5 British comedies and soaps you should watch when you need a break from zombies, meth, and fantasy

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I don’t own a TV, but I’m the queen bee of streaming the shows I love to watch online, either via Netflix, Hulu, or some kind of third party.

I’m not a fan of some of the bigger shows that are either on TV right now or recently ended (Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones).

So when Parenthood skips a week (heeeey network TV) or I’m all Grey’s Anatomy-ed out, I head over to Netflix and start watching British soaps and comedies instead.

There are quite a few HILARIOUS shows available online right now, and they’re all quirky and odd in their own individual — and oh so British — ways.


My husband and I very happily discovered Coupling almost five years ago when we were living on campus and needed something to do one night. We proceeded to FLY through the series, eating more nachoes and drinking more Dos Equis than two people ever should. The meal goes perfectly with the show, which aired on BBC2 from 2000 to 2004. It follows the general premise of Friends — six friends in their thirties work! Go on dates! Have sex! — but the humor is so intrinsically British that it doesn’t feel like a copy of something you’ve already seen.

Also, the Mari Wilson cover of Doris Day’s Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps is catchy as hell.

Black Books

Black Books is my favorite of the bunch! I’m not entirely sure if the show was modeled on High Fidelity (book or movie version), but there’s quite a bit of cross-over by way of character depictions and the general mayhem of the shop. The show is centered around three characters: Bernard, Manny, and Fran. Bernard is a grouchy book shop owner who discovers he’s accidentally hired happy-go-lucky Manny to work in his shop. Fran runs the new age-y shop next door, and the three proceed to get into a whole bunch of hijinks and mischief.


Blackadder was suggested by my husband — he lived in the UK for six or so years and discovered it while there. The premise sounds more confusing than it needs to: each episode is about Edmund Blackadder and his drudge, Baldrick. Each season is set in a different historical period. Though each season is about a different time period, they all forward the highs and lows of the life of Blackadder and in general teach you something about British history — in a super hilarious way. The lives of the upper class Blackadders and the servant Baldricks are interlinked.


EastEnders has been on the BBC since 1985 and follows people who work and play in Walford in the East End of London — hence the name. You’ve likely heard of it before — it’s one of the UK’s most-watched TV shows. Like Days of Our Lives, EastEnders is a standard soap opera, and themes include relationships, family, and dramedic (drama+comedy) moments.

Keeping Up Appearances

Guys, I don’t know why I love Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced BOUQUET) so much, but I very sincerely do. Keeping Up Appearances is one of the first shows my husband ever introduced me to, and nearly seven years later you can park me in front of an episode of the show and find me laughing about fifteen seconds later. Hyacinth is just a stereotype of a nosy, bossy, more or less bored homemaker turned neighborhood spy, and she gives her husband, Richard, plenty to moan and groan about.. but something about this show just does it for me. Cheers!

What are your favorite British TV shows? I’m always going to need more!

Comments on 5 British comedies and soaps you should watch when you need a break from zombies, meth, and fantasy

  1. Black Books is one of my absolute FAVORITES. A few more recommendations would be Spaced (Simon Pegg and crew, totally nerdtastic), The IT Crowd, and the always classic Absolutely Fabulous!

      • So, all IT Crowd fans — do you know there is a final episode available on YouTube? (Not sure if it’s legal or not.) It wasn’t the best, but it provided some kind of closure. I still wish there was another season 🙁

    • YES! I was coming in here to recommend Spaced too, it is wonderful.

      I also enjoyed Skins, but that’s only if you like shameless, drug-and-sex-addled teen dramas.

      Coupling is one of my all time faves though, I think I’ve watched the whole series three or four times now.

          • The Skins Redux series is a bit weird. I can’t really remember what happened in Skins Fire pt. 1 vs. pt. 2 besides big spoilery things.

            I think whether or not you like them depends on if you like the central character because you don’t get much else that’s familiar. I liked Skins Fire (Effy) and Skins Pure (Cassie). I didn’t like them as much as regular episodes but enough to enjoy them. I am not really a Cook fan, so I didn’t like Skins Rise as much.

          • I really like Effy and Cassie, and I do want to watch the second for Cass. I have mixed feelings on Cook, but I am MASSIVELY curious what happened after that finale when he found out how Freddy died. Do they go into that?

