British Comedy, or Britcoms, come in many shapes, sizes, and ratings, depending on your preferred level of snark and cheekiness. Perhaps it’s my Scottish roots betraying me here, but even I have to admit there’s more than a pinch of Monty Python-like absurdity to life. And the British—more than any other nation—seem a little more clued into this than anyone else somehow. Maybe it’s the weather? In any case, here are five truly hysterical comedies that showcase the awkward, hilarious, bittersweet beauty of life.
Nobody makes cruelty funnier than the sketch comic geniuses (genii?) of David Mitchell and Peter Webb, AKA, That Mitchell and Webb Look. Which coincidentally won them the BAFTA for Best Comedy Program in 2007. With skits like Big Talk, Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit, and my personal most favorite game show ever…Numberwang, you may, quite literally, wet yourself laughing. Or maybe that’s an overstatement.
All five seasons are available in the US.
If you’ve already seen That Mitchell & Webb Look, you are most likely fans of the brilliantly bizarre duo’s first foray into television, which follows the lives of two hapless losers from their twenties into their thirties—and it’s actually one of the top three longest-running comedies in the history of the UK’s Channel 4. With it’s POV style-camera and workplace-centric focus, it has a distinctly The Office meets Curb Your Enthusiasm vibe. The real draw here though is the singularly brilliant cast, who all somehow manage to keep a straight face while delivering some of the most laugh-out-loud lines of the twentieth century: “I’ve been initiated, I am a drug user… F*** THE POLICE!”
Four Seasons, all available in the US.
Finally! A show about the inner workings of a mid-level British grocery store chain going through the downsizing pains of the economic crash of the late 2000s. Monday Monday follows the move of a London-based supermarket chain to the much-less-sexy Leeds, overseen by the alcoholic Human Resource manager Christine Frances, as told through the eyes of her new assistant, Sally Newman. It’s dry, it’s mean, and it’s f•••g funny as hell!
Season One is streaming for free in the US of A. Enjoy!!
With both Jonathan Pryce and Stuart McLoughlin, fans of either may not know what to expect. But they probably weren’t expecting this slapstick-y, sight-gagg-y sci-fi satire about an overgrown babyman/soldier experiment gone wrong. After unveiling the results of 17 years of work, Dr. Victor Blenkinsop’s Clone Super-Soldier is a pathetic goofball who barely can walk, let alone fire a gun. Military honchos at M17 are not amused, and threaten to pull the plug on the project. The Dr. hatches a plan, and the two escape to a small village, where he hopes to buy some time. You’ll feel bad laughing, but laugh you will. And with just one season, it’s not gonna interfere with your Downton Abbey habit. This is a perfect little bite-size taste of english humor.
Available in the US
There’s a hint to the type of comedy this is, and it’s built right into the title: Black Books. It’s the blackest of black humor!
Bernard is an alcoholic, people hater, and happens to own a bookshop. Along with his lone employee — recovering stress-aholic Manny, who keeps the place running while Bernard fumes and frets—Black Books is a lovely place to visit… if you’re a masochist. Along with Fran, the neurotic and desperately lonely next door neighbor, this gruesome threesome spend most of their time arguing, drinking, smoking and kicking people out of the shop. Black Books is basically everything you DON’T want in a book store, but you just can’t help but come back for more!
Three seasons, all right here:
And with that, I’d like to propose a toast. To these crazy, wonderful, bizarre and insane Brits—the writers, the performers, the directors, the producers and the fans! Because IF, one day, our television programs actually ARE intercepted by intelligent life, I’m only go to assume that this “advanced”civilization is going to have a similarly f•••d up sense of humor …or at least I hope.