"Talky" sitcoms that you can listen to without watching
May 11, 2024 4:16 PM   Subscribe

I've just discovered audio described TV. Can anyone recommend sitcoms or comedy-drama TV shows you've watched that are dialogue-heavy, don't rely too much on visuals, and might translate well into this format? No need to have seen an actual audio described version of the show to answer! I'm just looking for suggestions to try.

Requirements: Talky. Most of the storytelling should be in the dialogue. If a show has lots of lush sets, visual worldbuilding, physical comedy which must be seen to be understood, or long stretches without dialogue, I will probably get less out of it.

Thanks to various chronic illnesses, I often find myself in bed resting, or lying down doing physical therapy. I can't read or watch media during those periods, only listen with my ears. I already listen to hours and hours of podcasts and radio dramas and would love to be able to watch more TV. I'm not blind, but this seems perfect for my particular disabilities too.

The sources I have found have files that are, basically, the .mp3 of an audio track from a TV show, plus some (minimal) spoken description of what's happening on-screen, fitted into the pauses offered by the silences in dialogue.

Examples of shows I've tried that haven't worked:

• The Good Place – One of my favourites, but the visual worldbuilding and sets are too important to the atmosphere of the show!
• Frasier – More reliance on physical comedy and facial expressions than I remembered. Often the punchline that finishes off a dialogue is just a funny shot of Frasier or Niles' face.
• Blackadder – Also too much physical comedy.
• Fawlty Towers – Ditto.
• Father Ted – Ditto. Many jokes are dialogue + physical gag simultaneously. It's still funny, but not as funny as watching it — the audio description tries its best but there's not enough time to do the scene justice and make the joke land on time.
• All Creatures Great and Small – Don't want to be missing out on all those lovely long camera shots of the countryside.

Examples of shows that worked: Seinfeld. I think it's because:

• It's a small main cast,
• they (famously) never "do" anything,
• loads of the conversations happen in the same 3-5 locations,
• any actions the actors do on-screen aren't physically complicated to explain.
• Basically, lots of just standing around, talking.

I'm up for trying anything. Super niche shows probably won't be available, unfortunately. I enjoy old "classic" tv and find it cozy, but I like modern stuff, too. In general I prefer gentle-hearted humour to cynical — I do find Seinfeld too cynical, for instance. Oh, and I love science fiction and fantasy.
posted by fire, water, earth, air to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Good Times has tons of dialogue about the state of things, as well as humor.
posted by Melismata at 4:20 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

King of Queens. Lots of hilarious gabbing. Doug and wife Carrie living in Queens NY with Carrie's Dad living in the basement.
posted by Czjewel at 4:21 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Try Cheers. Most of the action happens in the bar. It has well-crafted, witty dialogue.
posted by dum spiro spero at 4:33 PM on May 11 [7 favorites]

In my head, Gilmore Girls and The West Wing are these. There may have been some meaningful sets, but 99.44% of the show was in the words. (So many words)
posted by adekllny at 4:34 PM on May 11 [12 favorites]

I was going to say the West Wing, too, but obviously not a sitcom. Probably any Aaron Sorkin show, honestly. (Never seen it, but Sports Night is a sitcom, I think)
posted by hoyland at 4:41 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]

I don't have any specific recommendations, but just want to say I'm so glad audio description is helpful to you. I don't consume as much of it as I would like to, and I'm totally blind.
posted by Alensin at 4:46 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]

Political comedies work well for me:
Yes, Minister
Yes, Prime Minister
The Hollowmen
Utopia (the Australian one)
They are all pretty cynical, though.
posted by Paragon at 5:06 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]

Night Court. Barney Miller. All In The Family. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. WKRP In Cincinnati. The Odd Couple. Just about any sitcom of that era, particularly those filmed before a live audience.
posted by SPrintF at 5:07 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]

The Golden Girls could be a radio play at times, the writing is so tight.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:15 PM on May 11 [11 favorites]

Newsradio might work, especially the earlier seasons, though there are some physical bits.

