April 17, 2006 10:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm an American and I want some recommendations on British TV comedies.

I have a British friend who used to periodically receive copies of British TV shows from his parents (most of which were not easily available in the US) and we would watch them together during our lunch break at work. Although we are still friends, I don't live by him anymore and my supply of random British comedies has dried up. I am looking for recommendations of shows I might like based on the ones I know I like and dislike.

Like: Knowing Me, Knowing You, The Alan Patridge Show, The Office, Extras, The IT Crowd, Brass Eye, The Day Today, Jam, Ali G.

Don't Like: The Young Ones, Little Britain, AbFab.

Anyone know anything about Father Ted and Black Books?
posted by Falconetti to Media & Arts (71 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One English comedy that many Americans seem to love (including such names as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates) is Red Dwarf. Given your list of likes, I think that's a safe bet.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 10:32 PM on April 17, 2006

And of course those perennial favorites, seasons two and three of Black Adder.
posted by tkolar at 10:35 PM on April 17, 2006

Vicar of Dibley always makes me laugh.

If it helps, I can't stand AbFab either, but like Little Britain and don't care for Ali G.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:36 PM on April 17, 2006

Second the recommendation of Black Adder (all seasons, IMO).
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:37 PM on April 17, 2006

It's not a sitcom, but the show Look Around You is hilarious.
posted by camcgee at 10:37 PM on April 17, 2006

In order: (amazon.co.uk these if you can't get em here)

1)Fawlty Towers. Best farcical comedy ever to grace tv. EVER! Not one wasted moment in it. Cleese is a genius.

2) Black Adder. Series II-IV. Amusing satire of british class structure 1500-1900. Great physical comedy too..

--- Much further down the list
3) A very peculiar Practice (if you like stories about academics and the decay of the NHS). First series better than the 2nd.

4) Red Dwarf ( a little cheesy, but fun).

As statement of obvious: all the bloody monty python films anyone?

Also: look at the first 4 links here
posted by lalochezia at 10:38 PM on April 17, 2006

Check out the Wiki entry on Graham Linehan; he's been involved with both of those series, as well as Alan Partridge, IT Crowd, and Brass Eye. Seems like if you liked those shows, you'll dig FT & BB.

There's a strong sense of the absurd and surreal in both Father Ted and Black Books, without being as forced and shrill as your three Don't Likes.
Both shows are easy to fall in love with, but still manage to surprise and challenge.

I wish I could experience watching those shows for the first time again :)

Enjoy, you lucky fekker.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:41 PM on April 17, 2006

Father Ted always gave me the impression that I'd hate it. I've only seen two episodes, but the one in which they attend (create?) a fair had me incapacitated with laughter. Drugs were not involved.

Black Books has one dull character, one weird character, and one angry character set in a very rigid format. There are a few laughs, but I don't think it's (the first season) worth the investment. Maybe it gets better.

Look Around You is a very dry science show parody. Some of it is high-concept, some of it is strangely obvious.
posted by user92371 at 10:44 PM on April 17, 2006

As an expat, and being able to observe new Americans as they come over to the UK, Red Dwarf and Monty Python seem to be the old standards that get snatched up quickly. But if you're into some of the (comparably) newer shows (like The Office & IT Crowd) then you might like Green Wing? It's just started its second season here, the first is available for pickup on DVD.
posted by jim.christian at 10:46 PM on April 17, 2006

A more modern one that you may or may not like is "Coupling". They had a short-lived US attempt at remaking it, pre-"The Office" migration, but the original british version has its moments. Not the greatest of comedies- often relying on obvious sexual innuendo- it's nevertheless amusing and diversionary. :)

An oldie (late 70's I think) that rarely gets mentioned but I think was a classic series is "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin". Funny and discussion-worthy... :)
posted by hincandenza at 10:47 PM on April 17, 2006

Black books is really funny. Personally I prefer Black Books to either the IT crowd and Father Ted. I think it's to do with Dylan Moran co-writing it and writing it a bit for himself.

