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When it comes to comedy shows, no one does it better than the Brits. Their innate sense of sarcasm and dark humor can sometimes be hard to swallow, but once you get into it, there’s no coming back. Most of the British comedy shows rely on imaginative characters and somewhat preposterous plots and they often work quite well. To be able to fully appreciate British comedy in all its forms, you need to start way back with the pioneers of abstract comedy (Monty Python) and work your way up to some of the more recent ones. Here is a short preview of all the shows you need to watch if you already haven’t (and even if you did, because replay value is incredible).
Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)
The first entry on our list is the very essence of British comedy that has influenced a number of generations since its conception in 1969. Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a collection of intelligent, absurd sketches that aimed to break the routine and introduce a whole new concept of entertainment. Created by six giants of comedy: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam, the show featured some unorthodox jokes, parodies on the political systems, daily lives of the Brits and often included various clever references, since they were all highly educated young men. The series lasted for only 4 seasons, but it has made quite an impact with their trademark catchphrases, surreal situations, and unique sense of comedy that everyone wanted to replicate.
Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)
While John Cleese left the Monty Python group after the show’s third series, he was still in no way done with comedy. He simply decided to make his own show called Fawlty Towers about an extremely grumpy hotel owner, his wife, employees and a number of daily problems they encounter. Although in a bit more conventional format than John Cleese’s usual shows, Fawlty Towers still had a lot of Pythonesque silliness about it and Cleese’s unique physical comedy. This might also be one of the first British shows that started this trend of ending after only a couple of seasons. Fawlty Towers lasted only two seasons and, despite its popularity and influence, Cleese decided to put a stop to it before it loses its quality and becomes a drag. Many British shows (even on this list) tend to follow this guideline, putting quality over quantity any day.
Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)
While the Monty Python group used highly conceptual humor and ridiculed our society, Only Fools and Horses was way more down to earth, working-class humor that had a lot of sincerity in it. The show, whose every episode was written and directed by the late John Sullivan, first aired in 1981 and dealt with everyday struggles of two brothers living in the poor part of London – Peckham. What made the show so extraordinary were the unique, relatable characters and clever plots that always felt natural. One of the protagonists was Derek “Del Boy” Trotter, a lovable, resourceful street merchant who earns off small scams on a daily basis in order to provide for his younger brother Rodney and grandad (uncle in the later seasons). On the other hand, Rodney is a clumsy dreamer with strong moral problems and questions of identity. Together, the two make an excellent team whose charisma propels the show. Only Fools and Horses is one of those rare shows that managed to stay on air for a long time without ever losing its quality.
‘Allo ‘Allo! (1982-1992)
A year after Only Fools and Horses arrived a well-known British comedy called ‘Allo ‘Allo!, set in a little French village during the World War II. The show revolved around René Artois, a French café owner who does his best to balance out his alliances with both the Germans and the French Resistance. This policy keeps his cafe open but also puts him in a number of strange and dangerous situations. Although all of the characters speak English but with various accents, one of the running gags in the show is that they can’t understand each other, which gives them a chance to ridicule all of them and each other. While there is no doubt that the show, later on, became notorious for its repetition of jokes and even plotlines, it was still an incredibly witty show with charismatic actors and an interesting take on something as horrible as the Second World War.