When the humble British sitcom is done well, it is one of the most enjoyable forms of comedy. If there is one partnership that perfectly exemplifies how well Britain can do a situation comedy, that partnership is Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, particularly with their first show The Office – one of the world’s great creations that I’m sure will come to be remembered in the same manner as the Mona Lisa, Hamlet and The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Its dry British humour, including moments so uncomfortable that you’d rather murder a kitten than look at the screen, combined with addictively funny and loveable characters and a sincerely charming and sometimes emotional plotline, makes it the perfectly moreish TV programme.
Their next project, Extras, depicted the jealous and shallow Andy Millman (Gervais) desperately trying to break out of being a ‘background artist’, and became equally famous. Whilst perhaps not of quite the same standard as The Office (can anything ever be?) Extras was still a strong comedy, and was well received by critics and audiences alike.
To replace that ‘special quality’ from The Office that it inevitably wouldn’t have, Extras added embarrassment and humiliation to its plotlines and introduced Stephen Merchant to the acting scene, playing the incompetent agent Darren Lamb, one of British comedy’s all-time greatest characters.
From here, Gervais and Merchant’s aims for their comedy changed massively, and their work suffered greatly as a result. From Gervais’ string of mildly amusing comedies such as The Invention of Lying to Merchant’s ‘quite funny’ HBO series Hello Ladies, and its awful straight to TV follow-up movie of the same name, the duo have lost that spark that once made their comedy great in attempting to target the US market. The excruciating moments have been replaced with slapstick whilst their emotional scenes are graceless and awkward to watch.
I forgive them for this decline, which was a consequence of broadening their comedy for a larger pay cheque, and I still revere them as the creators of something amazing, but when news of a future project from Gervais and/or Merchant reaches me, such as the up and coming Life on the Road David Brent movie, I find myself not excited, but rather filled with fear that my once loved characters are being ruined.
Although there have been some relatively recent moments of British comedic brilliance, Peep Show, (and the delectable chemistry between David Mitchell and Robert Webb) and Phoneshop to name but two, these are sadly being almost totally overrun by the now notorious British shitcoms, *ahem*, sitcoms, flooding the British market. In shows such as Miranda, Man Down and Friday Night Dinner, slapstick rules supreme and one joke is milked until three series in – when the show ends because the writers have given up and are shivering on the floor in a vast pool of egomania.
The British sitcom is now smothered by attempts to broaden appeal, and a focus on generating money. We might fear that this once great comedic form is on the verge of extinction in its true, genuinely amusing form. But can it be saved?
The answer to that comes from a new British comedy duo on the scene, and the answer is definitively ‘yes’. This new pair is Allan Mustafa and Hugo Chegwin, the two leading characters in BBC3’s People Just Do Nothing. Written and produced by the duo, along with Steve, a.k.a The Wiggy Mess, and their designated ‘fixer’ Chabuddy G., People Just Do Nothing follows the lives of MC Grindah and DJ Beats, owners of Kurupt FM, a pirate garage radio station in a secret location in West London.
This sitcom, aired in 2014, breathes life back into the British TV comedy scene and is perhaps the most praiseworthy British sitcom since The Office. It certainly has strong parallels with the show, and, on more than a few occasions, Grindah certainly appears to be the David Brent of the underground garage scene.
Despite this slight similarity, the show is refreshingly original and once again achieves that perfect balance between addictive characters, intelligently funny dialogue, and painfully uncomfortable scenes. People Just Do Nothing goes to show that by sticking entirely to British humour at its best, and staying with an idea, rather than expanding it extensively, we can create something truly hilarious and potentially seminal. With the next season coming this year, surely People Just Do Nothing and the DJs of Kurupt FM are the future of British comedy?