The beauty of British comedy is how fleeting it is. The US version of The Office dragged on into nine interminable seasons. The British original? Fourteen episodes and done. Perhaps it's because British TV comedies are often the fruits of a few brains, rather than a roomful of writers and a slew of executive producers.
Luckily, there's a lot of them on Netflix, which has picked up the cream of the BBC and Channel 4's output and made them available for streaming whenever you need a pick-me-up. From The Thick of It to I'm Alan Partridge (and yes, Armando Ianucci is well-represented on this list), these are the TV shows the embody a very British sense of humour. And no, none of them feature someone falling through a bar.
The Thick of It
Armando Ianucci's masterful black comedy inspired an Oscar-nominated feature film, In The Loop, and then the multi-Emmy-winning Veep. But the original series is still the most insightful – and depressing – political satire of the last 40 years. The writing is drum-tight, but Ianucci's improvisational approach to directing creates a sense of chaos that perfectly encapsulates the modern political system. At the centre of it all lurks Malcolm Tucker, one of the most hilariously malevolent creations in television history. Altogether now: "He's as useless as a marzipan dildo."
Yes, Graham Linehan's descent into Twitter trolldom is deeply saddening, but at least we still have the work. His sitcom about a trio of incompetent IT professionals struck the same balance between domesticity and zaniness that had made Father Ted a success a decade earlier, and proved the most unexpected launchpad for Chris O'Dowd to conquer Hollywood.
I'm Alan Partridge
The greatest British comedy character ever created? You'll find no arguments here. Of Alan's many iterations, from sports reporter on The Day Today to his big screen appearance in Alpha Papa, the six episodes he spends in a Travel Tavern "equidistant between Norwich and London" are his zenith, closely followed by the follow-up series in which he's moved to a static caravan in his own garden. With Armando Ianucci at the helm and Coogan yet to fall either completely out of, nor completely back in, love with the character he'll never escape, I'm Alan Partridge is a note-perfect (and endlessly quotable) take on toxic Middle England masculinity.
Toast of London
Matt Berry has made a career out of playing foghorn-voiced blowhards, from The Mighty Boosh's Dixon Bainbridge to vampire Laszlo in What We Do In The Shadows. Steven Toast, however, is his zenith; a sex-obsessed, barely employed actor who drinks and shags his way around London while offending everyone he interacts with. Fittingly for a show centred on an actor whose heyday was 30 years ago, each episode feels spiritually of a kind with a Ray Cooney farce, albeit one that features Michael Ball as an assassin who contains too much blood, and a hipster voiceover engineer by the name of Clem Fandango.
It would have been all too easy for this comedy set in a dingy shared university house to have just been The Young Ones with iPhones. But as you'd expect from the creators of Peep Show, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong come at it character-first, ensuring that their disparate students – the posh one, the overachieving one, the hard-drinking, hard-shagging one – never feel like caricatures. Between the laughs, it's also surprisingly moving. Make sure you've got a box of tissues on hand for the series finale.
Inside No 9
Created by the folks behind The League of Gentlemen, this darkly comic anthology series is the spiritual successor to Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected. Each episode is based around a different location linked to the number nine, which gives the team free rein to explore everything from a very tense game of sardines a hotel farce told in iambic pentameter. As funny as it is frightening.
Rewatching The Office, it's astonishing how much the world of work has changed, but how universal the comedy still feels. Ricky Gervais's best (and earliest) work came when he was closest to the worlds he depicted, which afforded him the familiarity to dissect characters we all knew and loathed. Two decades on, The Office isn't quite as skin-crawling as it once was. But that's a sign of its influence – in Gervais's wake, the comedy of discomfort went mainstream.
Ricky Gervais's other masterpiece had hints of the warm-and-fuzzy poison that would infect his later work (especially Derek) but Extras keeps things cruel enough that it's still a wonderfully uncomfortable watch. It's also a masterclass in how to use – and abuse – your guest stars. Gervais stars a professional extra, which brings him into contact with all manner of famous people, who send themselves up with gusto: highlights include Patrick Stewart and his lecherous screenplay (""Before she can even get her knickers on, I've seen everything") and an equally potty-mouthed Kate Winslet ("I'd love it if you stuck your Willy Wonka between my Oompa Loompas")
Michaela Coel turned down a third series of Chewing Gum to create I May Destroy You. Which, great, because the latter is astonishing. But also, sad, because so is Chewing Gum, albeit in a very different way. Coel plays a foul-mouthed young woman who can't stop talking to the camera (yes, she got there first) as she tries everything to lose her virginity and escape the confines of her religious upbringing.
Perhaps the most influential British sitcom of the last two decades, Spaced not only launched the careers of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright, it also defined a pop culture-obsessed, nerd-boosting, self-parodic style of comedy that would inspire everything from The Big Bang to Kick-Ass. It also has the only accurate depiction of a nightclub ever depicted on screen.
Yes, it's a kid's show. But so's The Simpsons. This one's a kid's show written and performed by some of British comedies brightest lights, including Matthew Baynton, Simon Farnaby and Sarah Hadland and, like all the best children's entertainment, it's full of jokes aimed directly at adults, from prehistoric hip hop to a satire magazine for troops in the trenches that feels like Viz crossed with 1917. Laugh along with your little ones or, if you don't have any, put it on as the perfect hangover cure.
People Just Do Nothing
A mockumentary about the team behind a struggling pirate radio station in west London, People Just Do Nothing has since spawned live tours, in-character musical performances and, next year (hopefully) a feature film. At heart, though, it's a classic sitcom about a group of dysfunctional friends who think they're much more with it than they really are.
A brutally honest depiction of parenthood, Motherland mines the humour in raising tiny people that you often hate and yet are legally obliged to love. The show admirably resists all temptations for learning or hugging, unless you count the party game 'Find The Pound' (distract a room full of children for an hour by lobbing a pound coin across a living room) as a teachable moment.
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