  2. Where do I start? As a fellow British TV enthusiast I’m always willing to give recommendations. Starting with Waiting for God, follow the comedic adventures of Tom and Diana in a seniors’ residential community. There are 5 seasons but only 2, I think are on Netflix. Try the local library if you really get into them. Midsummer Murders is a detective show set in Midsummer, England. There are over 15 seasons out and Netflix has most of them. Each episode runs over an hour and half. Hustle, think Leverage only British. It’s a caper show, following a group of con artists through their con. The fourth wall is broken often and it is quite humorous. Only the first 4 seasons are available for sale in the US, due to a marketing scheme with AMC that doesn’t seem to have been followed through. AMC showed the first 4 seasons in the US and seems to have stopped. There is a total of 8 seasons the last time I checked. I’m sure that I can come up with more if I think about it.

  3. OMG and let’s not forget one of the greatest British series of all time: Green Wing 😀 😀
    It’s been 7 years since the final episode and still sometimes I think about how it’s not real life and there will be no more new episodes and I die a little inside.

  4. BLACK ADDER!!! Definite yes. I used to devour those on PBS when they came on…

    If you like Keeping up with Appearances, Father Ted (not available for streaming, boo…) and Vicar of Dibley are also a couple of my favorites for holidays when family is around and we need something on in the background that won’t horrify Grammy. 🙂

    If you’re a sci-fi nerd and you’ve already watched Doctor Who forty billion times like me, you can try Hyperdrive. It’s a space comedy (more satire really) with Nick Frost and the always amazing Miranda Hart. It’s not stellar, but still really really funny.

    There’s also Spaced, which I’ve not quite gotten into yet, but I hear excellent things about it. Doc Martin is good if you like your doctors cantankerous like House, but can do with a little less disease of the week solved by those annoying pretty doctors. And if you can find it, Q.I. is a ridiculously hilarious game show with Stephen Fry, I spent an entire weekend watching like 25 episodes and I think I’m smarter for it.

    Also, making the obligatory Sherlock recommendation, because you didn’t specify just British comedies and it’s sometimes funny and there are people out there who still have not see it and THIS CANNOT STAND.

  5. The Vicar of Dibley is my old standby. When I’m freaked out from episodes of Supernatural I watch an episode of Vicar before bed so I don’t make a circle of salt around my bed.

  6. Oh my goodness, you must see Miranda, starring Miranda Hart (you may know her if you have ever watched Call the Midwife). This is one of those rare shows where I actually laugh out loud each time I watch it-and this is the third time I’m watching the entire series. I think Miranda appeals to the goofy, geeky and offbeat in all of us. I mean who doesn’t make fruit and vegetable friends or sing at a job interview. “Such fun”.

      • I watched the first season while on maternity leave. I have seen too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, so I spent most of the time hiding behind my hands, waiting for horrible things to happen to infants.
        But, I was pleasantly surprised and only a couple horrible things happen. I cried my face off, but mostly happy tears. (Probably partly out of relief when that the baby of the week didn’t die. Shondra Rhimes, you have RUINED ME!!!)
        But try it out when you’re ready, I think you’ll enjoy it! It’s just charming…

        • YAY! This is good news! I’m with you: Shonda has absolutely wrecked the world was I knew it pre-Grey’s in so many ways. I was watching a dramatic show with friends a few weeks ago and as soon as a baby was on screen I was like “IS THAT BABY GOING TO DIE” and they were like “…no.”

          Thanks, Shonda.

      • I totally get that – I watched a little of Call The Midwife while I was pregnant and I couldn’t handle the stress! 😛 It was really fun to watch after I had the baby, though, since I could actually concentrate on the story vs get distracted by thoughts of childbirth.

        • To be TOTALLY HONEST, I was all midwifed out because of Offbeat Families — at the time, there were a bunch of midwife-related posts in my inbox and I was like OMG MIDWIVES I NEED A BREAK.

          But now that’s not an issue, so hey! I might pick it up again. 😉

  7. As a Brit I LOVE all of the above but it is rather sad that all but one of these is REALLY old. I thought I should suggest some new greats, so here are some new ones if you can get them somewhere:

    Fresh Meat: follows a bunch of students in their first year at University (College to the majority here). They tend to get into all sorts of trouble but in the awkward “trying to figure themselves out” kind of way.

    Green Wing: a strange comedy based in a hospital. Far darker than Scrubs and classically British comedy. Sadly not on despite protests and my tears (also stars Tamsin Greig who played Fran in the above Black Books).

    Red Dwarf: Recently re-started for season 10 Red Dwarf is a brilliant Sci-fi comedy which I grew up on. Cringe-worthy but amazing with plenty of British slapstick to make us proud!

    Miranda: This is a bit like mixing Bridget Jones with… well my life. Miranda is taller than most men, awkward, and trying-not-to-be-posh but adorable and funny.

