It used to be said that Americans just didn’t “get” British humor with its heavy emphasis on irony, the absurd, and insults, but thanks to the growing number of ways people are both making and watching television on screens large and small, the Pond (as it were) between these two stalwart nations of comedy is growing smaller by the second. British comedy has influenced everything from All in the Family to the American version of The Office. Before you catch Sharon Horgan on the new season of Todd Margaret on IFC starting January 7th, check out these 10 hilarious series from the U.K. that will make you think BBC actually stands for Binge-worthy British Comedy.
Following the success of both the U.K. and U.S. versions of The Office, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant wrote, produced, and starred in this series about background actor Andy Millman (Gervais), his best friend Maggie (the delightfully daffy Ashley Jensen from Ugly Betty), and his apathetic, awkward agent, Darren (Merchant). As Andy begins to work his way up in showbiz, he encounters various celebrities (all playing arch, exaggerated versions of themselves) and often finds himself majorly putting his foot in his mouth. Extras brilliantly satirizes showbiz, celebrity, and the perils of trying to “make it,” employing Gervais and Merchant’s signature style of cringe-comedy blended with some surprisingly tender moments.
American audiences may recognize Miranda Hart from Paul Feig’s hit comedy film Spy or as the lovable Chummy on the excellent PBS period drama Call the Midwife, but in the U.K., Hart is a beloved, well-known comedian who wrote, produced, and starred in this traditional, three-camera style sitcom loosely based on her own experiences as a thirty-something woman. Hart’s endearingly klutzy onscreen version of herself owns a joke shop with her best friend Stevie (Sarah Hadland), fending off her overbearing mother’s (Patricia Hodge, loftily great) plots to marry her off whilst crushing on her restaurant-owning dreamboat of a high school classmate, Gary (Tom Ellis). Hart, much like her Spy costar Melissa McCarthy, is a wonderful physical comedian who is equally as adept at delivering punchlines and genuine moments of drama as she is pratfalls. Miranda is a silly (there is the occasional fart joke), fun, if occasionally bittersweet look at one woman’s journey to true adulthood.
3. Absolutely Fabulous
If you haven’t heard of glamorous BFFs Edina and Patsy by now, sweetie darling, you are seriously behind the times. Ab Fab, as it is more affectionately called by its enthusiastic fan base, is one of the most beloved sitcoms ever produced in Britain. PR maven Edina (show creator and writer Jennifer Saunders) and magazine editor Patsy (Joanna Lumley) often can be found drunk, high, and hilariously trying to stay “hip” to the most current trends much to the increasingly bitter chagrin of Edina’s teenage (then twenty-something) conservative daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha). The show has such a cult-following in both the U.K. and U.S., a film version, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, will hit the big screen in 2016. World box-office domination in style sounds just like something of which Edina and Patsy would approve.
Though it lasted only two seasons, Pulling was a hit with both critics and audiences alike and was a breakout vehicle for its writer and star, Todd Margaret‘s own Sharon Horgan. The series focuses on three single girlfriends living in a southeast London suburb and their various romantic misadventures with often laugh-out-loud, cringe-inducing results. This delightfully filthy NSFW comedy is the perfect companion series to Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck (but maybe also don’t watch it with your parents).
5. The Thick of It
Largely considered to be one of the best political satires of all-time, The Thick of It also gave actor Peter Capaldi one of his two signature “doctor” roles (and it’s not the one where he’s a time-traveling alien in a blue police phone-box over on BBC America): as foul-mouthed PR spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker. This hysterical, expletive-laced show with razor-sharp dialogue focuses on the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship and its blundering cabinet-members, often using real life current political events in Britain for inspiration. Creator Armando Iannucci is also responsible for one of the best political satires on THIS side of the Pond: HBO’s hit, Emmy-winning series Veep.
6. Gavin & Stacey
These days, James Corden is busy hosting The Late Late Show over on CBS with our old pal Reggie Watts, but before he became a household name in America, he already was one in the U.K., thanks in large part to Gavin & Stacey. Corden got the idea for this endearingly kooky, bittersweet romantic comedy about a young couple falling in love after meeting one another over a series of long-distance phone calls from his own real life best friend, Gavin. The series follows Gavin (Matthew Horn) and Stacey (Joanna Page) as they meet one another for the first time, get engaged, and work through all the little bumps and milestones along the way while their best friends Smithy (Corden) and Nessa (co-creator/writer Ruth Jones) struggle with their own complicated feelings for one another. Gavin & Stacey proves love can go the distance…even the kind over the telephone.
7. Getting On
While HBO has pulled off a fairly successful remake of Getting On, the original U.K. version from BBC Four is not to be missed. Praised for its realism and the superb performances of lead actresses Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan, and Vicki Pepperdine (who also serve as head writers), Getting On is a scathingly funny, masterfully-rendered look at the ins-and-outs of nursing in the most difficult of conditions, leaving audiences unsure as to whether the tears in their eyes are from laughter or sadness. (Fun fact: the first two seasons were directed by Doctor Who himself Peter Capaldi.)
Before he took on mega-hits Doctor Who and Sherlock, executive producer and writer Steven Moffat gave audiences Coupling, a sitcom focused on three men and three women in their late twenties and early thirties as they navigate work and relationships, partially inspired by his own relationship with his wife, producer Sue Vertue. If that formula sounds familiar, that’s because it’s something of a cross between Friends and Seinfeld. But as with most Moffat-penned shows, the brilliance of Coupling lies in the way he pushes the envelope of the traditional sitcom format by using devices like split-screens or non-linear storytelling, resulting in something intricately-plotted, wholly-original, and full of breezy wit. Which is something the short-lived American version of Coupling severely lacked.
9. That Mitchell and Webb Look
The U.K. has a rich tradition of sketch comedy (see: Monty Python, Catherine Tate, Fry & Laurie, Rowan Atkinson, etc.), but David Mitchell and Robert Webb form one of the most prominent and prolific sketch comedy duos in the modern era. The pair wrote the popular Peep Show and also for Bruiser, the single-season BBC Two comedy that launched the careers of Martin Freeman and Broadchurch‘s Olivia Colman. That Mitchell and Webb Look features a number of recurring sketches and characters; some filthy (“Bawdy 1970s Hospital” comes to mind), some absurd (see the sketch, “The Surprising Adventures of Sir Digby Chicken Caesar”), all laugh-out-loud funny. It’s not hard to see why the show won a BAFTA for Best Comedy Program in 2007.
10. Moone Boy
Okay, this one is technically Irish, but it airs on British network Sky so we’ll count it. Chris O’Dowd has steadily been making his mark in the American comedy scene thanks to his 2011 breakout role as Kristen Wiig‘s adorable love interest in Bridesmaids, but some of his best work is his critically-acclaimed, semi-autobiographical series, Moone Boy, shot in his hometown in Ireland. The series, which is set in the late ’80s/early ’90s, centers on twelve year-old Martin Moone (Peter McDonald) and his imaginary best friend (O’Dowd) as they try navigating the perils of growing up using increasingly ridiculous schemes. The wondrous thing about Moone Boy is how O’Dowd brings Martin’s imagination to life by mixing animation and live-action to create something totally unique, surreal, and heartfelt. An American version is said to be in development at ABC, but the original is awfully hard to beat.