I have to admit that this list was much harder than the American one from yesterday. Believe me, it wasn’t from lack of selection. There are many fine sitcoms from across the Atlantic out there that I had to pass over such as Fawlty Towers, Absolutely Fabulous, dinnerladies, The IT Crowd, Yes, Minister, Porridge, and The Brittas Empire to name a handful. Many of you are going to find my choices questionable to say the least.
However, as far as emotionally connecting to the characters…um…well…that was hit or miss. To be honest, a lot of British/Irish culture goes over my heart. There have been many movies and TV shows that I have been told are guaranteed tear jerkers that, while I find them compelling and well-done, have left me cold. And I cry during Snoopy, Come Home. Don’t ask what happens to me during the opening minutes of Up.
So I had to use different criteria for these sitcoms than I did for the American ones. And that criteria was well-scripted, well-acted, and made me laugh or gave me that little tug of sentimentality that made it memorable. I just had to go with my own personal preferences. That is why I titled it “My Top 10” instead of “The Top 10”. Who am I to say which are the best? Just like I said yesterday, this is just a list, not a ranking.
1. Red Dwarf – In a nerdy household, we have to work in at least one nerdy sitcom. Red Dwarf fits the bill. Late in the 22nd century, Dave Lister was put in stasis as punishment for bringing a cat onto the spaceship Red Dwarf, but everyone but him and his beloved pet was killed as a result of a cadmium II leak. Holly, the ship’s computer, releases Lister after 3 million years when the radiation danger has passed. Poor Lister has no one to keep him company but a holograph of his late bunkmate/thorn in his side, Arnold Rimmer; a humanoid evolution of his pet cat called Cat; and, starting in series 2, a mechanoid called Kryten. It’s the Odd Couple dynamic that Lister and Rimmer get going that helps makes this show funny. Lister is the Oscar while Rimmer is the Felix. However, Cat and Kryten are just as important to the show’s dynamic too. The Boffin and I especially love the scene when Kryten becomes human and has questions for Lister about his new form.
2. Waiting for God – You would wonder why I would choose a show set in a retirement home when I am only 42. I had to include this one if only because when I grow old, I want to become Diana Trent, the female protagonist. She was a combat photojournalist who travelled the world over and has no intention of accepting the status quo of the home, the git who runs it, and society’s tediousness just because her body has set limits upon her. Her views on marriage sum her personality up. It’s the addition of the new resident Tom Ballard and his exaggeration and imagination that proves to be an irritant, yet a complement to her. He ends up softening her rough edges, but she still maintains her fire.
3. Outnumbered – Part scripted/part improvized, this sitcom centers around Pete and Sue Brockman of West London and their three children. The creators of the series, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, well-known for another brilliant series, Drop the Dead Donkey, wanted the element of improvization, so the children actually spoke like children and not what the adults scripted for them. The approach worked beautifully, creating many natural moments that you could see happening with your own kids, including this conversation about the Four Lions.
4. Only Fools and Horses – Del Boy and Rodney Trotter are iconic characters in British television lore, and just as well they should be. As market traders from Peckham, the Trotter brothers were always looking for ways to get rich quickly and usually ended up in sticky situations in the process. I don’t need to say much more about this show. Watch how Del Boy, played by the masterful David Jason, gets out of trouble using his black belt in origami.
5. Goodnight, Sweetheart – Gary Sparrow, a TV repairman, gets lost in the East End of London and stumbles into what he thinks is a 1940’s theme pub. What he discovers is that he stepped back in time, and not only that, he became enamored with the barmaid, Phoebe. The only problem is he is married to Yvette in the 1990’s. What’s a lad to do? Go back and forth through time and have your mate, Ron, help you out and cover for you. Starring Nicholas Lyndhurst, Rodney of Only Fools and Horses, this show was obviously written for him to shine, and Victor McGuire adeptly joins him as his partner in abetting adultery, Ron.
6. The Good Life (Good Neighbors) – Tom Good, a good lad from Surbiton, a southwest London suburb, has grown tired of being the rat in the rat race as a designer of plastic toys for breakfast cereals. After turning 40, he goes to his wife, Barbara, with a brilliant idea…let’s become totally self-sufficient. To put words in Tom’s mouth, let’s grow and raise all our own food, generate all our own power, make our own clothes, and barter for what we can’t do ourselves. Barbara, being as loving and supportive as she is, gives the thumbs-up and away they go. Meanwhile, their friends and upwardly mobile next-door neighbors, Margo and Jerry, think they have lost their minds. This is my “the sitcom hits home” entry. No, the Boffin and I aren’t self-sufficient, but we are the weirdos who have a backyard farm instead of a lawn (no animals though). But having a large garden means using up produce. We have had our share of taste test disasters like Tom and Barbara’s infamous “peapod burgundy” that became a running gag of the show.
7. The Young Ones – MTV introduced Neil, Rick, Mike, and Vyvyan to America in 1985 after it aired on BBC2 from 1982 to 1984. I remembered this as the “cool British show” and hoped that my parents would be asleep, so I could sneak into the living room to watch it. Being a kid that I thought no one understood, this show was for me. When I could do it, I got to see sweary (probably NSFW) moments like this.
8. Bottom – Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson of The Young Ones created a cartoon that became live action. If you want NSFW proof, here it is. Richie and Eddie, both down and out losers living in a grimy flat in Hammersmith, were so over-the-top that, when they crossed the lines with their behavior, it was side-splitting. Offensive, yes. Outrageous, yes. Disgusting, absolutely. But, pallatable because it was Rik and Adrian who did it. And all the reason why we miss Rik Mayall so much.
9. Blackadder – Four series in total, each were set in different points in British history: late 15th century, Elizabethan era, the Regency period, and World War I respectively. Rowan Atkinson played Edmund Blackadder in all four series, each character being a descendent of the previous ones from the earlier series. So, it was basically a long running tale of the family misfortunes and plans thwarted spanning hundreds of years. Watch Blackadder the Third if you want to hear Hugh Laurie with his proper voice belting out “Ha!’ a lot. It’s the dialogue that stands out with this show. Something as simple as playing archery becomes sublime when the characters just talk to each other. And the creators ended this show in the most poignant way possible, but I will not link it because some things should never be spoiled. My eyes were not dry in this case.
10. Father Ted – This sitcom represents Ireland. Staunch Catholics who do not have a sense of humor about their own religion should stay far away from this show. Everyone else, come enjoy the tales of the three misfit priests sent to Craggy Island off the coast of Ireland. Along with the doting housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle, who practically pours tea their throats with a funnel, the priests each carry their own brand of wacky dysfunction that has to be seen to be believed, especially the drunk to the point of petrification Father Jack. Watch as Father Ted tries to explain to Father Dougal the difference between small and far away.
OK, tell me how wrong and misguided I am with my choices. Tell me how I am an American troglodyte. Make fun of my spelling on top of it. I can take it. Or you can just share your favorites too.