10 Best British Sitcoms Ever

Saturday, January 29 by Stephen Lloyd

The 10 best British sitcoms ever all showcase elements quintessential to UK comedy. However, the writing and acting transcends any regionalism to make these shows universally funny.

  1. "Blackadder." Each season of this British sitcom take place in a different historical period, from the middle ages to World War I. Rowan Atkinson plays a different generation of Edmund Blackadder every season, always sarcastic. His self-serving schemes never quite work, often because of dim-witted underling Baldrick. History provides a nearly unlimited playing field for comic situations.
  2. "Fawlty Towers." This is John Cleese's first British sitcom after leaving Monty Python's Flying Circus. He takes his greatest comedic strength, an irritated short fuse, to create hotel owner Basil Fawlty. Nothing's good enough for him, including hotel guests and employees. Bumbling Spanish waiter Manuel provides a good counterbalance. Cleese also gets to show off his excellent physical comedy skills.
  3. "The Vicar of Dibley." Dawn French plays Geraldine Granger, the new vicar of the semi-conservative small village of Dibley. That she's a woman and has a fun, secular attitude rubs some people the wrong way. The village has its eccentrics as well from a perverted farmer to a lovably naive vicar's assistant. The central theme of tradition vs. innovation is not a new one but the distinct characters make this one of the best British sitcoms. 
  4. "My Hero." This British sitcom centers around Thermoman, an alien super hero. His secret identity is health shop owner George Sunday. The comedy comes from his inept attempt to fit it with Earth society. His nurse girlfriend tries to keep him on the right path, worldly and otherworldly, but he never quite gets it. Her conservative parents and vain doctor boss as well as a looney punk neighbor and his American cousin round out the cast.
  5. "Keeping Up Appearances." This is perhaps the best British sitcom about social status. The larger-than-life Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet), played by Patricia Routledge, spends her time trying to convince people she and her bland husband Richard are more than middle class with hilarious results. She obliviously annoys everybody, from her white trash relatives to the local vicar. Some catch-phrases are used too often but the cast's ability shines through that.
  6. "Mr. Bean." Part sitcom, part sketch comedy, each episode's vignettes shows Rowan Atkinson's famous character navigating through life in his own eccentric, child-like, oblivious, self-centered way. Goofy faces and guttural speech add to the quirkiness and this British sitcom is nearly all physical comedy. Despite some rude behavior, the audience can't help but root for Bean because, at his core, he's lovable.
  7. "Red Dwarf." A Douglas Adams-like science fiction comedy, this British sitcom takes place on the gigantic mining vessel Red Dwarf. Lister, the last human, travels with hologram-man Rimmer, cat-person Cat and robot Kryten on a semi-aimless journey, encountering all manner of weird interstellar events. The anything goes nature of sci-fi works perfectly in a comedy setting as absurdity.
  8. "Are You Being Served?" This takes place in the formal wear section of a department store. Anyone who has worked in retail can identify with the show on some level. The comedy's full of double entendres, most involving conversations about Mrs. Slocombe's cat or Mr. Humphries' effeminateness. Another great character is Captain Peacock, a stuffy floor manager with an overinflated view of his position.   
  9. "Last Of The Summer Wine." This long-running British sitcom debuted in 1973, ending in 2010. Through the years it has focused on groups of three men trying to stave off boredom in a sleepy Yorkshire village. Sometimes the show's as sleepy as its setting but the group of three can make comedy gold with various brands of curmudgeon behavior. This is the rare sitcom that champions the elderly.
  10. "My Family." A typical middle class family is portrayed in the style of American sitcoms. The episode plots aren't extremely original but are familiar situations people have in real life, amped up for comedic effect. There's the workaholic dentist husband, the quirky terrible cook wife, the delinquent son, the nerdy son and the bratty daughter. The strengths lie in the smart, funny dialogue. 
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