British comedy stands as a cultural export to be proud of. Over the years, this island has produced some stunning comedy-based film and TV, such as Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Only Fools and Horses and Blackadder, retaining the dry humour and hints of surrealism that makes it so endearing. There’s nothing as a genre that feels as authentic and original as British comedy, so if you’re looking to delve into some you’re in the right place.
There’s a healthy amount of British comedy on Netflix, so if you’re seeking entertainment, look no further. We’ve selected eight British comedy shows on Netflix that we think you should watch and in all fairness, there are some great shows listed. It isn’t summer yet so technically, spending evenings in the quiet isolation of your living room is acceptable.
1. Peep Show
Starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb, few 21st century comedies have achieved the cult status of Peep Show. The show follows the lives of Mark Corrigan and Jez Usborne, friends who met at university and live together. Mark is socially inept and cynical, while Jez’s narcissism and self-absorption makes him totally insufferable. Their unlikely friendship is the basis of the programme, which charts their individual forays through adulthood. There are nine seasons, so plenty of material to binge out on.
You should watch it because it’s one of the funniest things on Netflix. Excruciating at times, Peep Show is awkward, cringeworthy and hilarious, using head cameras and voiceover techniques to give viewers an in-depth look into the protagonists’ lives. As a programme, it never draws the line on Mark and Jez’ endless anguish: the co-creator was asked on Twitter about what sociological themes viewers should take from Peep Show, to which he replied “The stubborn persistence of human suffering”. In a horrible way, this makes it an interesting watch because, considering Mark is a sociopath and Jez’ egomaniacal side is inescapable, you’re saved from feeling too much sympathy for the pair. If you’ve ever seen That Mitchell and Webb Look, Peep Show is like an evolved, sitcom version of it.
This is a British comedy classic, right here. Centring on the lives of a family of five in London, Outnumbered is a family-oriented sitcom that reflects the trials and tribulations of living in a large(ish) family. There’s a fluency to the show’s flow that accurately generates a sense of chaos as you watch, generally helped by the improvisation techniques used whilst filming. The programme has a sense of linear progression as the characters grow older and the family dynamics change.
The difference in age between eldest son Jake and his siblings, Ben and Karen is palpable in Outnumbered, contributing to the multi-generational feel the show has. Far from being a stereotypical feelgood family comedic effort, the show succeeds in its ability to create uncomfortable situations for parents Pete and Sue. You should watch it because it’s an engaging piece of television that’ll give you plenty to laugh about.
3. Inside No.9
Taking a darker turn, Inside No.9 is another show on Netflix that you should watch. Written by The League of Gentlemen collaborators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, each episode is linked by the fact that they take place inside a building or location known as No.9, but other than that are all unique. Of the five seasons, four are on Netflix – the fifth is being broadcast now and can be streamed on the BBC iPlayer.
If you’re a Black Mirror fan, you should watch Inside No.9 because the clever intertwining of horror and comedy in the programme will suit your preferences. The twists and turns of each episode are dazzling and as an anthology show that isn’t burdened by a continuous plot, it retains a unique, unconvoluted feel. Inside No.9 is thought-provoking but doesn’t stop at that, borrowing from classic horror in its ability to create tension and keep viewers holding onto their seats to the end.
4. Only Fools and Horses
We head back to the 80s to pay tribute to this comedy masterpiece. David Jason stars as ‘Del Boy’, an erratic and overly ambitious trader, along with Nicholas Lyndhurst who plays his younger brother Rodney. Only Fools and Horses is a charming piece of work, with an air of eternal optimism which is assisted by Del’s legendary catchphrase: “This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.”
The décor on show in Del and Rodney’s apartment, which they share with their grandfather, is a reminder of how old Only Fools and Horses is: it began broadcasting 39 years ago. Despite this, as all good television does, it has remained as relevant and enjoyable as ever. You should definitely watch this programme, it flows brilliantly and is a celebrated classic.
5. Limmy’s Show
There are only two seasons (out of three) of Limmy’s Show on Netflix, namely the second and third. But prioritising quality over quantity is a must in this case, and Brian Limond’s sketch show deserves huge appreciation. Based primarily in Glasgow, the programme stars Limond, who plays several bizarre or deranged characters in various sketches. It has developed something of a cult following in recent years, largely brought about by the memetic success of his “Steel vs Feathers” sketch.
You should watch it because it’s so brilliantly absurd. Limmy’s Show is relatively dark, touching on themes like drug abuse, but retains a uniqueness that relates back to its creator’s unusual sense of humour. Probably my favourite BBC comedy of the 21st century.
6. The IT Crowd
The 2000s were a fantastic time for British comedy, with the likes of the IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh on our televisions. The IT Crowd focuses on the lives of IT Department lackeys Moss, Jen and Roy and their work at Denholm Industries. The show starts off with Jen, who knows nothing about computers, being appointed head of the department – and things spiral from there.
It’s worth watching The IT Crowd because with a cast that features the likes of Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry, Noel Fielding and Katherine Parkinson, its comedic value is considerable. Moss (Ayoade) and Roy’s (Chris O’Dowd) fear of human interaction clashes amusingly with Jen’s more outgoing, but equally awkward personality. Its silliness makes it a light watch that’s brilliant, especially if you’re having a bad day.
7. The Mighty Boosh
We’re very lucky to have The Mighty Boosh on Netflix – it’s modern comedy royalty. Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt play Vince Noir and Howard Moon, musicians in an alternate universe who live with Naboo, a shaman and his familiar, a gorilla named Bollo. A feature that catches the eye in The Mighty Boosh is the ‘crimp’, which features Vince and Howard breaking out into coordinated rap nonsense – almost like verbal beatboxing. These scenes are great because they’re inherently reflective of Fielding and Baratt’s eccentric senses of humour. These crimps occur regularly and come to a head in the third season, when the pair are challenged to a “Crimp-Off”.
Now may be the time to start watching it, especially considering that Fielding hinted at the possibility of a reunion in January. If you aren’t used to surreal humour, it’s rather full on but really is an exquisite piece of TV that deserves its place on the list. Credit should be given for the ‘Nanageddon’ episode (S2E3) because as an episode it embraces all that is unconventional about the The Mighty Boosh. After all, when an ancient demon is roaming the city where else would you find it, other than playing bingo?
8. The Office
Playing insufferable office manager David Brent, Ricky Gervais’ snarky, sardonic style comes to the fore and a strong cast, featuring the likes of Martin Freeman and Mackenzie Crook, help deliver this excellent mockumentary. The gloomy atmosphere allows for a dry comedy – Brent himself is ubiquitous in the office, bumbling from one uncomfortable encounter to the next. As is often the case in British TV, only two seasons were produced, but sometimes less is more.
You should watch The Office because Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais have created it so convincingly, as a mockumentary that the characters seem like people you could meet in real life. I haven’t watched an episode of The Office US yet, so couldn’t tell you which is better (if that even matters) – what I can tell you, though, is that it’s Ricky Gervais’ finest creation by a country mile.
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