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.

Coupling



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

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

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. I haven’t seen this mentioned, and I thought the show was hilarious and it can be found on Hulu: Pramface – drunken one night stand ends up in a pregnancy. The series follows all the hijinks of the 2 parents and them adjusting to life together.

  2. One of my all time favorite british shows is called Father Ted. Its about 3 priests living in Ireland on a tiny island. The one priest only says, “Feck, Drink, and Girls” for the most part, the second is a moron, and the third could only be called a mastermind!

    • Have to correct you there! Father Ted is 100% Irish, not British. But you’re right that it’s brilliant!

      • Actually like Mrs. Brown’s Boys, Father Ted, despite having an Irish cast and Irish writer it was British. It was produced by a British company and 1st aired on British Tv.
        Ooh! Another Fr. Ted fun fact is that the Scottish preist from the Christmas episode where they get lost in “Ireland’s largest lingerie department” went on to become that ginger doctor in Grey’s Anatomy!
        I recently say a tv show called “Vicious” staring Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen as an aging couple who bicker constantly. Iwan Rheon was there handsome straight neighbour with girl troubles. I’ve a feeling it was cancelled but I thought it was quite good. It had the feeling of a classic Brittish Sitcom from the 70’s, great oneliners!
        If you’re into murder mysteries a good one that hasn’t been mentioned is “Endeavour”. It’s a prequel to Inspector Morse, set in Oxford in the 60s. It’s very good.

  3. The Mighty Boosh. It will always be one of my all-time favorites, just for the ridiculous and crazy! If you watch The IT Crowd (also amazing), you’ll recognize a couple characters.

    • Calm a llama down, calm a llama deep down in the ocean blue like a barnacle, sitting in a tight place, laughing at the monkey arm, pulling like a China boy. Kataway kataway kataway noise boing chicka masala boing chicka masala tooth tooth OHhhhhhhhh

  4. Red Dwarf, I know almost every episode by heart, amazingly funny nerd comedy.
    The IT Crowd, the only thing on my tablet, more nerd comedy.
    Father Ted is just funny.
    The Worst Week of my Life is another hilarious comedy that will have you cringing and laughing at the same time.

    Misfits, isn’t really a comedy but is brilliant!

  5. Peep Show! It’s on netflix. And featuring the same people, That Mitchell and Webb look, a sketch show.

  6. Hey! Any Being Human fans??
    Because I don’t know anyone else who’s seen it and I need to be friends with you so we can bag on the American version and talk about how slow it got halfway through and who is the hotter vampire, Mitchell or Hal?

    • Looooove Being Human. I stopped watching after the third season because of the intense feels (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else so thats really all I can say). Are the other seasons worth watching?

      • Kind of depends <- helpful answer alert. I actually liked the last set of characters more than the original ones, but the way the remaining members of the original set went kind of put me off rewatching the 3rd series because of knowing what happens next. So if that's not likely to bother you, maybe if you didn't like them as much as the 1st member of the gang to leave, for example, then I'd say the last two series are worth it. I was very fond of them, so if I hadn't liked the next ones as much as I did I would have felt like the first three series had been too tarnished to make watching the rest worth it, if that makes sense.

        Cagey phrasing to avoid spoilers.

        • Agreed. I enjoyed the second set, because I have a super soft spot for Tom and want to feed him cookies (THOSE PUPPY EYES) plus Hal is hot in a romance novel sort of way. But there was a bit more of the same as there was in the first few seasons, and I feel it lost a bit of its humor. The last season seemed to look up, but it wrapped up too quickly and I’m satisfied, but still a bit sad. (Vague post is vague.)

          It’s like if you ate your very favorite thing every day for a week. Seasons 4 and 5 were kind of like day 4 and 5; it’s still pretty good and you’d rather have it than other things, but you’re starting to get tired of it.

    • Yes! Though I’m in the UK and have never seen the American version, maybe that’s cheating. I loved that show *sigh*. The answer to your question is: Hal. I mean, I’m not really into vampires but if I had to choose… *drifts off into imaginary scenario in which having to choose totally happens*

      • I couldn’t get through the first episode of the American version. I wanted to stab the ghost girl in her non-corporeal face. Know how Annie was slightly annoying, but still charming? Remove the charm.

        I think I *might* have to pick Mitchell. Not a huge vampire fan either, but he’s just so pretty…

        Okay, moment of truth. Series finale. In a non-spoilerly way—Yay or Nay?

        • Series finale – yay???

          It was ok, but I think just ok. Damn I want to go into more detail than that!

          • ME TOO! Feel free to email me ( alyssa [dot] kindofamess [at] gmail [dot] com) for more discussion. Unless you find that creepy, which is an acceptable reaction.

  7. Love the Graham Norton show for talkshow only one I watch. Most of my favourites have been mentioned but for comedies As Time Goes By, Hamish MacBeth, The Young Ones and Cold Feet. For mystery Touching Evil, Wire in the Blood, McCallum and Life on Mars.
    My all time favourite Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

  8. I am all for television recommendations of all kinds, so, yay!

    But I also love that my boyfriend said this when I told him the title of this article, “Why would you need a break from zombies, meth, and fantasy?”