You may want to check out Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. They are very well written and have great acting as well. The scenarios regarding nonsense in government have dated well too.
posted by sien at 10:48 PM on April 17, 2006

A very peculiar Practice (if you like stories about academics and the decay of the NHS). First series better than the 2nd.

Sorry that should read "a satire about the university system in the UK."

For a great satire on the NHS, see Cardiac Arrest. With helen baxendale, who is haaawt rwooowr!
posted by lalochezia at 10:48 PM on April 17, 2006

Anyone know anything about Father Ted and Black Books?

They're both good, I prefer Black Books. The first series is great.

If you like Brass Eye, you will enjoy The Day Today. You may also want to check out Nathan Barley (written by the man Morris), though some people find it over the top.

You may want to take a look at Spaced and Peep Show also.

Red Dwarf rules.
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:49 PM on April 17, 2006

My personal "top 9":
1. Red Dwarf
2. Alo, Alo
3. Keeping Up Appearances
4. Chef!
5. As Time Goes By
6. The Vicar of Dibley
7. Monty Python's Flying Circus
8. Bless Me, Father
9. Are You Being Served?
Most of these are available on DVD, and some air on PBS in the 'states.
posted by fvox13 at 10:50 PM on April 17, 2006

Also, in approximately increasing order of Englishness and inaccessability:

Drop The Dead Donkey, Phoenix Nights, The Royle Family, The League of Gentlemen, The Mighty Boosh.

Wikipedia is handy.
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:55 PM on April 17, 2006

(apart from a couple of dodgy episodes in the third series) I think Father Ted is the finest UK TV comedy ever made. Yes, better than Fawlty Towers.
posted by ascullion at 10:57 PM on April 17, 2006

A second vote for Green Wing, it's brilliant. I also highly recommend Shameless, although it may not be out on DVD yet.

And you can't go wrong with Father Ted.
posted by fshgrl at 11:09 PM on April 17, 2006

My favorite is Yes, Minister. Although it's all about the British executive branch, so while bits might be inaccessible, I think there are some universals in politics and bureaucracy.
posted by grouse at 11:28 PM on April 17, 2006

My top 4 of the moment - no particular order but should mesh with your tastes:

- Spaced
- Peep Show
- The Thick of It
- That Peter Kay Thing
posted by greycap at 11:29 PM on April 17, 2006

second, spaced


little britain, the fast show, & Garth Marenghi's Darkplace which seems to be a spoof of cheesy british horror movies.
posted by Dreamghost at 11:51 PM on April 17, 2006

Chef is god damn hilarious in its earlier seasons. It falls apart later on, but what doesn't?

And from back in the 70s: "Good Neighbours," about a couple in a London suburb who decide to become self-sufficient and turn their plot into a small farm. It is so, so funny.
posted by kavasa at 11:51 PM on April 17, 2006

"Good Neighbours" - is this the Good Life?
posted by greycap at 11:55 PM on April 17, 2006

Black books, very good. Coupling is also good, given your list of likes.

Personally I found The Green Wing a little too weird, and far too long (20 mins show dragged out for an hour).
posted by lundman at 12:05 AM on April 18, 2006

Another vote for Vicar of Dibley. I was sad when they moved it around on PBS & took it out of the time that I can watch TV.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:08 AM on April 18, 2006

People Like Us. Perfect if you like your humour deadpan and dry.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:15 AM on April 18, 2006

I thoroughly second Spaced - it's completely fantastic and based on your list of likes, I suspect you'll get on with it.

Look Around You is definitely a love-or-hate sort of show, but is hilarious if it 'clicks' with you. If you're going to give it a try, I'd recommend the first series (which parodies the sort of dry, patronising educational science programmes UK TV used to produce for schools) as being much funnier and not outstaying its welcome as much as the longer episodes of the second series.

