Smart Britcoms?
June 16, 2008 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend smart British comedies on DVD. I liked As Time Goes By and am enjoying Cold Feet - what else should I look for?

Other shows I've enjoyed: Good Neighbors (a/k/a The Good Life), Jeeves and Wooster (I love Stephen Fry), Kiss Me Kate, Solo (yes, I like Felicity Kendal, too). Coupling was pretty good - 7 out of 10? A Bit of Fry and Laurie is funny but I'm looking for story and characters rather than sketch. Cold Feet is enjoyable but is a little close to dramedy for me. If Tom Stoppard wrote for TV, that would be right up my alley.

Looking for things that are readily available in the US on DVD (or are likely to be within the next year).

posted by kristi to Media & Arts (61 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
posted by jtron at 7:50 PM on June 16, 2008

Black Adder.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:03 PM on June 16, 2008

Surely the Blackadder series is on your list? What about Mr. Bean?
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:04 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: I just discovered that the first two seasons of Waiting for God are out on DVD. (Apparently the third is coming soon.) I can't even begin to express how wonderful this show is. I don't watch TV, but my (British) mother and I used to drag one out back when this was regularly showing on PBS, just to watch this one show. I really think it's the most brilliant show ever produced for television.

The characters are, in fact, UNBELIEVABLY strong -- both of the two main characters (Diana and Tom) are complicated but extremely distinct. And it's hilarious. It's definitely a lot more character driven than, e.g., Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, etc.

Also, I'd recommend Yes Minister. And Blackadder. Those two are both also extraordinarily good. But nothing's as good as Waiting for God.
posted by paultopia at 8:05 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Amazon has Black Books seasons in region 1. It's my favourite British comedy basically ever.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:07 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Thin Blue Line. BBC. 2 disc set of the entire two season run (mid 90's). Rowan Atkinson is a police sargeant. Every character in the police station is funnier than the next.

Don't watch more than one episode at a time, because some of the jokes and gags are repeated and it can be annoying. Otherwise it's very funny.
posted by Zambrano at 8:08 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Office!. Not the NBC version, the BBC program.
posted by MiggySawdust at 8:09 PM on June 16, 2008

posted by Tenuki at 8:10 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's smart, but Father Ted sure is funny. You didn't mention The Office, and I absolutely love The IT Crowd.
posted by cnc at 8:12 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Vicar of Dibley is quite good. Or maybe that's because I'm an unabashedly squeeing Dawn French fanboy.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:16 PM on June 16, 2008

My personal favorites:

My Family
Red Dwarf
Are You Being Served?
My Hero
'Allo 'Allo

Seconding Blackadder, Father Ted and The Thin Blue Line. Enjoy!
posted by snowleopard at 8:16 PM on June 16, 2008

seconding Blackadder, Black Books, Yes Minister & The IT Crowd.

How about Fawlty Towers?

Or The Mighty Boosh?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:19 PM on June 16, 2008

Response by poster: jtron, many thanks for that link! Looks great - but casts a somewhat wider net for my rather picky tastes. Some good leads there, though..

I'm afraid Rowan Atkinson is not entirely my cup of tea. I like Blackadder okay, but it's a bit on the nasty side for me. Similarly, I'm not into The Office or Extras. I want to laugh, not squirm.

Waiting for God sounds like just the sort of thing I'm looking for!

I get a lot of stuff from the library, and it looks like they have Yes Prime Minister but not Yes Minister. Would it be stupid to start with YPM?

You guys are suggesting a number of shows I've never heard of, which ROCKS. Thanks!
posted by kristi at 8:23 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: Thirding Black Books. I don't usually care much for English humor, but Black Books is one of the few shows I enjoyed all the way through, and actually found funny. I definitely recommend it, though, I don't know if one could consider it "smart".
posted by Dreamcast at 8:27 PM on June 16, 2008

Only marginally related: I love Felicity Kendall! - at the moment her charcter in the Good Life is my fashion hero. Gumboots!
posted by lottie at 8:31 PM on June 16, 2008

You don't need to watch Yes Minister before Yes Prime Minister - same characters, same tensions etc. I guess the writers just let Jim Hacker become PM so that he could bumble on a world stage for a change.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:38 PM on June 16, 2008

Rumpole of the Bailey?