(I'm curious: is there descriptive audio for older shows? I know it's just about standard now--my nearly-blind friend uses it and loves it--but I don't remember even hearing about it until relatively recently.)
posted by praemunire at 5:43 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Maybe some Star Trek? Not every episode would work, but there is a lot of spoken plot exposition. Some of Deep Space Nine especially would work well for this.

Maybe MASH? It’s been a while since I watched it.
posted by jeoc at 5:46 PM on May 11

This is a tangential suggestion, so delete if necessary, but have you considered BBC radio dramatizations and the like?
posted by zadcat at 5:56 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]

Barney Miller was my first thought. 99% of the the time, there was only one set (well, two if you separate the squad room from Barney's office). In the first season, you occasionally saw Barney at home, and every once in a while they'd do a stake-out from an abandoned apartment, but visuals (with the exception of some eye rolls) are not generally essential to the story.

When I was a teenager, I'd listen to the show while resting (with my eyes closed) on the couch until dinner was ready. I think it's ideal for listening pleasure.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 6:17 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Two come to mind that would work well with this format, because they are so talky. (Links go to the show pages on the Listen to a Movie website, which features audio-only files of various TV shows and movies.)

Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist: A dialogue-heavy animated show for adults that centres around Dr. Katz, a professional psychotherapist, and his sessions with his patients (who are voiced by famous actors/comics). There are also bits where he is talking to his family, friends, and bored administrative assistant. In the early episodes, featuring mostly comics as patients, the bulk of the therapy sessions consists of repurposed stand up monologues, but then later episodes with actors tend to have more back and forth between Dr. Katz and his patients.

Home Movies: Another dialogue-heavy animated show aimed at adults with much of the same production crew as Dr. Katz, this one is centred around an eight year old aspiring filmmaker (voiced by an adult sounding adult, not an eight year old, which is part of the humour) and his family, friends, and teachers.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:25 PM on May 11 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Popping in just once to clarify — since I think I phrased it too enthusiastically in the original question — I mentioned classic TV because I discovered a love for old British comedies last year, but I mostly watch and have watched more recent stuff. I am non-neurotypical, queer, disabled, and POC, so I do like to balance my intake of old classics with more modern sensibilities. :)

There is a wonderful richness of suggestions so far, some of which are on my to-watch list already. Thank you so much, and looking forward to more!

praemunire, I'm not sure if older shows are available through the usual audio description features on streaming sites, but (if your friend wanted to check them out) several seem to be on AudioVault, a not-for-profit archive meant to make descriptive audio more accessible to blind people.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 6:38 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Friends? Small cast, limited locations, lots of talk.
posted by lhauser at 6:50 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]

King of the Hill
posted by avocet at 7:18 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Yeah I was actually going to suggest Friends too - I used to stream it while making dinner because I realized I wasn't missing much if I had to stop looking at the screen to tend to something in the kitchen.
posted by sigmagalator at 7:43 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

I think Community would work as well.
posted by ejs at 7:47 PM on May 11

oh no, I was going to recommend Frasier. How about the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? Although it's certainly rich visually, it's very "talky" and relies much more on verbal rather than physical humor. I find it great background listening when I'm cleaning.
posted by acidic at 8:09 PM on May 11

This might be a deep cut for some here: The Royle Family. It's a UK comedy about a working class family in Manchester, and almost all of the show takes place in their living room while they watch TV. Very talky, few locations, small cast. None of the storylines are high stakes or stressful.

You might also enjoy UK panel shows like Would I Lie To You and QI. Also "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue," which is a radio show and can be accessed as a podcast.
posted by zompus at 8:15 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

My instinct is to recommend shows written by playwrights, because they often use dialogue as the main driver of the story. So Sports Night, written by Aaron Sorkin, for sure. The Hour, a BBC sitcom from Abi Morgan might also work. I might even give Andor, the Star Wars story largely written by Tony Gilroy, a try.
posted by minervous at 8:16 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Ooh, I love Fisk, but I think it might fall into the Frasier category, too much body language/facial expressions.