I really liked The Smoking Room when it was on last year - it's a BBC sitcom wholly set in one room, which sounds awful but is surprisingly entertaining and sort of sweet. Black Books is great, too, and you absolutely can't go wrong with old Blackadder and Father Ted.

I really, really don't like Green Wing, Nathan Barley or anything with Peter Kay in, but your mileage may well vary and there are certainly lots of people who love them, so they might be worth a go.
posted by terpsichoria at 12:23 AM on April 18, 2006

I'm a big fan of Monty Python the TV series as well as all the movies, live concert performances, and documentaries. I get BBC America via digital cable and have enjoyed Eddie Izzard, So Graham Norton, and High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman. I really got hooked on The League of Gentlemen TV series and sought out the movie "League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse" and "League of Gentlemen Live at Drury Lane" British DVDs that aren't available in the US market. I also enjoy the Indian-British comedy shows "Goodness Gracious Me" and "The Kumars at No. 42." Rowan Atkinson is really good in the Mr. Bean series.
posted by plokent at 12:50 AM on April 18, 2006

Posibly a bit TOO British, but "The Smoking Room" was pretty funny (to an ex-work smoker). I also recommend the first couple of series of "Teachers".
posted by davehat at 12:52 AM on April 18, 2006

Dammit. The question I'm most perfectly suited to answer, and I'm late. Anyway, there's still some good stuff that hasn't come up yet.

Based on your tastes, I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy Peep Show. Series 1 and 2 are gold - 3's worth a watch but not spectacular.

The best one which remains unmentioned is The Armando Iannucci Shows: Written, as you might expect, by Armando Iannucci, frequent collaborator of Steve Coogan's, and co-writer of Alan Partridge. They are by turns surreal, biting, wry, wan, profound, and always sharply written and performed. They're seeing a (UK) release on DVD after being broadcast in 2001.

Also by Iannucci was the one-off special "2004 - The Stupid Version", a spoof NY end of year review show. Obviously the material is no longer topical, but if you're craving an Iannucci fix it could be worth your time.

You mention the Alan Partridge Show - just in case you didn't know, there are 3 series, one in talk-show format, and 2 later ones detailing his post-chat show failure, which are, for my money, darker, and funnier.

I didn't get on well with Coogan's Dr Terrible's House Of Horrible, though a friend with the exact same comedy taste as me raved about it. I think you need a fairly strong appreciation of Hammer Horror to truly get it.

More Coogan gold can be mined from Jim Jarmusch's Coffee And Cigarettes, and the recently released film Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story. Which reminds me - you may also enjoy Rob Brydon's Marion And Geoff, a poignant and quietly funny show about a taxi driver's life after his divorce.

If you start obsessing on Coogan's shows - and you've probably noticed I am - search out Coogan's Run. The Gareth Cheeseman character is pure proto-Partridge, and nearly as enjoyable.

Also, no-one seems to have mentioned Big Train, created by the Father Ted guys, quite similar in tone to a much less grim, but more conventionally funny than Jam.

Going back a bit, you might enjoy Lee & Herring's Fist Of Fun/This Morning With Richard Not Judy.

The Mighty Boosh is excellent, the 2nd series in particular. It's gentler and less abrasive than Brass Eye , but they have a similar sense of surreal wordplay in some ways.

Spaced: Yes. If you enjoy this, then watch Shaun Of The Dead afterwards

A lot of the (female) comedians from Jam and Coupling did their own sketch show, Smack The Pony. I wouldn't call it a superb show, but still definitely recommended.

Another Jam/Smack The Pony regular, Julia Davis, did her own sitcom, Nighty Night. I only saw a couple, but I've always found her and Kevin Eldon ( who is in almost all of the above mentioned shows ) to be excellent.

I think I'm nearly done. Oh yes: Monkey Dust. Dark. Animated. A bit twisted. Bloody funny...

