Friday, November 8, 2013

I Am Unanimous In That

I recently had an internet-based discussion (OK, it was Reddit) about (of all things) old British sitcoms. Like most things on the internet, it brought back a flood of awesome memories of something that used to be obscure.

It may seen odd and quaint to people now, but there once was a time in which you couldn't simply watch every single thing you wanted at any given time. That's right--if you wanted to watch a particular show, you had to look up when it was aired and then plan your life around that time. It was a silly, crazy, mixed-up world.

Anyway, for weirdos like me, Saturday night on public television was the only way to catch the very best of British comedy--Britcoms, as it were. Specifically, I would watch such classics as Are You Being Served? and Keeping Up Appearances. Occasionally I'd get to watch Red Dwarf or Fawlty Towers, depending on the time of year. (Of course,the very Canadian The Red Green Show also got thrown in there for good measure; must have been a united Commonwealth effort.)

Let's face it--these Britcoms were equally brilliant and awful. They were often sharply written and, due to low budgets, relied a lot more on plot and dialogue and not flashy effects or movie star cameos. They often were able to be more daring in their approach to comedy in many ways and were often easily able to wring a fantastic amount of talent out of their actors and actresses.

That said, these shows also relied a lot on repetition and formula. This could be occasionally funny but often maddeningly annoying. Simply repeating a catchphrase doesn't make good comedy, but Britcoms often treated it as the pinnacle of clever wordplay. Having, say, Hyacinth get scared of the dog in the car at Onslow's place every. single. episode was mildly funny once, stupid the next two dozen times, and then the payoff the one time they change it up, while genuinely funny, wasn't worth the cost. And while the writers couldn't get huge salaries, relied on basement-dollar production values, and were limited in the format, they more than made up for it by dripping entire series with blatant sexual innuendo. Fun, to be sure, but it was often jarring when put in the context of their otherwise brilliant writing.

The good news for fans is that many of these series hold up well. Sure, some of them look pretty cheap, but so do a lot of old US sitcoms. And some of them have eye-rollingly bad ideas (is the staff at Grace Brothers putting on yet another show for absolutely no reason?) peppered in their shows. And, of course, one can always complain about how they managed to squeeze out so few episodes a year, at least compared to US sitcoms.

I mean, yeah, I know, quality over quantity and all that, but they weren't that good, and getting only six episodes a season often left the audience unsatisfied and wanting a lot more. Mrs. Slocombe's pussy, I assure you, would agree.

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