Thursday, 21 July 2016

My Favourites From That List

In case you were wondering, and you probably weren't, which sitcom I'd pick for The Radio Times Sitcom Of The Century (so far), I've whittled it down to a top ten.

Just as a reminder here are the forty sitcoms from 2000-2015 (bizarrely omitting My Family, My Hero, Two Pints and Coupling):

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

From that list, I've made a top ten. But what order should I arrange them in?

Well, the only guide I can think of is how much they made me laugh, how much I want to see them again and how much I admire them over all. Warning: There plenty of shows that are very good, but for one reason or another, I just never got into them or got round to watching them (eg. The Inbetweeners). All that being the case, my ten in order would be along these lines:

Black Books, The Thick of It, The Office, Phoenix Nights, The IT Crowd, Yonderland, Not Going Out, Outnumbered and Count Arthur Strong.

That's nine. My tenth is Miranda which should be somewhere on the list, but given I was involved in the first two series, I probably couldn't say where it could or should be.

I've extolled the virtues of Black Books in the past, making it my 8th favourite sitcom of all time, so there's no need to dwell on that further here.

Thinking about it, though, I wonder if my number one would be The Thick Of It which is full of jokes, characters, atmosphere and satire. When I was compiling my favourite British sitcoms of all time, I didn't really want the Thick of It on the same list as my all time favourite, Yes Prime Minister. So maybe that's clouded my judgement. Either way, Black Books and The Thick Of It are both very fine shows.

My other observation is that only four of those shows are filmed in front of an audience. I really do think we are collectively losing the art of the studio sitcom.

Competing With The Classics
But here's a new thought based on a comment from David Murphy on the blog posted yesterday. He writes:
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. 
It's an excellent point. I've said in the past that critics brutally compare Episode 1 of your new sitcom with Episode 60 of Only Fools and Horses. But it's worth noting that the audience at home do that too. A direct comparison can still be made because all of those old shows are still being shown. All the old classics, and plenty of the modern classics are on all time every week on UK Gold, or Dave or any number of Freeview channels.

And it's not just the cable channels. BBC1 repeated every episode of the Vicar of Dibley at least seven times. BBC2's best performing sitcom for the whole of this year has been Dad's Army. And they're in the process of remaking some of the old classics, just to make it even harder for the new boys. That means your new sitcom hero is still fighting with Mainwairing, Fawlty, Hancock, Arkwright, Brent, Del Boy, Fletcher and Victor Meldrew.

Last night, UK Gold launched The Rebel, based on the Oldie cartoon strip, with Simon Callow (above). I've not seen it yet, but it's being played out before and after episodes of sitcoms that we already know are good and are prepared to watch again. That's tough. But that's the TV landscape we live in.

So let's get use to our brave new/old world with some Thick of It to finish with:


  1. Firstly, I'd just like to say that this is a wonderful blog. The best blog on sitcom that I've ever come across. I've been coming here for a long time, and I've read every post, and I've learnt so much about the art and craft of sitcom. So thank you, James, for taking the time to share your insights.

    On the subject of my favourite British sitcoms of this century, my favourites are: the radio sitcom Cabin Pressure, Coupling, Not Going Out, and Uncle. I have to say that I am pretty peeved that only one of these four shows is even in the list of 40!

    I too wish there were more multi-camera shows performed in front of a studio audience. Because they're funnier. That's my experience anyway. If you don't have a studio audience, you can have longer periods of time without a joke and get away with it. You can even call it a 'comedy drama'. Or have a show that raises smiles and the occasional chuckle. You do that in front of an audience, and the fact that they're not laughing becomes glaringly apparent after a few seconds. So studio audience sitcoms are a lot harder, and when they don't work, it's more obviously bad, but when they do work, they go beyond anything a single camera show can offer. I have nothing but huge respect for the writers who can tell a story whilst also putting in a laugh out loud joke every few seconds. (The greatest example of this ever, imo, is American: Frasier.)

    On the subject of sitcoms of this century, there is one U.S. sitcom I'd like to mention. I'm not a fan of mockumentary sitcoms but I have to say there is one exception - Modern Family. This is because it is essentially a traditional studio audience sitcom in terms of plotting and proper one-liners and laugh out loud jokes, but filmed in the mockumentary style. In other words, it's less realistic, which is great, because that makes it more funny! I don't like characters' dialogue to mimic how everyday people talk, I want each line to sound like it's been painstakingly crafted by very talented people for maximum funniness!

  2. All good points sir however, I would counter with a question... is canned or studio laughter there to tell people when to laugh? This may seem like an odd thing to say but I do think that most comedy is funnier when shared with other people, so can studio laughter be seen as a sort of surrogate mate? Also, some shows just aren't that funny and I often feel that the laughter track is there almost just to remind you that you are watching a comedy. Thoughts?