    The IT Crowd: This is hilarious and most IT professionals will find the stereotypes funny. You can’t help but love the socially-awkward workers led by a computer-illiterate IT Manager.

    The Vicar of Dibley: Although older than the above options, this beauty was created by the same dude who gave you Love Actually, Bridget Jones, and Blackadder in all its adorable British cuteness, V of D has the most amazing portrayal of the country-bumpkin Parish life and the fun they get into. Another I cried at when it finished!

    Outnumbered: portrayal of classic family life where 3 kids generally outnumber their poor parents and life gets.. well HILARIOUS!

    PLEASE check these out! They are amazing and I am still proud of British Comedy!

    Also Eastenders is not a comedy…

    • I SERIOUSLY appreciate all of the new show recs! I had the idea for this post while in the middle of a Black Books episode, and listed the first five shows that came to mind.

    • Yes, Outnumbered is hilarious! Of ones I haven’t noticed mentioned yet, I also enjoy The Old Guys (I think that’s the title), Spy (only seen the first series so far, but well worth a look-up), and As Time Goes By (a favorite in my family–yes, I know it’s older). Also, can’t beat the occasional Mr. Bean. I confess that the majority of my British comedy familiarity comes from PBS, and unfortunately, what we get here is often outdated.

    • I still love watching Are You Being Served (and Last of the Summer Wine, the older versions, when Frank Thorton was on them). 30+ years old and never get tired of them.
      Also, I still love The Young Ones.

  8. Red Dwarf has been mentioned a couple of times, and I LOVE it.

    Others that I also like:

    Are you Being Served? It is a 70’s show, but hilarious

    My Hero

    Waiting for God – old farts in a retirement home who don’t give a damn. Hilarious at times.

  9. YAY for this!! the first 2 are without a doubt 2 of my all time favourite shows and my family love them too! thank goodness for aussie free to air tv showing lots of british shows! I have them on dvd, they get played WAY too often and my brother and I quote them WAY too often but they are so clever and weird and funny!!!!

    not a comedy but I recommend Sherlock for anyone who likes a crime show, i can find no faults in it and was hooked from about 15 minutes in! I am suffering terribly waiting for the next episodes!
    my list of recommendations include Wild West. Absolutely Fabulous. The Mighty Boosh. Green Wing!!!!!!!

    i could go on, there are sooo many!!!! great list! 🙂

  10. I think I’d be remiss here if I didn’t mention Fawlty Towers! You might have to buy the DVDs to watch it (not sure if its available online) but it is well worth any investment. It’s John Cleese at his absolute best (along with his actual then-wife, who was pretty excellent herself).

  11. Misfits! I loved this series when it first came out.

    Basically youth offenders doing community service get caught in a storm that gives them super powers, but not exactly useful. For example, when someone touches you they get really horny and tell you their deepest desire, yeah not gonna save the world with that. Turns out more than just the 5 main characters were affected with many weird and wonderful powers…

    It’s classic dirty, dark Brit humour. And up to date too! 🙂

    • I completely agree about Misfits, and I was scrolling down to the bottom to recommend it when I saw your comment. It’s absolute genius, though the first two series are the best, with the original cast, in my opinion.

  12. Although already mentioned: The Vicar of Dibley! It’s my all-time favorite show (British or not), and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy every time I re-watch it.

    Also worth noting: Little Britain, Come Fly With Me, and The Catherine Tate Show.

  13. It’s not a comedy or a soap but I have to recommend Ripper Street. It’s one of my favourite things on tv right now. It’s basically CSI: Victorian London, but really good. The show centers on a police division in Whitechapel, dealing with the fallout from the Jack the Ripper cases in the late 1880’s/early 1890’s.

    The episodes have a nice blend of ‘case of the week’ and ongoing seasonal arcs, the history is pretty good, and there are some rather handsome men wearing dapper suits and bowler hats in it (I’m looking at you Matthew Macfadyen/Mr Darcy!). You do need to get past the rather gory and disturbing first episode (the most ‘Ripper’ of them all) – after that it gets good.

    • This makes me so glad I am not the only one who refers to Ripper Street as CSI: Victorian London. I LOVE this show and am not a huge fan of the CSI shows – it is a must!

    • My Dad gave up on it because of the first episode, which I found really sad; a few times since I’ve referred to it in our regular politics/state of the world chats as it’s featured industrial strikes, Government conspiracy and recently the invention of heroin. It’s a crazy show, but there is an enormous amount of content for anyone interested in the kind of history we were never taught in school. I keep Wikipedia open while watching!