Thirding Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:41 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: Absolute Power
posted by pompomtom at 8:54 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: Seconding Red Dwarf, which has a take on how the human and cat species have evolved that is truly unique. If you have not seen the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, you really do have to.
If you are into Tom Stoppard, a slightly more gentle humor is provided by Alan Plater, one of my favorite screenwriters. These are also dramedies, but they are fascinating in combining suspensful plots with exceptionally off-the-wall British humor. Some examples are the Beiderbecke Connection (there are two other plays in this series, but the only one I could find in the US was this one), and Oliver's Travels.
posted by Susurration at 8:56 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's more quietly funny than laugh-out-loud funny, but my wife and I were given season 1 of The Royle Family on DVD and we've quite liked it.
posted by BT at 9:04 PM on June 16, 2008

More on the As Time Goes By end of things than the Black Adder end of things: To the Manor Born.
posted by j-dawg at 9:09 PM on June 16, 2008

Here to second Uburoivas's rec of The Mighty Boosh. Very funny and strange show.

You might take a look at a comedy from Scotland called Still Game.
posted by snwod at 9:10 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: I'm tempted to recommend Lovejoy -- which is available on DVD -- not least because you get to see Ian McShane well before Deadwood. It's comedy drama rather than comedy, but there's probably enough funny to keep you going.

Only Fools And Horses. Behemoth of 80s/90s comedy. Better in the mid-early period, I think. On that note, possibly Minder. Again, comedy-drama, but a possibility.

Butterflies by Carla Lane might be hard to find in the US, but you get to see the ubiquitous Geoffrey Palmer, whose presence in the cast may be a good sign that a comedy suits your tastes. (Fairly Secret Army is a bit off the wall, but has connections to stuff I'll discuss later.)

If you like Waiting For God, you'll probably like One Foot In The Grave, another behemoth. From there, possibly Love Soup (David Renwick again, though a different kind of comedy). Possibly step back into the 70s: The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is the glorious ugly duckling of that era's comedy. Or Ever Decreasing Circles, which is the sharper 80s follow-up by the writers of The Good Life. Many of these are going to be harder to find unless you have access to somewhere that rents Region 2 DVDs.
posted by holgate at 9:15 PM on June 16, 2008

I second Are You Being Served?, Waiting For God, and The Vicar of Dibley for you. These are far from my favorite Britcoms, but they're more similar to the shows you've said you've enjoyed. There's also Keeping Up Appearances, which you might like. These tend to be the shows that air most frequently in the US (on PBS).

I, for one, am a huge fan of The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd, but I really don't know if they would be up your alley (especially the former). They're also not available in the US (on DVD). I'm also a fan of the squirmy types of shows (Gervais, etc.), so I'm a little out of my usual territory!

Have you seen anything with Steve Coogan? Here's The Day Today; Knowing Me, Knowing You; and I'm Alan Partridge.. but I don't know if you'd enjoy them.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:15 PM on June 16, 2008

Since I miss preview: The Beiderbecke Affair is the first of the sequence of Alan Plater comedies with James Bolam and Barbara Flynn, and the set usually carries that name: I haven't seen them in years -- when I was in my teens -- but I still remember being utterly captivated by them, and suspect that it would be a mistake to watch them out of sequence.

That means you may need to wait until the US distributor sorts out the cock-up with Affair reported on, or shock your wallet with a purchase of the Region 2 DVD.
posted by holgate at 9:26 PM on June 16, 2008

Holgate's answer is really good. I would definitely consider their suggestions.

