I thought I’d put together a list of the comedies I watch ahead of anything else. Here they are, in no real order.
And these aren’t the 10 BEST TV comedies. That list would have to include things like “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Simpsons” and “Monty Python” and probably something like “Steptoe and Son” or “Till Death Us Do Part”. All great series, but not the ones that do it for me.
Probably the finest TV show to come out of Britain since Fawlty Towers, this is deadpan humor of embarrassment. Often so excruciatingly awkward that it’s almost impossible to watch, this is small scale, character driven and observational. The documentary format allows the characters to reveal the extent of their self delusion and often is full of real sadness. Gervais’s character of David Brent is an extraordinary creation, utterly incompetent, childish and pathetic. They only made a dozen episodes, along with the two Christmas specials and these are just fantastic. The ending, where two characters finally decide to act and David Brent just about redeems himself is pretty much perfect in the same way the end of “City Lights” is.
Remarkable, innovative and very, very funny. Full of jokes about the story, about the characters, about the actors playing the characters, about shows the actors playing the characters have been in previously, about the Network showing the show… It is so stuffed full of jokes that this is one show that needs to be watched again and again. The characters are gloriously unlikable and the plot is completely daffy. All in all, probably the great US Sitcom of the past few years. Without this there would have been no “Modern Family” and no “30 Rock”. A sublime piece of comedy.
Originally a spin off of “Cheers” this took one of the fairly minor characters, rejigged a back story for him and then launched him on his way. The series became probably the closest thing TV has ever had to Restoration comedy: brilliantly, wittily written; expertly acted by a cracking cast who play off each other beautifully; it runs like a handcrafted watch.
The fascinating thing about this series is that Frasier and Niles, with their wine snobbery, their constant looking down on others, their psycological tics and insecurities, sho uld be thoroughly unsympathetic but such is the skill with which it is done that they become loved characters.
And even if it fell off a little in the later series, once Niles and Daphne actually become an item, wen it was at its peak there wasn’t much around that was better. Television doesn’t get much funnier than episodes like “The Ski Lodge” or “Three Valentines”.
One of the pinnacles of Television comedy. John Cleese and Connie Booth only made twelve epusodes of this expert farce. Yet another piece where the central character is totally unlikeable and it’s probably hard to imagine David Brent without Basil Fawlty.
All the episodes are wonderfully funny, but some – “The Hotel Inspectors”, “The Germans”, “Communication Problems”, “The Kipper and the Corpse”, “Basil The Rat” – are little half hour farces as perfect as anything Feydeau or Ben Travers ever wrote – and the whole thing reaches unbelievable heights with “The Gourmet Night”, which is just hysterically funny. When Basil tries to beat his car to death it is an amazing moment. Meanwhile back at the hotel, Polly is singing “I’m just a girl who can’t say no”, Manuel is singing flamenco and Sybil is telling stories about “Uncle Ted and his crate of brown ale”.
Another series that started as a spin off, Daria first appeared on “Beavis and Butthead”, which doesn’t seem overly promising. But it developed into a razor sharp comedy about teens and family. Daria Morgendorffer’s sardonic, monotonal observations about school and family are hilarious and the other characters – the teachers, the parents, the other students – are all perfectly observed. The fashion club, for instance is a wonderfully accurate creation.
Fantastic comedy about a sick sad world.
I particularly like Daria’s mother’s anguished cry that probably every parent could understand:
And Daria’s graduation speech should be required reading for every teenager.
Endlessly quotable and starring the unbelievably talented Rowan Atkinson there are four series of this classic as well as several other bits and pieces. They follow the fortunes of an English family that starts out as royalty and works their way down.
With a cast made up of many of the so-called “new wave” of British comedy from the 80s all playing it for all they’re worth and writing that takes insult and invective to never before achieved levels of baroque intricacy, the show is full of cheerfully anachronistic history (at one stage, for instance, Coleridge, Shelley and Byron team up to defend Samuel Johnson) and is deservedly well regarded universally as a high point in British television.
When it comes to British sketch comedy most people would nominate Monty Python as the high point, but it seems to me that Python really came into their own in their movies. In the television series there seem to be as many sketches that don’t work as do. For every dead parrot there’s an emigration from Surbiton to Hounslow. For every Fish Slapping Dance there’s a “Golden Age of Colonic Irrigation.
