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10 Binge-Worthy British Comedies

Catch Sharon Horgan on the new season of Todd Margaret starting January 7th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: BBC America

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.

1. Extras


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.


2. Miranda


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.


4. Pulling


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).

Watch Sharon Horgan talk with David Cross about the new season of Todd Margaret.


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.)


8. Coupling


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.

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Rocky IV Paulie Robot

Mr. Roboto

5 Reasons Rocky IV Is Too Rotten to Miss

Catch Rocky IV Friday at 8P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: MGM/UA/YouTube

When Rocky IV was released in 1985, the critics were not kind. (While it wasn’t around back then, the film’s 39% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes speaks for itself.) Less of a movie than a jingoistic music video starring a robot and a steroid-addled, monosyllabic Russian baddie, Rocky IV is a far cry from the Italian Stallion’s humble origins.

Still, more than any movie ever made, it exemplifies the whole “so bad its good” genre. This movie was made for us, the great-unwashed masses of the 1980s, who loved the band Survivor and hated those Commie bastards. Before you catch Rocky IV on IFC’s Rotten Fridays, let’s take a look at some moments that make this flick a “too rotten to miss” classic.

5. That Opening Shot

Rocky IV
United Artists

It takes all of 30 seconds for the audience to know they’re in for one ridiculous rollercoaster ride through a Cold War conniption fit of good vs. evil. Gone is the subtle tone and grounded reality of the first Rocky. In its place we see two gloves, one emblazoned with the American flag, the other with the Soviets’, hurtling toward each other. When they collide, sparks fly, and we witness an explosion decades in the making.

In case the symbolism is too subtle for you, director/writer/star Sylvester Stallone is trying to hint that this movie will be the clash of civilizations we’d all been waiting for, but instead of nuclear bombs, a humble palooka from the streets would be duking it out in the ring with the ultimate representation of coldhearted Communism. If it were up to us, this opening shot would’ve won Best Picture all by itself.


4. So Many Montages

Rocky IV has a running time of 91 minutes and 20 seconds. Its eight montages (yes, EIGHT) run a total of 29 minutes and 10 seconds. That is one third of the movie solely dedicated to montages. (Considering Stallone’s contempt for all things Soviet, we have to wonder if he knows it was a dirty Ruskie who invented the montage.)

During one of the many, many montages, director Stallone actually flashes back to a scene that had happened a minute and half prior, creating the impression that he might actually flashback to the montage we were just watching in the same montage. Stallone clearly loves a good montage set to an inspirational ’80s song, and so do we. Which brings us to…


3. A Soundtrack Full of Pumped Up ’80s Jams

Speaking of montages, they are set to the score of some of the cheesiest hits from the mid-’80s. For once, we’re spared tracks from Frank Stallone, with Stallone replacing his rocker brother with synth-y singles from Survivor, John Cafferty and Kenny Loggins. And of course, Robert Tepper, possessor of an ’80s mullet that could topple empires, crooning “No Easy Way Out.” The music in this movie is one step away from being a parody of the music in this movie. If you ever want to know what cocaine can do to the human mind, just listen to this soundtrack.


2. Rocky Ends the Cold War

Rocky IV speech
United Artists

In one of the most misguided, self-congratulatory, and immediately dated moments in cinema history, good ol’ galoot Rocky Balboa single-handedly ended the Cold War four years before the Berlin Wall came down.

To quote the Italian Stallion himself: “In here…there were two guys… killing each other. But I guess that’s better than millions. What I’m trying to say is… if I can change… and you can change…everybody can change!” And just like that the Soviet public, generals and even the Premier himself rose to their feet in applause, realizing what fools they’d been. This guy beat Mr. T for Heaven’s sake. He knows what he’s talking about!


1. Paulie’s Robot

Okay, let’s all take a deep breath and really consider this for a moment. Rocky IV has a robot butler in it. A movie franchise that began back in 1976 exploring the gritty reality of a bum fighter trying to prove himself somehow limped along long enough to turn into a weak Short Circuit rip-off in which an alcoholic mooch with a history of domestic abuse now gets his coffee served to him by a robot. A robot that he has programmed with a “sultry” lady voice!

