Rev/Views Top Shows: British

Category: , , , By Rev/Views

Today we get to the home grown shows, my favourite shows from good old Blighty. I decided to place my favourite British shows in their own category because there is a genuinely distinctive difference between anglo shows and their distant American cousins - few American Sitcoms come close to the style of the British ones at all (I'd say only Arrested Development, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm and partially The Office manage it) and dramas are a genre which the Americans just effortlessly dominate.

But that said, here's a selection of my favourite British shows.

10. The Mighty Boosh

At times brilliant and hilarious, at times utterly bizarre - this journey through time and space is something you really do have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy, but when you do - it's just utterly fantastic and hilarious.

The episodes are a little uneven in quality, some of them are far better than others, some aren't that funny the first time you watch them but become funnier on the re-watch (maybe because you've 'clicked' with the humour the second time round). But still, this is a show which stands out as a unique creation and unlike many off-beat and bizarre comedy shows it also manages to be, well, good.

9. Fawlty Towers

Classic, classic British comedy which doesn't ever really date at all (apart from the film quality). It's relatively low on this list because at times I do find the show a little overwhelming in the cringe factor, as such it's not something I can watch all the time, but there is no disputing this shows pedigree and sharp comedy.

Of course, it's something which is talked about so often that I even encountered it in lectures while studying psychology at university, that was a highly enjoyable couple of hours indeed. Which I guess makes this the most educational show on the list as well.

8. Father Ted

Like a lot of shows on this list, Father Ted has quite a grimy and mundane feel to it's setting, based on Craggy Island this show about three priests and the woman who cooks for them is nothing short of marvelous. The show could have dangerously spun off into nothing more than priestly humour with great ease, but instead it manages to be a show more about survival against boredom on a tiny island.

Sharp, tightly scripted and well characterised there's so much to love and enjoy about this show. From classic enquires about tea to the naive assumption that Richard Wilson would enjoy having his catchprase shouted at him (something I'm sure many, many people do to so many actors. I know Wayne Knight is tired of people saying 'Hello Newman' to him - speaking of which, I wonder if he'll be in the Seinfeld/Curb reunion, I do hope so), it's a show which delivers laugh after laugh thanks to it's timeless quality and shrews insights into human nature.

7. Black Books

In part this makes it onto the list because I have in the past worked in a shop which is essentially a spin on the one from Black Books. Yes, that's right - a shop where the intent seemed to be to avoid selling stock to customers, be as rude as possible and avoid doing anything more than the most minimal amount of work. Some members of staff even went as far as to wear outfits which looked the same every day of the week - just to complete that cartoon surreal feel to the place.

But onto Black Books itself; the show is very, very British in feel. It's set in a small book shop, the cast is small and the characters are all very unpleasant to each other (and anyone else in range). This means, of course, that it's just hilarious. Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran and Tamsin Greig all give fantastic performances with lashings of off-beat humour. It has a timeless feel to it and a very familiar one to anyone who's been into a small independent second hand book store.

It's just a shame that Dylan has said there will be no more episodes, but we can still enjoy the ones we've already received.

6. Top Gear

The only non-sitcom to make it onto this list and it's still a scripted comedy show - after a fashion. I guess I have to confess that outside of a few shows (like State of Play, Wire in the Blood and Foyles War) I mostly watch British situation comedies.

Top Gear, of course, isn't a situation comedy as such. But it is an intensely enjoyable show all about the unashamed love and adoration of cars. From the banter to the stunts and reviews the show seeks to inform the viewer about things they really don't need to know. At all.

Yes, it's not everyone's cup of earl grey, but the show really is a fantastic creation - revelling in the love of petrol and fumes with gleeful abandon. The filming is stylish, the dialog is sharp and the presenters are all - well they're certainly personalities, that's for sure. Maybe for everyone, but personally I always enjoy the show when it's on. Especially the specials which often highlight not just the cars but the locales as well.

5. Blackadder

One of two roles in which Rowan Atkinson is most famous for (the second being Mr. Bean) Blackadder is one of the definitive Brit-coms and one of the best. While the first series doesn't really stand out in the crowd the other three (and the various specials) certainly do. Each season deals with a different era and generation of the Blackadder family, a group of very similar looking individuals all with the unfortunate name of Edmund and the even more unfortunate tendency to land themselves in sticky situations.

Like many British comedies, Blackadder specialises in tight and witty dialog along with an exceptionally cynical outlook on situations. It has a supporting cast which almost reads like a 'who's who' in comedy, including of course the brilliant Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. But the biggest change to the show, and the one which evolved it into the success it became was Ben Elton taking over writing duties. He changed the style of the show for the second series onwards and is responsible for frankly improving the show a great deal.

Irregardless of this, it's one of the best shows ever made and deserves a slot in just about every top television show list somewhere.