If you're still unsated, you might have to go to the BBC in its audio-only format. Almost all of the shows you mention got their start as radio shows prior to their TV incarnations, so it's where the cutting edge of British TV comedy is being sharpened....
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:12 AM on April 18, 2006

(apart from a couple of dodgy episodes in the third series) I think Father Ted is the finest UK TV comedy ever made.

Possibly, but definitely the finest Irish one :)

For Black Books you can check out the video clips on the BBC America page.

I also loved Peep Show. It's a lot less sympathetic to the characters and a lot more filled with cringe-making situations but still not in an alienating or pretentious way, it keeps a light-hearted tone and the inner monologues are clever and hilarious.
posted by funambulist at 1:15 AM on April 18, 2006

While it could by no means be described as "TV" BBC Radio 4 has long served as a vehicle for launching artists that eventually end up there (for better or worse) - Little Britain, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, etc.
posted by rongorongo at 1:18 AM on April 18, 2006

Where's Only Fools and Horses? It's only voted best British comedy (or at least comes second - usually to Fawlty Towers) every single year :)

It's very sad that, possibly, the most famous comedy within Britain is literally never heard of outside of the UK. I've found Fawlty Towers and British sitcom fanatics in the US who haven't even heard of it.
posted by wackybrit at 1:45 AM on April 18, 2006

Seconding The Thick Of It, by the way. Even better than The Office.
posted by wackybrit at 1:46 AM on April 18, 2006

Every moment of Spaced is pure fried gold, as the cast themselves would say. If you saw Shaun of the Dead, the same people did Spaced first, infact the idea came from a particular zombie sequence in the show.

Man, I need to watch some Spaced.
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:01 AM on April 18, 2006

Seconding Spaced.

The Mighty Boosh! It's brilliant! Agreed on the potential inaccessibility, though.
posted by wilberforce at 2:07 AM on April 18, 2006

Dad's Army
15 Storeys High
posted by ed\26h at 2:28 AM on April 18, 2006

Based on your tastes, you might enjoy the TV Go Home archives (not a TV show!).
posted by tomcooke at 2:51 AM on April 18, 2006

I found Manchild to be absolutely hilarious.
Also check out Hustle, it no pure comedy, but can be quite funny at times.
posted by koenie at 3:04 AM on April 18, 2006

I can't judge you from your list. My partner and I like "Thin Blue Line". It's a cop show. Good writing. Stars the guy from Bean. Bean is the commander, he's shacked with his desk seargent.
posted by Goofyy at 3:28 AM on April 18, 2006

I second The League of Gentlemen and Smack the Pony recommendations. A lot of my American friends have also enjoyed The Mighty Boosh.

Aside from that, the only other thing I can think of that hasn't been mentioned already, is the highly underrated show The Book Club (Series Two here) which I could not for the life of me find a decent website link to aid this post. I was very sad when they chose not to make a third series.
posted by saturnine at 3:56 AM on April 18, 2006

"Good Neighbours" - is this the Good Life?
Yes. It was renamed here in the states for some reason.

You might enjoy Nighty Night which was produced by Steve Coogan's company and stars Julia Davis and Rebecca Front, who were in Jam, The Day Today, etc. Extremely dark and downright gross a lot of the time, but really funny. First season is available on DVD in the States.

And whateverthing Spaced.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 4:27 AM on April 18, 2006

Some of The Comic Strip Presents is pretty good, but some of it pretty bad also. 'Bad News' and 'The Strike' (with Peter Richardson playing Al Pacino playing Arthur Scargil) are notable episodes, although I guess the latter will be pretty impenetrable for someone not at all familiar with the subject. 'Mr Jolly Lives Next Door' with Rik Mayall and Ade Edmundson is the precursor to Bottom, and far better although still not really to my (or most peoples) taste.

Stella Street is amusing in small doses, the episodes are only 5-10 minutes long each, so not something I'd pick up on DVD.

