradually the wardrobe fills up with more and more people. With each joining person, more disturbing secrets are revealed making their claustrophobic circumstance as uncomfortable as it can get.
My favorite episode of Inside No. 9 was “A Quiet Night In”—it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such expressive acting and an amazing use of music. Two burglars break into the house of Gerald (Denis Lawson) and Sabrina (Oona Chaplin) in search of a famous painting. While Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” is playing at full blast, the burglars make their way in through the windows while Gerald enjoys a bowl of soup. The burglars go through various distraction and hiding techniques that cause them to accidentally kill a little Yorkshire terrier. Burglars Eddie and Ray have long spotted the seemingly plain white painting, but keep getting interrupted by unpredictable happenings. Just as Ray manages to get the canvas out of its frame, Sabrina comes into the living room and turns down the music to watch EastEnders. Gerald and Sabrina end up fighting over the remote control in the separate pool house, giving Ray and Eddie another chance at freeing the canvas from its frame. Focused on completing their own crime, they don’t realize that they are about to witness a crime far worse than burglary…
From: Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton
???Do you like shows that are so embarrassing and creepy they make your skin crawl? Do you like characters that literally make you shudder with disgust at times? Do you like feeling severely uncomfortable? Then Psychoville is your show! Never before have I felt so giddily repulsed by characters as I was by David Sowerbutts (Pemberton) and his mother Maureen (Shearsmith), and Joy Aston (Dawn French) and her “boy” Freddie still give me nightmares….But let’s start from the beginning.
Various characters from different parts of England receive a mysterious letter reading “I know what you did…”. One of them, David, has been obsessed with famous serial killers since he was a little boy. Unable to hold down any other job, he works as a participant in murder mystery evenings where he can live out his fantasy of gruesome murders. One night, he takes it too far when he goes into the extreme with his murder plot and is fired. Still living with his mother Maureen, he goes home to her feeling rather distraught. Seeing the state he is in and having found the blackmail note, she is convinced he actually committed a murder. This misconception causes them to go on a killing spree…
Joy Aston (French) is another one to have received the note. She lives in Bristol with her husband George (Pemberton) who is having an affair with Joy’s colleague Nicola (Elizabeth Berrington). Joy is a midwife who never really came to terms with her son’s cot death and has since become obsessed with a practice doll she calls Freddy. She treats Freddy like a real child and feeds him blood, which she steals from the hospital’s blood bank. Trying to involve her reluctant husband in Freddy’s upbringing, she forces him into performing baby-related tasks. When Freddy throws his dish on the floor one day, Joy is excited to see that the blood is finally bringing him to life—just not quite the way she had expected. Instead of showering her with infant affection, Freddy attacks her and leaves both George and Joy for dead…
George and Joy, David and Maureen, Hattie, Robert Greenspan, Kerry and Debbie and company all share one terrible secret in common and someone has taken it upon themselves to uncover it…But who? And most importantly, why?
3. Father Ted
From: Graham Linehan & Arthur Mathews
???Ok, so, technically, this isn’t a British show, but it’s close enough—Father Ted first aired on Channel 4 in April 1995, sporting a predominantly Irish cast. The show follows three priests and their overly-enthusiastic housekeeper in their parochial house on the fictional Craggy Island.
Father Ted Crilly (Dermot Morgan) feels like the only sane person in his household after he is banished to Craggy Island by Bishop Len Brennan (Jim Norton) with the nimb-witted Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon) and the useless, alcoholic Father Jack Hackett (Fran Kelly). Ted thinks of himself as a bit of a rock-star pastor, who would happily give up his parish for a life in America. He seems to be torn between his Catholic beliefs and his depressing life as a priest. Dougal is a priceless character whose wide-eyed oblivion and theories surrounding Darth Vader and “The Phantom of the Opera” leave Ted teeth-grinding and appalled. Dougal was quite right when he stated “the lights are on but there’s no one home” about himself.
Father Jack Hackett can usually be found sitting in a decaying arm chair in the living room of the parochial house snoozing. During his lucid moments, he is famous for shouting “FECK! GIRLS! ARSE! DRINK!”, the most important of which is definitely DRINK! The best episode of Father Ted is “Tentacles of Doom,” when Father Ted and Dougal blackmail Father Jack into learning two new phrases, “Yes!” and “That would be an ecumenical matter!” when Bishop Brennan announces a visit to Craggy Island.
Dermot Morgan died 24 hours after wrapping up the third season of Father Ted. Here’s to one of his best Father Ted moments with Father Jack!
2. The IT Crowd
From: Graham Linehan
???Have you tried turning it on and off again? Yes? Still not working? Then perhaps it’s time to give The IT Crowd a call. Stuck in a small, chaotic basement office, IT nerds Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd) and Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade) are always happy to help—well, Moss is, Roy is a lot happier sitting on his arse doing nothing. Head of the IT department Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson) really has no idea of what she’s doing and is convinced that typing “Google” into Google will “break the internet”. She is the running joke between Moss and Roy, but managed to con her way into the job by convincing Denholm Reynolds (Chris Morris) that she had “a lot of experience with computers”.
Moss is your typical school-yard-bully victim. While he’s extremely articulate and proper in his way of speaking and dressing, he seems to have been overly coddled by his mother with whom he still lives. She dresses him, packs his lunch and seems to be the number one role model in his life. He is good friends with Roy, but other than that he finds it difficult to communicated with anyone outside of his trusted circle of geeks. He’s seems to be tense all the time, whereas Roy only ever breaks a sweat when he is called in for actual work which usually leaves him injured or completely flustered.
Once in a blue moon The IT Crowd is visited by Richmond Avenal (Noel Fielding), a passionate goth who has been confined to the server room because of his dark appearance. He was once a hard-working, executive type, complete with expensive suits and sleeked back hair until he discovered Cradle of Filth.
You might not necessarily want these guys to take a crack at fixing your computer, but you should definitely reserve them a place on your screen!
1. Peep Show
From: Andrew O’Connor, Jesse Armstrong & Sam Bain
Aired: 2003 – Ongoing
???I’ve watched several season of Peep Show now and I still can’t tell you whether Jez (Robert Webb) and Mark (David Mitchell) compliment each other or simply bring out the worst in one another. They are way past their “innocent” adolescent phases and have moved on to being sad, desperate thirty-somethings who are completely incapable of talking—let alone flirting—with women. Jez is the “alternative” type who wears camouflage jeans, is usually quite positive, fancies himself a musician, is religiously unemployed and hangs out with the drug dealer Super Hans (Matt King). Mark is the complete contradiction of Jez: he’s financially secure, organized (bordering on anal), cynical and extremely awkward.
Peep Show is filmed using point of view shots, and we are granted a glimpse into the inner workings of their minds as both Jez’ and Mark’s thoughts are audible. Believe me when I say this technique will have you seriously cringing at times! Right from the very beginning, Mark has had his eyes on his co-worker Sophie (Olivia Colman), whereas Jez keeps going back to his ex-girlfriend Big Suze (Sophie Winkleman). Typical men in their own right, they keep fighting for what they cannot have and once they finally get it, they are desperate to escape…You know how the saying goes: Boys only like their toys when they can’t play with them!
Here’s a little peep at Peep Show.