Oh look, it’s raining again. The economy is down the pan. The nights are drawing in. But that week of summer we fleetingly experienced was brilliant, wasn’t it? There is no better way of cheering yourself up over a cold, wet weekend than hunkering down with a comedy box set. Work your way through these five chuckle-cluttered classics – detailed below in no particular order – all of which should stand up to multiple watches. By the time you emerge the economy will probably still be down the pan, but the sun might possibly be putting in an appearance. Possibly.
While The Office made a splash when it aired in 2001, many thought it would date, particularly as the mockumentary format quickly became well-trodden TV terrain. Yet with each passing year this scathing satire of 9-5 tedium grows in stature. I recently rewatched the entire two series and two specials back to back and it still does it. Immaculate editing, a precision-tooled script and, most of all, a once-in-a-lifetime inspired performance from Ricky Gervais as hapless, tragic, grim-dancing David Brent. (“The bad news is that some of you will lose your jobs… the good news is I’ve been promoted.”) Gervais has been very good since, but has he been this achingly, awkwardly brilliant?
George Melly famously said of prune-faced Mick Jagger’s so-called laughter lines that “nothing is that funny”. He had clearly never seen Father Ted. Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews’ sublime portrayal of priestly life on Craggy Island, mixing the simple sight gags of The Simpsons with the sophistication of Seinfeld, still raises beatific grins 14 years on. Who can fail to cherish Ted’s explanation of perspective to Dougal? “These are small, but the ones out there are far away.” The knowledge of the death of star Dermot Morgan just before the last series was broadcast lends the final episode an affecting poignancy.
A great American box set? It could have been Community, Seinfeld, even the doorstop-sized Friends, but best of the bunch is Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David writes and stars in this groundbreaking naturalistic sitcom as a version of himself with an almost psychopathic penchant for inappropriate behaviour. The series has punched holes in numerous taboos, making audacious quips about concentration camp survivors, 9/11 and race. In a 2011 episode, David found himself opposing his Jewish friends when there was a protest outside a Palestinian cafe. Not that funny in print, hilarious onscreen. Elsewhere, unrepentant Anglophiles can relish cameos from Sacha Baron Cohen and Steve Coogan.
Unlike Father Ted, the Blackadder team sullied their spotless record by reforming to appear in an all-star episode screened in the ill-fated Millennium Dome. Did Kate Moss really add anything as Maid Marian? But the first four series remain the high water mark of 1980s buffoonery. Even the much-derided first series has its moments, with Peter Cook as King Richard III passing the comedy baton to Rowan Atkinson. Blackadder Goes Forth, meanwhile, is a lasting comment on the futility of war, with the final trench scene in which the cast go over the top to certain death genuinely leaving a lump in the throat. Richard Curtis has probably never written anything better. Ben Elton definitely hasn’t.
Box sets can present the viewer with a useful chance to chart a performer’s evolution. Or to put it another way, offer a chance for marketing teams to throw together some old DVDs and bump up the price. Rob Brydon’s package is more the former than the latter, combining his seminal short-form breakthrough Marion & Geoff with his often overlooked collaboration with Julia Davis, Human Remains, and his first subtle shift towards the mainstream, The Keith Barret Show. Human Remains is the real gem here, a frequently bleak, disturbing exploration of suburban relationships. There are hints of disquieting darkness in The Keith Barret Show too, but they are hidden behind a wall of Forsythian light entertainment banter.
Seen those? How about these?
Richard Herring and Stewart Lee’s underrated BBC series, to which they had to buy the rights in order to get released. Oodles of bonus commentary but Stewart Lee’s extravagant quiff is worth the price alone.
Long before their transatlantic antics with Matt Le Blanc in Episodes Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig showed off their sparky rapport in this nutty hospital comedy.
All surviving 37 episodes of the character-based show that set the template for the modern sitcom. This eight-disc compendium includes the compelling TV interview in which the fragile ego of this talented clown first emerged.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.