The main problem is that many people (myself included) listed stuff that is not available on DVD over here, so finding some of this stuff may be difficult to impossible (believe me, this has been a frustrating problem that I've dealt with for years!). That's part of the reason why I seconded some of the PBS 'favorites'.. because they have all been released here (and the entire series). Black Books is great, but I THOUGHT only the first series (there were three, right?) was released here.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:28 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: One more, because on threads about British comedy, provenance (writers/cast) are a good guide to what else you'd like: As Time Goes By was written by Bob Larbey, whose partnership with John Esmonde was responsible for The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles. Solo is Carla Lane, so Butterflies and The Liver Birds (though perhaps not Bread, which felt dated when it came out, and I suspect hasn't aged well).
posted by holgate at 9:44 PM on June 16, 2008

I'm afraid my suggestion of Fawlty Towers probably won't be much good, if you don't like the humour of squirming. It's a wonderful series, but it does rather centre around everything John Cleese hates about the English middle class and himself.

Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are fabulous - witty, pointed, and very quotable. Much less squirm factor than Blackadder or Towers.
posted by rodgerd at 10:15 PM on June 16, 2008

Mael: Amazon UK delivers to the US. Before ordering, though, make sure your DVD player can play UK discs - I'd check for that. As for Black Books, Amazon in the US has a complete series box set.
posted by jtron at 10:22 PM on June 16, 2008

Best answer: The Thick of It. (wikipedia and YT links).

Think of it as the BBC Office with (even) more brains, a(n even) drier sense of humor, and an interest in politics. The characters really develop, for a half-hour comedy. My favorite recent British export, with the previously mentioned Mighty Boosh a close second.
posted by scarylarry at 10:46 PM on June 16, 2008

Ah, I didn't see your update further into the thread. Don't necessarily let the Office comparison I made dissuade you. The Thick of It delivers squirms that are more of the "oh-bother-how-did-I-get-into-this-situation" type than "OMIGOD-I-cannot-look" type. It's really, in my view, the charting the upper realms of what a 'situation comedy' can be. It doesn't just want you to be uncomfortable.
posted by scarylarry at 10:51 PM on June 16, 2008

posted by rux at 11:56 PM on June 16, 2008

Strong second for Chef.
posted by allterrainbrain at 12:36 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

2nding Spaced. It's brilliant.
posted by juv3nal at 12:44 AM on June 17, 2008

Porridge is one of the classics from the 1970's and features Ronnie Barker, a giant of British comedy. Or something a bit more recent - Drop the Dead Donkey. And in the comedy drama vein, one of my all-time favourites was Auf Wiedersehen Pet, which tells the story of a group of (mainly) Geordie bricklayers and builders working in Dusseldorf (written by the same duo that did Porridge).
posted by jontyjago at 1:19 AM on June 17, 2008

Best answer: Peep Show

A sitcom about Mark and Jeremy (Jez), two socially dysfunctional men. Our Review: Peep Show is without a doubt, most definitely one of the very best sitcoms of the decade.

The Green Wing

A Channel 4 comedy which follows the adventures of the childish and slightly mad staff at a hospital. Fantastic! A refreshing change from the bland comedies than normally fill our screens.

The Smoking Room

Sitcom focusing on a disparate group of smokers who frequent an office smoking room.
BSG Review: This BBC3 sitcom has split viewers and critics alike right down the middle. It's like marmite - it's something you either love or hate.

The quotes are from the links to the British Sitcom Guide, which I'd never heard of before now, but seems to have done a pretty good job in describing these three programmes. Might be worth checking out their reviews of some of the other suggestions.

Also nthing Black Books, Father Ted and the Yes (Prime) Minister stuff.
posted by Jakey at 2:09 AM on June 17, 2008

Given your preferences seconding Keeping Up Appearances and One Foot In The Grave

Also recommend Dad's Army and 'Allo 'Allo... real old school but they still make me laugh when they turn on tv now.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:30 AM on June 17, 2008

Jam and Jerusalem. I think its called "Clatterford" in the U.S.
posted by Lleyam at 3:51 AM on June 17, 2008

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Chef, Fawlty Towers.
posted by RussHy at 4:43 AM on June 17, 2008

Best answer: Before Coupling, Steven Moffat wrote the wonderful Joking Apart.