What about Clarke and Dawe?
posted by freethefeet at 8:20 PM on May 11

Oh, and if you’re open to documentary/reality, Showtime’s series Couples Therapy is nothing but talk, and fascinating, too.
posted by minervous at 8:25 PM on May 11

Tangential to your question, but since 90% of what we watch is audio described, I wanted to offer you this resource: The Audio Description Project. They have all the most popular streaming services listed with which titles are available with description. The link I gave you is to the master list, which you can search or browse by media title, then find who might have it described. It's got movies and TV shows in one list.

They do a great job adding new things, but sometimes there will be something that has dropped off a service that isn't updated, or worse, where the movie is still there but the description is no longer available. It's fairly rare, but annoying so I thought I'd warn you.

The West Wing was going to be my suggestion. Sports Night, also Aaron Sorkin, is one of my favorites; it doesn't appear to be described, but it is VERY talky and lends itself to what you're suggesting.
posted by gideonfrog at 8:50 PM on May 11 [4 favorites]

I love my sleep timer on my TV and I listened to the entire Modern Family series while falling asleep - - there are many characters, but their voices are distinctive.
posted by fairmettle at 9:05 PM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Oh oh also Upstart Crow. Very talky, as it's a sitcom about Shakespeare.
posted by zompus at 9:08 PM on May 11

I've been watching Reba lately, as background noise while I read or rest, and I think it would work well.

It's definitely a comfort sitcom. Almost all of the scenes happen in one of two homes, usually in the kitchen. There's some physical humor, but mostly it's dialogue.

The characters are all flawed and lovable, even ones who would be villains in other shows (like the ex-husband and "other woman"/second wife).
posted by champers at 2:55 AM on May 12

30 Rock has always been a show I've described as "radio for TV." Great stuff. Also Gilmore Girls, though some drama, it always comes back to love and laughs. Both shows feature female-led showrunning or writing teams, and they're all the better for it. Also, Donald Glover wrote for 30 Rock and his sense of humor is both old school and utterly original.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:03 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

Also, have you just considered radio? BBC Radio 4 Extra has a huge online catalog of all sorts of wonderful scripted comedy, dramedy, drama, readings, dramatizations, etc.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:06 AM on May 12

Kim's Convenience
posted by belladonna at 8:23 AM on May 12

I'd go with radio as well-- many British comedies were radio shows before they were TV: Count Arthur Strong, Steptoe and Son (imported to America as Sanford and Son),

If sketch comedy is on the table, there's Little Britain, The League of Gentlemen, That Mitchell and Webb Sound, Flight of the Conchords, The Mighty Boosh.

Classic American radio drama stuff like Dragnet is also fun; you just have to endure ads for Fatima cigarettes and the Morton Downey Hour on NBC.

I also want to particularly recommend "Nebulous," the Mark Gatiss scifi sitcom, set a weird and slightly silly future Earth where much of history is lost or misunderstood.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:50 PM on May 12

Sherlock and Co (podcast) and Cabin Pressure and John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme are all audio only radio programmes (on Audible/iTunes etc or sometimes on BBC sounds) and they are very nice without worrying about the screen bit
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:10 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I'm here to nth Gilmore Girls. When my daughters were young they used to watch this, and I would hear it from another part of the room where I couldn't see the TV, and it worked very well
posted by Samarium at 4:44 AM on May 13

My friend does a lot of work packaging things in a kitchen and likes to listen to shows in the background, but can't always watch, so this came up in conversation recently! One show that was fun (for me and her, but YMMV) is Netflix's reality show The Circle. Contestents are each alone in apartments and have to communicate with each other solely through a variation on text messages. Because it's TV and there has to be something to listen to, they not only narrate aloud each message they send and read aloud each message they receive, they also narrate their internal thoughts about strategy and other contestants. Very little depends on the visual surroundings.

This is a silly but very fun show!
posted by LKWorking at 10:39 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]

AMC's first original series, Remember WENN, might do the trick for you, a show largely about making live radio theater in the 1930s.
posted by nobody at 4:41 AM on May 14

« Older I make money mooooves... could it not take 3...   |   East Hollywood Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments