Ten underrated British sitcoms: introduction

If ever there was a type of programme that it’s never unfashionable to knock, it’s the TV sitcom. Whatever is being broadcast, some TV critic or blogger is always on hand to grumble that we can’t do sitcoms any more like we used to do in the 70s. In truth, the British sitcom has had many a purple patch since then, and is probably in one at the moment, ITV having re-entered the fray in fine style recently with Vicious and The Job Lot.

Those two shows do illustrate changes in sitcoms since the 1970s, however: while Vicious was shot multi-camera and studio-based, being reliant on dialogue and mostly featuring a small-ish number of long-ish scenes in each episode, The Job Lot epitomised the more modern style of sitcom: shot single-camera, with no audience laugh track and character-driven humour – far closer to filmed drama in look and feel than to the traditional sitcom.

The latter variety of show is far more likely to win critical acclaim, and there have been many well-regarded examples over the last decade or so not least Pulling, Gavin and Stacy, Peep Show (albeit with its character-perspective twist) and Grandma’s House. Even the multi-camera sitcoms that have thrived have often done so by being a bit ‘meta’; both Mrs Brown’s Boys and Miranda regularly break the fourth wall and play with the traditions of the format.

Still, with the form apparently thriving on multiple channels (more so on BBC Two now as well, with the BBC having previously put much of its sitcom on BBC Three and BBC Four), this series of posts will run through some of my favourite sitcoms that I feel are in some way undervalued. They are a mix of shows that flopped at the time, modest successes since forgotten, and one runaway success that is nonetheless widely scorned. But I’m not going to attempt to cover the handful of more infamous ‘lost’ sitcoms like Hardwicke House and Heil Honey, I’m Home (the latter truly lost, its master tapes mostly unbroadcast and all missing believed wiped as far as I’m aware).

All of the sitcoms I’m going to write about are shows that have made me laugh, that I’ve got some affection for, and that I’d recommend people take a second (or in some cases, very likely first) look at. Some were reasonably well respected in their day; others got a somewhat raw deal in terms of reviews, ratings or both. That said, there generally are reasons why they are ultimately not held in high regard, albeit reasons that the viewer might do well to look past. The posts will be published over the next ten weeks, so do bookmark the site, subscribe to the RSS feed or follow me on Twitter if you’re enjoying them.

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