Stallone was inspired to include the real life robot Sico in Rocky IV because of the work it did to help autistic children like his son Seargeoh. That’s all very moving, but doesn’t explain why he decided to write a scene where Paulie dubs poor Sico “the love of my life.” It’s a testament to Rocky IV‘s “too rotten to miss” status that Paulie’s robot girlfriend/personal servant isn’t even the craziest thing that happens to Rock and the gang.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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Gray's Anatomy

Everything You Need to Know About the Movie That Inspired “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”

Brand new Documentary Now! airs Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom Pictures

This week Documentary Now! spotlights a master monologist with “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything.” Before you tune in at 10P this Wednesday on IFC, check out our guide to Swimming to Cambodia, the 1987 film that captured writer/performer Spalding Gray’s acclaimed one-person show.

Spalding Gray 101

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures

Actor and renowned monologist Spalding Gray spent two years on stage perfecting his Obie Award-winning “Swimming to Cambodia” monologue. In it, Gray tells the story of his eight weeks in Southeast Asia while shooting the 1984 Academy Award-winning movie The Killing Fields. He had a small role, but the experience gave him several anecdotes about hanging out with the film crew and experiencing the local culture, all while searching for “the perfect moment.”

Directed by the Silence of the Lambs Guy

Hannibal Lecter
Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme took Gray’s two-night, four hour performance and crafted it down to 85 minutes. His use of dramatic lighting, stylish camerawork and a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson was praised by critics and earned the film a cult following. No stranger to groundbreaking docs, Demme also directed the 1984 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, which Documentary Now! pays tribute to in this season’s episode “Final Transmission.”

All about the Voices

While it may have been a one-man show, Gray created a repertoire of characters all with distinctive accents. (He portrayed conversations between himself and others just by turning his head.) Our favorite impressions are of his demanding girlfriend Renee and Ivan Strasberg, the South African director of photography on The Killing Fields who, as depicted by Gray, sounds a bit like a Jamaican surfer.

The Original Cranky New Yorker

In one memorable scene, Gray rants about how his noisy upstairs artist neighbors are driving him and Renee crazy. Even in the mid-’80s, there were New Yorkers complaining that the city wasn’t what it used to be.

Show and Tell

Swimming to Cambodia
Cinecom Pictures/YouTube

A big fan of visual aids, Gray used pull-down maps to illustrate his travels. This helped to bring Swimming to Cambodia to life, since he’s basically sitting at a desk the entire time.

Inspired One-Person Shows

Gray’s groundbreaking performances in Swimming and other documentaries like Monster in a Box and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Gray’s Anatomy (about Gray’s struggle with a rare eye condition) paved the way for future one-person shows. (We wouldn’t have everything from Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” to Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me” without him.) Even Doc Now! star Fred Armisen got into the one-person show act for his recent SNL monologue.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Spalding Gray when “Parker Gail: Location Is Everything” premieres Wednesday, September 28th at 10P on IFC. 

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Burning Heart

10 Reasons Why Rocky IV Is the Ultimate Rocky Movie

Catch an all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/Everett Collection

Sure, most people love the first Rocky for its heart, gripping boxing scenes and the classic training montage. Or, you might love Creed for being both a return-to-form and a new exploration of the Rocky mythology. Maybe the thrill of seeing Mr. T and Hulk Hogan in the same movie makes Rocky III your top pick. Well, sorry, you’re wrong: Rocky IV is the greatest of all the “Italian Stallion”‘s movies.

Before you watch the all-day Rocky movie marathon this Friday, September 30th on IFC (with Rocky IV airing at 8P as part of Rotten Fridays), check out a few reasons to appreciate the fourth installment as the king of the series.

1. The Greatest Opening Ever

How many openings are able to sum up the entire conflict of the film in less than a minute and without a single line of dialogue? And how many of those movies have exploding boxing gloves? Just try to watch the opening sequence above and not be completely psyched for the pumped-up flick to come.