More conventionally, Game On had some decent episodes.

(All of these pale in comparison to the likes of Blackadder, Partridge and The Office, though)
posted by toby\flat2 at 4:54 AM on April 18, 2006

Six hours and nobody's mentioned Q8?

Exterminate! Put them in the curry!
posted by flabdablet at 5:03 AM on April 18, 2006

All mentioned before, but just to reinforce them...

Father Ted
Nighty Night
League of Gentlemen
Peep Show
posted by MrMustard at 5:16 AM on April 18, 2006

I'm rather surprised no one has mentioned The Fast Show -- a sketch comedy show with roots firmly in the Flying Circus that was consistenly pee-your-pants funny. Sssuits you, I think. (Sorry.)
posted by lazywhinerkid at 5:44 AM on April 18, 2006

Let me offer some anti-recommendations. (All the good stuff I know about has already been touched on in this thread.)

Two recent Britcoms that I've heard raves for are Black Books and The IT Crowd. They are both painfully bad, worse than anything I would ever voluntarily watch. They employ forced sophomoric "humor", which is to say like all of the most mundane sitcoms, they try to make funny that which is not. Their characters do and say stupid, improbable things and the audience is meant to find this hilarious. If you do, more power to you. I don't. I find it tedious and mind-numbing. I would rather watch yet-another documentary on the Holocaust. My advice with these two shows is to find the first episode of each online (they used to be freely available via the BBC web site). If you like them, well go for it. Otherwise, don't waste your time and money.
posted by jdroth at 5:56 AM on April 18, 2006

Up Pompeii. A bit broad, not as sharp as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, say, but Frankie Howerd was some kind of genius.

You might want to browse the BBC comedy site itself
posted by IndigoJones at 6:00 AM on April 18, 2006

Six hours and nobody's mentioned Q8?

Is there anywhere, legit or otherwise, that one can actually see Q8 these days, unless you've got a friend who works in the BBC archives? Or any of Spike's television work for that matter (barring the bits that occasionally show up on UKNova and the like)?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:11 AM on April 18, 2006

You might like QI - a comedy panel show hosted by Stephen Fry.
posted by rongorongo at 7:13 AM on April 18, 2006

Thought of some more:
Alexei Sayle's Stuff has started coming out on DVD. Brilliant sketch show co-written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick (who themselves were a big influence on Armando Iannucci). Sayle was on The Young Ones (as the Balowski family), so that may be a mark against it for you, but this is very different.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie is also excellent, particularly if you enjoy wordplay.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:34 AM on April 18, 2006

Spaced never failed me yet. If you like Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame) smart writing and numerous pop culture references, this one is for you.

Also, Green Wing, [currently in its second season, we've been downloading torrents as they become available] has never failed me. There is a lot of character-driven humor, but there is, like the others I've listed, very smart writing. Also a number of physical stunts too. Of all of the ones I watch, this is probably my favorite.

Black Books has one dull character, one weird character, and one angry character set in a very rigid format. There are a few laughs, but I don't think it's (the first season) worth the investment. Maybe it gets better.

I absolutely love the first season of Black Books. There are a lot of laughs, a lot of great, witty lines. We've enjoyed watching it again and again. The second season is a little hit or miss, and it picks back up in season three.
posted by nuclear_soup at 7:38 AM on April 18, 2006

Green Wing people: the first episode really put me off, especially the constant wanking with the camera (Speed it Up! Slow it down! Spin it around real fast! Every minute or so! For the entire fucking episode!). Does it get better?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:42 AM on April 18, 2006

Big Train - mentioned above, but I have to second it as some premium dry satire. Only on for a couple of years I think, but a lot of brilliant skits.