4. Red Dwarf

Forget the slightly embarrassing later seasons and concentrate on the show from series three to six (yes I'm including six as one of the good ones here Dan, sorry!) with a little nod towards the first two seasons, which are very different in their style and flavour. That's the Red Dwarf I'm writing about here, not the diluted and somewhat unfunny creation which turned up later on (even though I do adore Chloe Annett).

It's an unusual beast in many ways, bucking the traditions and trends of it's time by marrying science fiction with comedy (a formula which works so well for Futurama also) and by now just about every Red Dwarf aficionado knows just how hard Rob Grant and Doug Naylor had to work to get Red Dwarf on the screens.

We should be thankful they did, because Red Dwarf made the 1990s a brighter and more enjoyable place, standing up during the decade as one of the few great British sitcoms in a sea which was mostly composed of of American shows like Friends and Frasier. To this day it remains funny and exciting even after repeated watching, so go ahead and smoke my kipper if you feel lucky punk (or something like that)!

3. Marion & Geoff

There's a far longer explanation of why I think Marion and Geoff is one of the British greats located over here, but the short version comes down to this. It's an amazing example of how much can be done with so little, all there is to the show is the wonderful Keith Barrett (Rob Brydon) monologuing to a single camera about his life, past and thoughts.

But beyond this simplicity there's a real depth to the show and the comedy, the cleverest part of which is the subtext to Keith's dialog. There's so much extra information embedded in the scenes and conversations he describes that it's clear to the viewer that Keith just doesn't 'get' what's going on, that this lovely and basically naive man isn't sharp enough to realise the truth behind his own words.

And it's that which makes this comedy genius.

2. Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

"Listen, I'm a writer. If I want to start a sentence with a full stop, I will! "

A clever and witty pastiche on 1980s horror, especially the kind which falls into the B category (written and film) Darkplace manages to be simultaneously intelligent and crude. Running for just six episodes the show came out in 2004 without much of a reception, but after being released on DVD and being re-aired as well it achieved some moderate success.

Part of what makes the show so great is just how deliberately bad it is, in fact - as a serious horror/drama (which is what it's 'meant' to be) it's a bloody awful show beyond words, as terrible as the uttermost dregs of 1980s schlock. But as this comedy is designed as a show within a show it's transformed from being awful into being something quite wonderful and brilliant.

Those horrible editing mistakes, awful acting and utterly hackneyed plots come together to create one wonderful amalgamation of genius, and it's this which makes it such a special show.

You also haven't lived until you've experienced watching the show with the DVD commentary on. In character DVD commentary that is. Sublime.

1. Spaced

"Skip to the end."

As one of my all time favourite comedy shows Spaced is something which I'll always have time for in my life. It's hard to put your finger on exactly what it is which makes Spaced so entertaining, the show mostly deals with rather mundane situations and pop culture references, but there's a clever tilt on everything which makes it all the more entertaining. You could almost call it 'a show about nothing', but it's so much more than that. It's a show about friendship, about television, about life and much, much more - all passed through a filter which celebrates the little things.

Performances across the cast are just hilarious and a few of the short set pieces are so good that I wrote a post highlighting them a short while ago. Even to this day they remain fresh and funny, as does the entire show. It's two short and sweet seasons filled with staggering brilliance.

Note: I am obligated to give a nod of the head to Only Fools and Horses as being classic British comedy, but personally I can't stand the show. There are also other shows which are good, but fail to make the top selection for various reasons - these include 'Allo 'Allo, Extras and One Foot in the Grave.

Monty Python's Flying Circus should also be on this list, but you'll have to make do with this instead, I forgot to expand it's entry and don't have time now.


4 comments so far.

  1. Matt 14 September 2009 at 10:17
    How can Blackadder be lower than Red Dwarf??? Are you insane.

    Also - no Green Wing? That was genius.
  2. Dan 14 September 2009 at 11:17
    Series 6 of Red Dwarf is excellent compared to everything thereafter, I'll admit. But people forget that, at the time it came out, many people were disappointed. Setting the series all aboard Starburg (sans Holly) was the first of many calamitous format changes, and it was the first series to stray into unnecessary "sequels" (Polymorph II), and repeat jokes. No wonder Rob Grant left. He knew when they were struggling to stay fresh, so I'll always respect him for bailing when the quality slipped. Everything after S6 has been atrocious. More than any other show I've ever seen, it pains me to see what happened to RD.
  3. C.C.Carey 16 September 2009 at 00:58
    Great list of shows, love them all. Would of been nice to see Monty Python on the list but can not have it all. =)
  4. Rev/Views 16 September 2009 at 21:35
    @ C.C.Carey: Monty Python was on the list, it got bumped for reasons I can't quite recall, but I did give it a mention at the end!

    @Matt: I know how much you love Blackadder; myself I like it, but it's not something I can watch over and over - Red Dwarf is.

    Green Wing was just below Monty Python in being axed from the list. Mostly because the second season just isn't as good as the first one.

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