5 British Comedies Every Anglophile Should See

British Sitcoms

There has been a notable uptick in interest for British dramas on this side of the pond thanks to monster hits like Downton Abbey, Doctor Who and Sherlock, which is good news for Americans who can’t get enough of British programming. Our insatiable appetite for British dramas has led to us getting more imports and we’re getting them faster than we ever did before. All wonderful developments, but as much as I’m enjoying the influx of classy period pieces and sharp-minded detectives, I would hate to see that other genre at which our talented British comrades excel at get lost in the shuffle: comedies.

We’re not getting quite as many British comedies in the US as we used to, but what we are getting is almost exclusively quality stuff. Some of it is coming through the traditional channels of BBC America and PBS, but that glorious bastion of import goodness, Hulu is offering up the bulk of new comedies stateside, including Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It which isn’t on this particular list only because I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet (I tried the censored version on BBC America, but the bleeping made it incomprehensible).

The five shows that did make the list are all either currently airing or are at least in the process of making new episodes for your viewing pleasure. So, while you’re waiting for the Crawley sisters and the world’s only consulting detective to return to your screens try mixing in a few of these Britcoms to tide you over. Trust me, there’s no such thing as too much British television.

1. Miranda
 

Miranda

Since I discovered Miranda my life has been a brighter place. It is quite simply the most delightful show on television. Miranda comes from the mind of Miranda Hart and the series is an old-school send-up to classic comedies with lots of fourth wall busting meta thrown in for good measure– Hart literally winks at the audience.

The series follows Miranda, who is basically Liz Lemon only taller, less successful (only on the show, the real Miranda is most definitely Britain’s answer to Tina Fey) and even more relatable. She sings at inappropriate moments, suffers from hereditary clumsiness and has a knack for stumbling into awkward situations and losing her pants and/or shirt. Hart is as fearless with wordplay as she is with pratfalls though, and half the fun comes from the linguistic tangents the characters find themselves following.

It features lots of on-going bits (“Such fun!”) and ends every episode with a cast dance party, but my favorite element is the torturous will-they-or-won’t-they courtship of Gary (Tom Ellis) and Miranda. Each episode contains at least one moment that will leave you begging for the duo to just make out already, such is the chemistry between Ellis and Hart.

Two seasons have aired so far, and a third is supposed to be on its way this fall (in Britain at least). If you’re looking to catch up with the show try your local PBS station.

2. Rev
 

Rev

Rev made my summer obsessions list for a reason: it’s addictive. England has a stellar track record for producing charming shows about men and women of the cloth (think Vicar of Dibley and Father Ted), but Rev might just be might favorite. Tom Hollander is simply sublime as the eager, but overwhelmed reverend, but it’s the combination of the show’s natural sweetness and its willingness to follow its edgier whims that makes it such an unexpected treat.

Happily, the show is proving to be a hit. A third season was recently commissioned by the BBC and you can watch the first two on Hulu.

3. Friday Night Dinner
 

Friday Night Dinner

An Americanized version of Friday Night Dinner was in the works at NBC this pilot season, but the network passed on the project. That’s probably for the best. It’s hard to imagine the silliness and single-mindedness of the hilarious series would have been preserved in an American translation.

Each episode takes place over the course of a weekly Friday night dinner at the Goodman family’s house. The family consists of mom Jackie (Tamsin Greig), dad Martin (Paul Ritter) and adult sons in name only, Adam (Simon Bird) and Jonny (Tom Rosenthal). Every week brings a disastrous dinner to look forward to, but the best ones are the ones that are thoroughly crashed by creepy next-door neighbor Jim (Mark Heap).

The first season aired on BBC America as part of its Ministry of Laughs comedy block. A second season will be airing in Britain this fall, and I can only hope it will make its way over here shortly after.

4. Outnumbered
 

Outnumbered

Outnumbered is a brilliant family comedy that aired alongside Friday Night Dinner in 2011. The show is partly improvised to allow the kids to be kids and say what feels natural to them which adds a nice sense of realism as well. The entire cast is terrific, but Ramona Marquez as the family’s youngest child is the indisputable breakout star of the bunch. The kid has comedic timing that any adult actor would envy.

In addition to airing on BBC America, Outnumbered also airs on some PBS stations and the first season is available on Hulu.

5. Spy
 

Spy Episode 4

What I love most about British sitcoms is how high concept they’re allowed to be. Many of our American sitcoms have loose premises (people move in together and stuff happens), and that’s not a bad thing, but sometimes you just want to watch a sitcom about a sales assistant who accidentally becomes a spy, you know?

Spy stars Darren Boyd as Tim, an affable everyman type who leaves his dead-end job in hopes of finding a career path that might impress his genius nine-year-old son. He ends up becoming a spy and hijinks ensue. The series has a whimsical quality and a good deal of heart thanks to Tim’s continued attempts to bond with his son.

The first season is available on Hulu and a second season is in the works.

 

Those are five of my current favorite British comedies, but I would love to hear about your favorites in the comments!

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