2. Montages!

We all know that the best part of any sports movie is the montage, and Rocky IV doesn’t give you one measly montage. There’s a recap of the previous films montage, a getting to Russia Montage, two training montages and an ending fight montage. That’s five montages! There’s probably a montage of montages snuck in there, too.


3. There’s a Full James Brown Musical Number

This movie is so packed with memorable moments, it’s easy to forget one of the first things that happens in the film: Apollo comes out to fight Drago dressed as a shirtless Uncle Sam, while James Brown and a full band play “Living in America.” To drive home the number’s patriotism, there are dancers in tuxedos and top hats, weird unitards and bowler caps, and bedazzled showgirls with headpieces for miles. Oh, and don’t forget the giant tentacled dragon statue on the stage. This is how every boxing match should start. Heck, this is how we always want to enter a room.


4. The Soundtrack

The Rocky IV soundtrack doesn’t just feature James Brown — it has rock anthems galore, all of which make you immediately want to hit the gym. From “Heart’s on Fire” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to “Sweetest Victory” by Touch to multiple Survivor jams, you’ll get pumped and stay pumped. Even the instrumental score rocks! Sure, sometimes it sounds like it was made on a kids Casio, but this soundtrack never quits and — to quote Robert Tepper — never takes the easy way out.


5. Abs!

Rocky IV weights

Every Rocky movie shows off Stallone’s incredible physique, but Rocky IV really ups the game. Not only do we get Dolph Lundgren mostly shirtless looking like a man machine, but we get a wide variety of scenes of Stallone doing impossible tasks. Stallone’s crazy dragon fly crunches, aka a thing no human should be able to do, automatically take this movie to the top.


6. Two words: Ivan Drago

Ivan Drago
United Artists

Not only does Rocky IV explore the global conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, but it encapsulates all of our fears of the Cold War in one perfect villain. Ivan Drago only trains with machines and science and looks like he stepped out of an Aryan Nations recruitment poster. He also only responds in short, cold phrases like “If he dies, he dies,” or “I must break you.” There’s never been a villain who we so clearly want to get the crap beat out of than Ivan Drago.


7. Rocky Makes Chores Look Badass

Rocky saw
United Artists

Rocky doesn’t need to be hooked up to machines to become the perfect fighter. All he needs are huge tires and some outdoor chores to do. No one’s ever looked cooler chopping wood and using tractor parts. Half of his training is lifting an old wagon, probably to fix a broken axle. If anything, this film inspires us to take care of that gardening work we’ve been neglecting.


8. Rocky’s Beard

Rocky IV Beard

Stallone’s beard game is truly on point in Rocky IV. And this isn’t some “I forgot to shave, here’s a little stubble” look. No, we get full out, lumberjack-style beard action. Does any other Rocky movie have our hero looking like an old Russian aristocrat? Another point for Rocky IV.


9. There’s a robot!

Again, there’s so much to Rocky IV, you probably forgot about the robot. Well, Rocky has some money now and he’s not going to spend it on frivolous things for himself. He’s going to buy Paulie a robot! The best part of this scene is how truly disturbed Paulie is by this new technology until he gives it a sexy lady voice.


10. Rocky Ends the Cold War

If you’re still not convinced that Rocky IV is the greatest, answer this question: Does any other Rocky movie bring peace between the US and Russia?

By the end of the film, Rocky rises up to beat the seemingly undefeatable Drago. He fights so well, that even the Russians begin to appreciate his skills. Then, instead of using his victory to prove America’s superiority, he gives a rousing speech of “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change!” The whole crowd goes wild, including all of the Russian government, who we assume give up Communism immediately based solely on Rocky’s words. Stallone’s call for international reconciliation through brutal fighting and a variety of montages makes this if not one of the greatest films of all time, certainly the greatest Rocky of them all.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” movie Rocky IV this Friday at 8P on IFC. 

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