    • I will have to look into this! It sounds a bit like Copper from BBC America , which was kinda Law & Order in 19th Century New York. I would have liked more of it and am still wishing there was more. Looks like Ripper Street might fill the Copper-sized space in my tv time. And I seriously need the men in dapper suits. Loved the top hats in Copper though, so I might miss those.

  14. Let’s not forget Peep Show!! I just blew through all 7 seasons on Netflix and laughed my butt off. The new netflix-exclusive series Derek, starring Ricky Gervais, is pretty funny. I’m also a big Stephen Fry fan so I recommend Kingdom & Stephen Fry in America.

  15. I looove Coupling and Blackadder and am excited to check out some of these other suggestions!

    It’s already mentioned above, but I have to give a shout-out to Jeeves & Wooster (available on Hulu Plus, much to my delight). It’s based on P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious stories and stars Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Besides being incredibly funny and witty, it’s set in the 1930s, which makes for great settings, clothes, and music. So much fun!

    • YES!!!!! THIS!!!!! My husband and I JUST finished the last series of this show, and we couldn’t stop laughing! We’ve obnoxiously worked in most quotes into daily conversation! “How very DARE you!!!”

    • I practically die laughing every time I watch that show!! Sadly, everyone I know looks at me like I’ve lost my mind when I say, “Am I bovered?” and hysterically start laughing.

  16. My husband is English and has introduced me to all sorts of gems. Many have already been said, but I’m astonished that no one has mentioned ‘Allo ‘Allo yet! That and Blackadder are probably my favorites. I love watching QI and Eggheads when we’re visiting the in-laws. He just bought The Two Ronnies so we’re working our way through season one now. I also like Porridge. (My father-in-law has those DVDs, along with Dad’s Army and The Thin Blue Line. Oh, and The Brittas Empire.)

    Husband suggestions: The Fast Show, One Foot in the Grave, and The Young Ones.

    Non-comedies that I love: Cadfael, Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes (can you tell I’m a mystery buff?), I, Claudius, and I just watched all of Broadchurch in two days.

    …there’s a lot. If you’ve never seen any Carry-on films, those are good for a laugh too.

    • I HAVE to second One Foot in the Grave, such a funny old series. Also The Brittas Empire and Vicar of Dibley need seconding, because they are the sitcoms of my childhood.

      More recently I would mention Fresh Meat, which I find hilarious, and not British but Australian – Kath and Kim was such a good series, not sure how easy it would be to get a hold of though.

  17. These are not comedies, but:
    Yes to those who said Sherlock!
    This may be too obvious but: Downton Abbey
    The Hour – is fantastic.
    And it might be BBC America but I am currently in LOVE with Orphan Black.

  18. You forgot the best one on Netflix – The IT Crowd! Love that show. And I second Orphan Black, can’t wait until Spring for the next season! The only one of these I’ve seen is Keeping up Appearances, which me and my mom used to watch on PBS.

  19. OMG I love this. =) Me and my grandmother have been watching “Keeping up Appearances” since I was a toddler!! She watched it overseas before and found PBS plays it I think every sunday or saturday evening. That was our bonding moment, I never heard her laugh so hard. I liked to stay up later and watch the following “Are you being served?” I don’t think it plays on netflix, but if you like retail/dirty humor, it is soooo worth the watch!

  20. The Inbetweeners is one that I like, but it’s very much full of immature humor – it follows the lives of 4 awkward adolescent boys as they try to navigate the perils of high school. As I’m sure you can imagine, it involves a lot of jokes about boners & gross bodily functions. Sometimes I cringe so hard it actually hurts, but it’s still pretty friggin’ funny.

    Saw someone else mention Fawlty Towers – GREAT show and it’s also on Netflix.

    Also, Doctor Who (2005 – present, so it’s only New Who) is now on Netflix. Amazing!

    I also agree with all the recommendations for Blackadder, Absolutely Fabulous, The Young Ones, Vicar of Dibley…Ooh, not sure if anyone mentioned Father Ted yet, I’ve only seen a few episodes but it seemed quite amusing.

  21. Don’t forget British PANEL SHOWS! Glorious, glorious panel shows!

    Some of my favorites:
    Never Mind the Buzzcocks
    8 Out of 10 Cats (and its specials, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countown, and …Does Let’s Make a Deal)
    Big Fat Quiz of the Year (though the more recent ones have been lameish)
    Have I Got News for You
    Mock the Week
    Would I Lie to You? (Probably my favorite. That and Buzzcocks, though I miss Simon Amstell with a passion.)

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