You might be interested in Love Soup and Sensitive Skin if you like a relatively relaxed pace and a female lead character.

If you hate squirm-based comedy, I think you'll enjoy Gavin and Stacey which strikes a nice balance between being upbeat and big-hearted on the one hand, and cheerfully smutty on the other.
posted by tomcooke at 5:05 AM on June 17, 2008

Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister are great. Last of the Summer Wine is fun, taken no more than one a day. May to December is my all-time favorite--wait, The Good Life is my favorite. To the Manor Born is pretty good. There was an enjoyable series whose name I can't recall--help, anyone?--with Penelope Keith as a woman who unknowingly took a job where her husband worked; he started out as Geoffrey Palmer and wound up as Peter Bowles. I guess you've watched All Creatures Great and Small; if not, it's loveable.
posted by sevenstars at 6:15 AM on June 17, 2008

Best answer: Before Coupling, Steven Moffat wrote the wonderful Joking Apart.

And before that, Press Gang. Think Lou Grant meets Moonlighting, but made for kids. And utterly brilliant. Deservedly launched many, many careers. Now free to watch on but only if you're in the UK, the tantalising fuckers.
posted by holgate at 6:23 AM on June 17, 2008

The Keith/Palmer/Bowles series was called Executive Stress. If I remember correctly a large part of the plot was the fact that they had to pretend not to be married at work because it was against some kind of company rule.
posted by tomcooke at 6:24 AM on June 17, 2008

Best answer: There was an enjoyable series whose name I can't recall--help, anyone?--with Penelope Keith as a woman who unknowingly took a job where her husband worked

Executive Stress
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:25 AM on June 17, 2008

If you like sketch comedy and offbeat, hilarious characters ( a la Tracey Ullman but IMO funnier), try The Catherine Tate Show.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:36 AM on June 17, 2008

Slightly off-question, but Mr. Workerant and I have been watching Slings and Arrows, a very smart and funny Canadian show. Netflix has it.
posted by workerant at 9:03 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Looks like you're only looking for nice and gnelte stuff. I can't advise Thick of It, Brass Eye, Day Today, Alan Partridge, Nighty Night, Fawlty and so on. They're all phenomenal, but like a lot of Brit Comedy, all pretty dark and vicious.

Joyful comedy:

Spaced is one of the greatest british shows ever.

The Mighty Boosh is sheer joy, but it might take an epidsode or two to get the amateurish pantomime (British panto) character.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 9:05 AM on June 17, 2008

nthing Spaced, Peep Show, IT Crowd, Chef. All of them are nearly essential viewing I think.
posted by zennoshinjou at 9:37 AM on June 17, 2008

nthing Black Books. It's rarely overtly uncomfortable nor terribly dark, easy to acquire (only three seasons), and the three main characters are terrifically lovable. I've gotten all three seasons from Netflix, plus the boxed set is available on Amazon (as jtron mentioned), though a bit pricey.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 10:14 AM on June 17, 2008

Response by poster: YOU PEOPLE ROCK. 49 responses? I'm floored.

I am completely thrilled at all these awesome suggestions. Fawlty Towers is right at the edge of my squirm tolerance (the squirminess mitigated by characters like Polly and the cook, and of course John Cleese is amazing in any event), so I'm appreciative of the squirmy suggestions - I might check out some of them.

I've got some Yes Prime Minister and Oliver's Travels on reserve at the library now, and it may be time to finally join Netflix so I can check out Black Books and The Mighty Boosh, which sound terrific.

A few other followups of appreciation: I've seen at least most of Chef and liked it; I've seen one or two episodes of Father Ted and I'm thinking I should look for some more and give it a serious chance; despite what I said about Rowan Atkinson I suspect I'd really like The Thin Blue Line, so now I just need to find it; Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served? have seemed just a little broad for my tastes but perhaps I need to give them another look too. It looks like they're still working on a Region 1 release of Spaced, so I'll keep an eye out for that.

