I'm full-blooded American. Seriously, I had a blood transfusion that replaced my crimson syrup with motor oil, hot-dog water, and the sweat of migrant workers. So naturally all I want to do to celebrate the birth of my great nation is laugh at the country we fended off for independence. With July 4th days away, here's a list of my favorite British comedies and where you can find them online.
Note: I've left off some typical entries, like The Office, BlackAdder, and Monty Python's Flying Circus for obvious reasons. You'll also notice that a ridiculous amount of these shows feature Matt Berry (whose handsome visage is in the .GIF above). That's because I f@*$king love Matt Berry.
My standby choice when there's nothing on television and I fire up Netflix, The IT Crowd, which started in 2006 and concluded with a special last year, is a proudly nerdy workplace comedy that's surprisingly versatile. It can hang with The Office when it's about workmates, it can do the nerdy humor of The Big Bang Theory, or it can delve into the absurd when it wants to elevate itself into the world of other irreverent British comedies. Its cast is the main draw here, with Chris O'Dowd (Family Tree, Moone Boy) getting his big break as lazy IT tech Roy (who spawned the catchphrase "have you tried turning it on and off again?"), Richard Oyoade perfectly cast as socially inept geek Moss, and Katherine Parkinson as the know-nothing-about-computers manager of the IT department. Stick around for Season 2, when the hilarious Matt Berry joins the cast as the big boss of the company. An American version with Joel McHale in the role of Roy was mercifully never picked up, but McHale would go on to star in Community, which was no doubt influenced by The IT Crowd. And if you want to further tie in Community, Ayoade has directed several episodes of the NBC series.
Imagine a single-class version of Freaks and Geeks but without the freaks and there's a lot more cursing, drinking, and hormonally charged sex talk. Okay, maybe they really only share the high-school setting and the awkward adolescent's eternal struggle to fit in, but Inbetweeners does both extremely well. Following a pack of four friends—the nerdiest of which narrates the entire thing and looks like a teenage Paul F. Tompkins—as they relive all your high-school nightmares, The Inbetweeners, which MTV adapted in 2012, will satisfy your need for boner jokes and mentions of wanking. A perfect series for fans of Freaks and Geeks and Awkward.
Starring the duo of David Mitchell and Robert Webb, this sitcom, which started in 2003, is best distinguished by its unique point-of-view: everything is shot first-person. Initially slightly disorienting, the gimmick becomes integral to the show as main characters Jeremy and Mark's disgusting inner monologue delivers some of the best laughs. It's another one of those comedies about a couple roommates, but it's the smart, uncomfortable humor—particularly from Mitchell—that makes this one of the best new sitcoms, British or otherwise, to be released in the last decade.
The set up for the early 2000s Black Books is simple: a grumpy man named Bernard (Dylan Moran) owns a bookshop and hates his customers. His friend Fran (Episodes' Tamsin Greig) owns the shop next door. And an odd duck in Manny (Bill Bailey) works as Bernard's assistant. Co-created by The IT Crowd's Graham Lineham, Black Books achieves greatness because of Bernard's sardonic attitude, his unstable relationship with everyone else, Bailey and Moran's fantastic performances, and the series' out-there humor, like when Bernard finds a way to procrastinate from doing his taxes by inviting in door-to-door Bible-pushers. By the end of one episode, you'll want to chug a bottle of wine with Bernard and sling insults and anyone who passes by.
One of the best things to come from The Mighty Boosh besides Julian Barrett's mustache, Snuff Box reunites Boosh supporting actors Matt Berry and displaced American Rich Fulcher as a pair of executioners who pass time in the hangman's lounge. But this sketch-comedy program is about absolutely nothing, with skits starting and stopping willy-nilly and crawling up the butt of bizarre and staying there. It's home of the somewhat viral bit with Berry helping out women until they tell him they have a boyfriend, but everything else is just as funny or at least as absurd. Fulcher and Berry are comedy gods, and a show featuring them together is my personal heaven.
Before Shaun (of the Dead) went to the Winchester to wait out a zombie attack and knock back a few pints, there was Spaced, a 1999 television collaboration by longtime partners Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (and costar and co-creator Jessica Stevenson). Spaced preceded the great Rising of the Geeks that's shaped media in the last decade, making it one of the original havens of modern nerd culture. References are everywhere! Star Wars, RoboCop, Pulp Fiction, and everything else that used to be embarrassing to like is homaged in this sitcom about a man and a woman who pose as a couple to become roommates. Look for lots of fantasy sequences, genius camerawork from Wright, and Nick Frost as a militant friend of Pegg's Tim. Listen for a great soundtrack of late '90s British nostalgia. Do whatever you want with your sense of taste and smell.
Holy crap you guys this show is totally out there and amazing. A spoof on corny '80s television, this parody of cheesy horror never breaks from character by committing to outdated special effects, terrible camerawork, stilted acting, overwrought drama, and an explosive intro sequence. The faux-series, about a doctor who battles the forces of evil in a hospital, is presented as a lost classic (The Spoils of Babylon owes a lot to Darkplace) that was never aired except in Peru, with actors and directors from the show commenting on the series years later. Co-created by Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, Submarine), look for more scene stealing from Matt Berry as handsome doctor Lucien Sanchez and the occasional body exploding. Note: This one's for weirdos. One of my favorites and a gem that doesn't get the notoriety it deserves.
Imagine Flight of the Conchords on da kine sativa and with many more costumes, and you'll get a sense of this brill (British people say "brill," right?) musical-comedy starring the incomparable duo of Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding. The two play zookeepers (yes!) named Howard Moon and Vince Noir who hang out with a talking gorilla, a fortune teller, and their boss (a blisteringly hilarious Rich Fulcher) who doesn't know the names of animals. If you need an idea of what this is like, in the first episode, Howard is forced to box a deadly kangaroo, and later on in the series a bunch of weirdos fly in on a magic carpet. I love this show so much it's one of the few DVD box sets I've purchased since I went hippie and gave up physical media. It also features the irreplaceable Matt Berry and one of the best intro songs ever created for television.
Available on: You can find some on YouTube, but mostly this is available on DVD, sorry!
Armando Iannucci's mastery of profanity is well-known Stateside for his HBO series Veep, but before Julia Louis Dreyfus got a seat full of diarrhea on a campaign photo op, there was The Thick of It. A fast-talking comedy that shares a lot of DNA with Veep, The Thick of It is set inside British government and exposes it for all the petty goingson that further complicate the process of bureaucracy. And for you Whovians out there, it's your chance to see Peter Capaldi drop a flurry of F-bombs. The series was also movie-ized into In the Loop, a 2009 film that featured Yanks James Gandolfini and future Veep star Anna Chlumsky.
Prepare yourself for the premise of this '80s and '90s cult classic: in the fuuuuture the entire crew of a mining spaceship, save for one man and a pregnant cat, is killed in a radiation leak. That one man awakes from suspended animation three million years later and is joined by a human-cat hybrid that descended from the surviving cat and a hologram version of his dickish boss. This is Red Dwarf, a Britcom whose influence on the rest of television might not be as big as that of Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers, but will be fondly referenced by anyone who watches fantastic irreverent comedies. Ingenious and totally bizarre. (Need more reasons to watch Red Dwarf? Read TrevPlatt's great post about the show!)
BONUS: Here's Stephen Merchant (Hello Ladies, The RIcky Gervais Show) talking about what would happen if the British kept the United States in its palm:
What British comedies do YOU like?
AIRED ON 9/27/2013
Season 4 : Episode 7