In America, we’ve been doing pretty well on the whole comedy front as of late. We have The Office and 30 Rock, and we at least used to have Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development. But often forget where the kind of deadpan comedy we all enjoy originated from. Across the ocean, over the UK. So here are five British shows to brush up on if you want to be a true connoisseur of comedy.
1) Spaced (1999-2001)
Before they became quasi-famous in America for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost had their own BBC series called Spaced. Kind of like Seinfeld is a show about nothing, Spaced takes that even more literally, with the main two protagonists being a video-game couch potato and a frumpy, out-of-work writer who don’t have a whole lot on their plate.
Pegg and Frost’s longtime cohort, Edgar Wright, shot the show, and if you’ve seen Shaun or Fuzz, you will definitely recognize his style throughout. Spaced only ran two seasons totaling 14 episodes, but that’s how most of these good shows do it on the BBC. Put out two brilliant seasons and quit while they’re ahead.
2) Peep Show (2003 – Present)
No, it’s not about porn. “Peep Show” refers to the way in which the show is shot, which is all in first person from the perspective of the various characters, it’s a bit disorienting at first, but it makes the show unique. The show follows two roommates, stiff suit-and-tie Mark and slacker musician Jeremy, chronicling their rather depressing lives as they attempt to get laid and survive a generally mundane existence.
Peep Show is actually still running, and is on its fifth season. It’s waned a bit in its later years, but definitely pick up at least the first three seasons since they’re only six episodes a piece.
3) The Office (2001-2003)
I’m pretty sure that everyone knows that our Office was a direct porting of the original British show, but I know that not many people have actually watched it. Ricky Gervais’s version is just as funny (often more so), but has much more of and edge than the American adaptation. You really hate the dick-ish Michael Scott with a passion, Jim is kind of a friendless loser and he and Pam are downright cruel to Dwight. Yes, I just subbed in all the American names for translation’s sake.
The British Office only ran two seasons (see the two-and-out rule I talked about during Spaced) and had a movie-length Christmas special as well. A must have DVD set for anyone who enjoys laughter.
4) Extras (2005 – 2007)
I think I’m one of the few people who actually liked Extras more than The Office. In Gervais’s second series, he plays an extra who rises to D-level celebrity status after filming a campy pilot for the BBC. The show features some of the greatest self-depreciating celebrity cameos ever, the best being Orlando Bloom, Daniel Radcliffe and Clive Owen.
Extras also ran two seasons with a bonus Christmas special, but rumors of another special have been floating around. Let’s hope so, anything Gervais does is gold. Hell, even Ghost Town was a damn good movie.
5) Top Gear (1978-Present)
Clarkson, the Hamster and Captain Slow are without a doubt the best hosts of any show in any country. Even if you don’t like cars, the show is hilarious and is one of the most popular programs in Britain. Top Gear has been running for thirty years, but this latest iteration has by far been the best.
If you think that a car being skeet shot with a rocket launcher is your idea of a good time, you should probably pick up a season or two. You won’t regret it.