Truly, this is amazing. Thank you all so much for the excellent information!
posted by kristi at 10:47 AM on June 17, 2008

Response by poster: And -

scarylarry, The Thick of It sounds great (I like Chris Langham's acting, wish I'd seen him in the original production of Stoppard's Arcadia!); and workerant, yup, I loved Slings and Arrows too, so thanks for throwing that in there!

Seriously, I just want to mark everything Best Answer. Woot!
posted by kristi at 10:54 AM on June 17, 2008

I'm a big fan of The IT Crowd and My Hero. Even though I am not a car person (at all) I love Top Gear (at least since James May joined the show). Top Gear isn't a fictional-story type show, but I love it anyway.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 12:34 PM on June 17, 2008

You might find the BBC's Comedy Connections series useful to help you find similar things to the things that you like.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:40 PM on June 17, 2008

jtron: I'm aware that it's possible to get UK DVDs in the US, but they don't play on regular US DVD players, which kind of defeats the purpose of spending all the money. Of course, the ideal is getting an all-regions DVD player, but I haven't done that yet. Certainly that would be the best thing for Americans who mostly only like UK shows!
posted by Mael Oui at 8:53 PM on June 17, 2008

Many DVD players are, of course, multi-region. Just google around for "region lock" and your DVD player and there's a good chance you'll find unlock codes.

As an alternative, VLC will (on any platform you use it) cheerfully play DVDs while ignoring region locking issues.
posted by rodgerd at 1:17 AM on June 19, 2008

Many DVD players are, of course, multi-region.

It's not the region code that's the major problem, UK DVDs are PAL formatted, while US players are NTSC. But like you said you can avoid both problems watching the DVDs on a computer.
posted by Tenuki at 10:29 AM on June 19, 2008

Tenuki: you can get $60 DVD players that are multi-region, upsample, and do PAL-NTSC conversion.
posted by holgate at 5:51 PM on June 19, 2008

> Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served? have seemed just a little broad for my tastes but perhaps I need to give them another look too

Those shows make me cringe, horribly dated stereotypical characters. Put them on the backup list.

Nthing Black Books, Spaced, The Thick of It, Green Wing - the building/projector scene in series one of Green Wing is responsible for causing the single most extreme physical reaction to comedy in my household, there was actual rolling on the floor.

Older classics: Red Dwarf, Butterflies, Yes Minister.

You have to let Father Ted grow on you, I just didn't 'get it' to start with.

If you do end up being able to watch different region DVDs and you watch and enjoy Black Books then also try 15 Storeys High. (warning: dark, surreal, not to everyone's tastes)

You felt that Cold Feet was a little too drama but I get the feeling you might enjoy Johnathan Creek.
posted by Ness at 4:00 AM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Broad, to be sure, but also very, very, very pointedly satirical.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:45 PM on June 21, 2008

Oh! And The Vicar of Dibley.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:55 PM on June 21, 2008

My three favorite British series would, I suppose, be considered drama, but they also are comedic to some extent.

I love, love "Monarch of the Glen." About a down-to-earth 1990's Scottish laird who has just opened a restaurant in London. He goes home "temporarily" to try to make the family's 40,000 acre estate profitable so they don't lose it. It's great comedy and drama rolled into one. The characters change quite a bit after the first few seasons, which at first I didn't like, but they were still worth watching. This one has a devoted fan base.

I second "Ballykissangel" which was mentioned once - again, I loved it. Takes place in a 1990's Irish village. Netflix classes it as a comedy.

I can't help but mentioning this one - "The Duchess of Duke Street." One of my all-time favorites. I guess it's more of a drama than a comedy, but it's light. It's historical - takes place around the turn of the century, and is based on a true story. Gemma Jones is great in this.
posted by onemorething at 9:00 AM on July 16, 2008

« Older Bed for a nomadic lifestyle?   |   Keyboard problem. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.