Next to Cooke and Moore in full flight Python (and indeed, most sketch comedies) pale by comparison.
Sadly much of the original series no longer exists. In a fit of thrift the BBC decided to wipe the tapes so they could recycle and re-use them. There is a DVD available called “The Best of What’s Left of Not Only But Also” and there is a lot on Youtube. At their best Cooke and Moore are as funny as it comes.
Watch and be amazed…
Peter Cook – Cobblin’ Goblin – YouTubehttp://youtu.be/RN164kBlRWM
An excellent sketch from Dudley Moore and Peter Cook’s Not Only… But Also… No need to worry about copyright issues as this is not commercially available …
There is a long tradition in British comedy of catch phrase laden, double entendre stuffed comedy. From ITMA in the forties and fifties (“Shall I do you now sir?”) through Round the Horne (“Oooh, bold, very bold!”) through to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy and Captain Mainwaring muttering “You stupid boy” these were the comedies that Monty Python turned against – there are very few catch phrases in Python - but ironically their greatest influence – The Goon Show – used them like an art. “He’s fallen in the water”, “Ying Tong Iddle I Poh”, “You silly twisted boy” and many others were Goon Show staples. For a while catch phrases sort of got looked down on (the Python influence?) but with things like Little Britain and Catherine Tate they seem to make a comeback.g
‘Allo ‘Allo is a sort of tapestry of catchphrases. Every character just about has their own personal thing to say. ”Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once.” What a mistake-a to make!” “Swiftlyand with taste.” “The flashing knobs!” “You stupid woman!” “My little tank”. “The flying helmet and the wet celery”. All pretty meaningless, but if you’ve watched the show more than once or twice you’ll recognise them and have a laugh.
With a deliriously complicated plot (involving exploding knackwurst and long distance homing ducks) that builds and builds into a baroque edifice of ridiculous nonsense and a script that just skates along the edge of being offensive ( funny Gestapo officers?) this whole thing is a crazed spoof of a series called “Secret Army” that was big in the 70′s.
A masterpiece of parody.
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise came out of a Music Hall tradition, beginning their careers in Variety and as comics at the Windmill Theatre All Girl Nude Revue. (Morecambe once said that the girls wore nothing but black shoes and gloves. “They looked like the five of spades.”)
They had a show called “Two of a Kind” which was, apparently nothing special. You can see a bit of it here and it clearly draws on that Variety tradition.
Eventually they teamed up with writer Eddie Braben in 1969 and after that there was no stopping them.
Whereas teams like Abbott and Costello or Lewis and Martin had the double act idea of a stooge and a straight man, Morcambe and Wise came up with the more Laurel and Hardy idea of an idiot and an even bigger idiot, but laced it with the notion of winking to the audience and letting them in on the act. Yes Eric Morecambe is the stooge and Ernie Wise is the straight men, but the straight man acts like a comedian and is a bigger fool than the other one. And Morcambe is the stooge, but keeps letting the audience know that he’s really in charge.
Brilliant, brilliant comedy, and hard hard work. They look like they’re just making it up, but you know every line and every sight gag has been rehearsed until its perfect.
Their Christmas shows became institutions where most of England would tune in.
There’s another strong tradition in English comedy of gently (or not so gently) ridiculing the priesthood. From the Vicar of Wakefield to the Vicar of Dibley the English enjoy seeing the funny side of religion. There was a series in the late sixties called “All Gas and Gaiters” that showed the Bishop of St Oggs and his clergy as endearing, bumbling and ineffectual.
Perhaps it’s the Irish Catholic connection but there’ssomething much darker going on here than ever happened in St Oggs or Dibly.
Ted, the main priest is an embezzler who took the money raised to send a little girl to Lourdes and headed to Vegas.
Dougal, the young priest is a simpleton boy man who seems surprised that people are actually expected to believe in Christianity and confuses soccer team lists with the words of the Mass.
The third priest, Jack is constantly drunk to the point of coma, lecherous (with a strong interest in school girls) and extremely violent. (“He won’t hit you out of spite”, says Ted. “He’ll do it because he finds it funny”) His Christian faith includes believing that the poor “are a shower of bastards”.
The much feared Bishop Brennan is a foul mouthed, violent bully who has a wife and a child in America.
This is vicious satire and very funny with it. The characters are contemptible and likeable. Thoroughly enjoyable.