Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Fifteen Years of Comedy

The Radio Times has launched a survey to discover the sitcom of the century, or at least the last fifteen years. Somehow, they've narrowed it down to forty.

There are a few glaring omissions. It wasn't ever cool, but seems a bit remiss to leave out the long-running and highly successful My Family. (interest declared: I wrote one of those) It also seems a bit curmudgeonly to omit to My Hero (interest declared: I wrote six of those) There's also no place for a sitcom that almost singlehandedly saved BBC3, Two Pints of Lager and Packet of Crisps. And somehow, Coupling which began in 2000 has been left off the list. That would have to be on there, wouldn't it?

But what do you leave out? Well, that would be up to you. I have my candidates.

It is interesting, however, that the first three shows I mentioned are all mainstream. Only about quarter of this list are mainstream. Why is that? Is it that there weren't many other mainstream shows to choose from? Os it this the usual critics bias, veering away from the prime time stuff. Who knows? I have my theories.

So here are the forty shows grouped accordingly. Make of it what you will:

Mainstream BBC1/ITV/SKY
Mrs Brown's Boys, Miranda,  Not Going Out, Outnumbered, Peter Kay's Car Share, Citizen Khan, Count Arthur Strong, Benidorm, The Worst Week of My Life, Yonderland, Moone Boy

Bad Education,  Black Books, Catastrophe, Detectorists, Early Doors, Episodes, Extras, Friday Night Dinner, Gavin & Stacey, Getting On, Green Wing, Him & Her, Lead Balloon, Man Down, Nathan Barley, Nighty Night, Peep Show, Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights, Psychoville, Pulling, Raised by Wolves, Rev, The Inbetweeners, The IT Crowd, The Office, The Trip/The Trip to Italy, The Thick of It, Toast of London, Twenty Twelve/W1A

We can argue over categories and classifications but looking at them overall. Some fine shows there, but how are we doing?  How can we tell?

How about we compare it the previous fifteen years? What sort of comedies were on from 1985-1999? I made a list.

The list excludes shows that began life before 1985. That cuts out quite a few big hitters, because there were some big long running shows that we rampant in the late 80s. So there's no Yes Minister/PM, (1980-88) Only Fools & Horses ('81-'91 plus specials), Allo Allo ('82-'92) or Hi-De-Hi ('80-'88). We also lose Blackadder, Ever Decreasing Circles and stalwarts like Don't Wait Up. And both Duty Free and Chance in a Million ran from '84-86, so they're out, sadly.

And let's not forget that this was an era with a lot of sketch comedy on TV as well, with Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood, Fry & Laurie, French & Saunders, Harry Enfield, The Fast Show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Smack the Pony, Alexi Sayle, Fist of Fun, Adam & Jo, Reeves & Mortimer, Chris Morris, Goodness Gracious Me, Absolutely, Naked Video, The Real McCoy and Paul Merton.

Paul Merton reminds me that this was also the heyday of panel games with the beginning of Have I Got News For You, Who’s Line Is It Anyway? and They Think It’s all Over. And the much forgotten very watchable prime time panel game with Kenny Everett & Gloria Hunniford, That's Showbusiness.
"Karl Howie also starring in
Me & My Girl"

There were shows that weren’t technically sitcoms too, like League of Gentlemen or People Like Us.

Oh, and Spitting Image was running this whole time, from 1984 until 1996.

So what are we left with for 1985-1999? Here are 40 to be going on with.

Let's start with 23 mainstream ones:
Vicar of Dibley, One Foot in the Grave, Father Ted. Keeping Up Appearances, Men Behaving Badly, Absolutely Fabulous, The Royle Family, As Time Goes By,Birds of a Feather, Bread, dinnerladies, 2point4 Children, Goodnight Sweetheart, The New Statesman, Waiting For God, Kiss Me Kate, May to December, Chef!, The Detectives, Dear John, The Brittas Empire, Brush Strokes, You Rang M’Lord?

Here are 17 that are less mainstream:
Father Ted, Red Dwarf, Drop the Dead Donkey, The Thin Blue Line, I’m Alan Partridge, Bottom, Gimme Gimme Gimme, Rab C Nesbitt, Spaced, Desmonds, Hot Metal, Joking Apart, Operation Good Guys, How Do You Want Me?, Hippies, Game On, Sean’s Show.

Also theres forty shows. And we don't even need any of:
Home To Roost, The Upper Hand, The Peter Principle, Three Up Two Down, On the Up, Is It Legal? Oh Doctor Beeching! or City Lights. Or my personal favourites like Mr Don and Mr George or Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. Or cult classic, The High Life. (Or mix and match your favourites)

So that was the previous 15 years. A lot of was mainstream. And even the stuff that isn't mainstream is more mainstream.

Am I biased? Am I just giving the stuff in 1990s an easy ride? How does it compare for you?I know which I prefer.


  1. Is it possible that My Hero and My Family were left off because they kept going for too long and ran out of credible, funny plots (and, in My Hero's case, tried to recast the lead? That shouldn't keep them off the list. They were long-running because they were funny and unarguably popular.

    You also ask whether fewer mainstream comedies are being made. When I think back to that time I think of getting cable TV for the first time. I think that many people will have had a similar experience. Now that I think about how that changed my habits, I think that it meant that I was more likely to watch comedy I knew and loved on UK Gold rather than put the effort into getting to know a new world with and new characters, and risk not laughing. Rather than taking the time to get to know a new comedy, I'll watch a classic instead.

  2. Grumpy comment about the automatic omission of radio sitcoms from both lists. Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting was utter genius. Among many others.