If you like British humour – and most of us do, considering how we read British authors almost by default – you should consider watching British Comedies. While most of the books we read growing up were by British authors, most of the English television we watch is American. But while we gorge ourselves on all the sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, there’s a whole bunch of British comedies written in the kind of style that we love reading. If you’ve got to see it to believe it, well, that can easily be arranged!
1. Jeeves and Wooster
Let’s start with one of the oldies. If you like British humour, you have no choice but to love P.G. Wodehouse. He is a genius with words, characters and outlandish plots all set in an idyllic world that cannot exist. But turning books that rely on the genius of written wit into a television show can be a recipe for disaster. Thanks to Stephen Fry (Jeeves) and Hugh Laurie (Wooster), this show turned out to be excellent. Yes, that’s the same Hugh Laurie you have come to love as Dr. House. Watch a single, solitary episode of this series and you will realise just how good an actor Laurie is. Watch just a couple of minutes and you’ll want to see more.
Let’s go on to another of the British comedies oldies. Most people only know of Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean. It’s their loss. It truly is, because Rowan Atkinson is one of the finest actors Britain has ever produced, apart from being one of the best deadpan comedians ever. His stand-up routines are also excellent, by the way. Blackadder is a period comedy produced by BBC, and has four seasons.
You think you know what you expect from a sitcom. You don’t. This channels the absurdity of Monty Python and the slapstick comedy that we have come to expect from everything, but set in historic time periods that you will recognise from boring classes. Only now, it won’t be so boring anymore, and you will forever love Baldrick. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie make appearances in this, too.
3. The IT Crowd
Do you like The Big Bang Theory? Wait till you watch The IT Crowd. Starring Chris O’Dowd, Katherine Parkinson and Richard Ayoade, it uses every stereotype about geeks and nerds out there, but without painting them over into unrealistic portrayals. They’re not fancy physicists. They’re not even engineers. They work in the lowly IT department of a shady company called Reynholm Industries, and they are always in some kind of trouble. Season 2, episode 2 is particularly funny if you don’t feel like going in order. For a snippet, try this one.
4. Black Books
Black Books was created in association with the brilliant mind behind The IT Crowd, Graham Lineman. It stars Dylan Moran as a horrible, misanthropic book shop owner, Bill Bailey as his nice guy assistant, and Tamsin Greig as their selfish friend who gets her five fruits and veggies for the day from wine, wine, wine, wine and martinis. This is not like the others on the list. This is far odder. Bill Bailey and Dylan Moran are accomplished comedians, while Tamsin Greig is a great theatre actress. Their skills and personalities make even the oddest situations laugh-out-loud funny.
5. Father Ted
This is yet another Graham Lineman show, which makes this list quite Irish. This is not set in England, but in an island off Ireland. It chronicles the adventures of three priests who have pretty much been exiled to the island, Craggy Island, and live together. They’re looked after by a housekeeper. That might not sound very promising, but one priest was exiled for going to Vegas instead of letting a child go to Lourdes (Father Ted); one for compromising nuns; and the last for being an alcoholic flirt, with the final straw being an incident at a wedding.
Father Ted is also in constant competition with the priest of Rugged Island. The plots revolve either around this rivalry or around how Father Ted and his colleagues try to sort out situations on Craggy Island. Of course, their sorting out always ends up being more trouble than the original situation.
If those aren’t mainstream enough for you, try Only Fools and Horses, which is considered one of the greatest British comedies of all time and is structured in a more traditional mould. But really, these series, unlike most we’re used to, aren’t that long. For most of them, full episodes are available on YouTube. They’re just a few seasons long, and each season only has six to ten episodes. Once you’re done, you’ll wish there were more!
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