  9. A few shows I don’t THINK have been mentioned (sorry for repeating otherwise):
    As Time Goes By
    The Mighty Boosh
    Goodnight Sweetheart (esp the first couple seasons)
    My Family (first couple seasons)
    Outnumbered
    Torchwood (you don’t need to be a Who fan, it can stand alone)
    Gavin and Stacey
    Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach (these shows need to be watched together, it’s a show within a show yep thing)

    • YES! Gavin and Stacy! I honestly think it is one of the most heartfelt comedies out there. They are making it in the US, which could be good, but I wonder if it will translate well since Gavin and Stacy are based on a lot of regional jokes, and the US is so big. I think they are making Gavin from New York, and Stacy from Pennsylvania. And being from New Jersey, IT IS A BIG DIFFERENCE!

      But I like how well Gavin and Stacy balanced the regional jokes with universal jokes. *sigh* I miss that show.

    • I’m so glad someone mentioned Gavin and Stacey! That is such a great show. Sweet, heartwarming, and hilarious.

      I also second The Inbetweeners, Fresh Meat, Outnumbered, and Little Britain.

  10. I see my favorites have been mentioned.

    The Catherine Tate Show
    The IT Crowd
    Are You Being Served?
    Keeping Up Appearances
    Mr. Bean
    The Graham Norton Show
    That Mitchell and Webb Look

  11. It’s not really a comedy, but Primeval must be mentioned. (+ it’s on instant play! Woo) If you even slightly like dinosaurs, you’ll probably love this show.

    Also, I second the inclusion of Torchwood and Being Human

  12. Warning: Do Not Watch Coupling if you are triggered by post-feminist gender stereotypes; the entire thing is based on them. It was screened when I was going through adolescence and by God that show made the whole experience so much worse than it needed to be. It’s basically the opposite of humanist, if you know what I mean. If you’re resistant to such things and can still enjoy it, awesome, it’s not without upsides, but if you’re not, tread very carefully indeed. The fact that I felt the need to type this shows how strongly I still react and it was on like 10 years ago!

    +1 to recommendations of:
    Peep Show
    Father Ted (For afficianados of the downright weird.)
    Misfits (How often is the underclass featured on TV in a funny and touching way, let alone with hints of sci-fi/fantasy as well? Do not watch while eating though. Ever.)

    I love that you’ve featured Black Books.
    “… you do know you’ve got molluscs on your pipes?”
    “What of it?”
    “Well it’s just that traditionally they live in the sea.”

  13. I was wild about Coupling up until the end where they replaced Richard Coyle (Jeff). His dialogue was the best in the series.

  14. I’ll put another vote in for Cold Feet, it’s old like a lot of the ones in the original article, but kind of a Coupling/Friends a few years later type comedy (making it work with young kids, a couple of straggling singles)

  15. Vicar of Dibley- must watch show!!!! I am British but by far a brilliant show following a female vicar settling into a parish when female vicars we’re new.

    Blackadder is defo a fav of mine too. I love skins too (the original not the US remake) but properly helps that I am from the town its filmed/set in so know all the places and half the actors

  16. Friday night dinner! Spent last weekend watching as much as we could get hold of and pissing ourselves. Has Tamsin Grieg, Mark Heap (green wing) and Simon Bird (the inbetweeners) in it so a really good cast and some painfully relatable characters.

  17. This is not a comedy (but then again as someone else mentioned neither is Eastenders), and it does involve ghosts and other supernatural characters, but I LOVED it – The Fades. Six episodes of awesomeness.
    A classic from my British childhood is Time Bandits. Not TV, but a great film. Love it even now.
    +1 to Peepshow, Sherlock, Life on Mars, Shameless and Skins.

  18. because of this post and the comments, i went home last night and watched The IT Crowd on netflix. Hilarious. Thanks!

  19. OMG This thread just skyrocketed to top 3 of my fav Offbeat posts. Though, I’m surprised there was only one mention of Downton Abbey! I guess it’s a little obvious? I don’t know. I do love Black Books and Blackadder though, and I SERIOUSLY need to start watchign Orphan Black. I’ve heard such amazing things about that show.

    • I thought the lack of Downtown Abbey was weird too. And yes, you really should start watching Orphan Black. I’m 4 episodes in, because that’s how many the Netflix disc had so thats how many my fiancee and I could binge watch. 😀

  20. For us Dench fans out there, but Dame Judy did two comedies that will endear here to my heart. A Fine Romance is pretty dated, but very sweet, and features early Judy Dench with her real-life husband as a couple negotiating living together outside of marriage in the 1970s. Her later work and my particular all-time mushy-but-sweet-without-being-twee is As Time Goes By, the story of two WW 2 lovers who reunite nearly 40 years later … also a little dated, as the original airing was sometime in the 90s, but Lionel and Jean remain one of my all-time favorite TV couples. There’s some pretty feminist subtext in both shows, too, as a little added bonus.

  21. Only Fools & Horses
    Porridge
    Open All Hours
    The Good Life

    I am a Brit and feeling so much love right now 🙂

      • If we’re going for Alan Davies love then Jonathan Creek has to be mentioned!

        Is it comedy? I dunno, but it is funny! I love murder mysteries and Jonathan Creek was just brilliant. The later ones they released were a bit lazy though…

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