And if anyone knows how I can get this encoded for NA, my email is in the profile.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2006

Big Train is good. For British TV, uknova.com has torrents of capped programmes (they don't have stuff that's commercially available in the UK). If you want to be on the cutting edge of British comedy TV, that's the place to be.
posted by tommorris at 8:21 AM on April 18, 2006

Since you have so many options with what's been mentioned so far, let me be the lone naysayer who despised Father Ted. I'm afraid I've only seen The Office and The Young Ones on your list, but very much found the Father Ted humorhumour to be more like the latter than the former.
posted by Aknaton at 10:17 AM on April 18, 2006

You may enjoy "My Hero" which is about what a superhero does between catastrophies. I think it started good then jumped the shark.
posted by kc0dxh at 10:49 AM on April 18, 2006

Oh, I almost forgot "Last of the Summer Wine".
posted by kc0dxh at 10:52 AM on April 18, 2006

Since every decent telly comedy of recent years has already been suggested, I'd second seeking out BBC Radio 4 stuff, whether using the Listen Again feature on the BBC site, or older stuff on CD. Also, since you're obviously a fan: Chris Morris' old shows on GLR and Radio Bristol are well worth checking out, as is On The Hour, which is pretty much the Day Today on radio.

(I suspect kc0dch is pulling your leg there - those are, famously, two of the worst comedy programmes ever broadcast, and definitely not in line with your tastes. Though if you do turn out to like them, you might want to check out pap like Dad's Army and Hi De Hi.)
posted by jack_mo at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2006

Wierd that only one other person mentioned Shameless.
One of the best things I've seen in quite a while,
although I've been in the US for long enough to be out of touch.
posted by yetanother at 11:33 AM on April 18, 2006

The Thin Blue Line
posted by kc0dxh at 12:11 PM on April 18, 2006

Thanks for all the great suggestions. I forgot that I had seen Spaced and Shameless and liked them both. There are a ton of shows I've never heard of listed here, so I will be knee deep in Britcoms for awhile.

I also didn't know that so many of the talents that I guess I like, Coogan, Morris, etc. started off on BBC Radio. I will definitely be checking out those programs as well. I really love Alan Partridge and didn't know there was a radio show, so that is exciting.

Knowing me, Falconetti, knowing you, Mefites. Aha!
posted by Falconetti at 12:14 PM on April 18, 2006

You... mentalists!

(Alexi Sayle, Amarndo Iannuci, League Of Gentleman)
posted by Blip at 1:41 PM on April 18, 2006

Nothing more to add except to add another vote for The Armando Ianacchi Show and The Day Today.
posted by urban greeting at 2:13 PM on April 18, 2006

posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:06 PM on April 18, 2006

Eighth-ing Shameless (more of a...dramedy) and The Thick Of It. The Thick Of It is excellent -- like a political The Office, but more biting.

Also haven't seen anyone mention ManStrokeWoman -- great sketch comedy with Nick Frost, who was Simon Pegg's hilarious sidekick in Shaun Of The Dead.
posted by alexfw at 7:03 PM on April 18, 2006

I have to second the recommendations for People Like Us and Nighty Night. I'd forgottena bout those but they are laugh-out-loud funny.

and yes, Green Wing does keep getting better. The floating Jesus? awesome.
posted by fshgrl at 8:10 PM on April 18, 2006

Well got the the end and no one mentioned Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights so thought I'd chip in...

"....a spinal cord in a bap.....you moron"
posted by doogyrev at 1:10 AM on April 19, 2006

Only Fools and Horses is rubbish. It's one of those shows people say they like in surveys because they think it's the right answer.
posted by ascullion at 11:15 AM on April 19, 2006

I can't believe we have a 68 post long discussion on British Comedy and no-one has yet mentioned Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer...
posted by SpacemanRed at 7:16 AM on April 21, 2006

"Saxondale," he said, a half year later.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:50 PM on November 7, 2006

Haha, I am totally on top of Saxondale. Thanks BBC America!
posted by Falconetti at 10:17 PM on November 15, 2006

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