5 British Sitcoms to Binge Watch
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
One of the easiest (and most enjoyable) ways to get a major dose of British culture is to binge watch the programs they have on TV. British humor is a very specific kind of funny - sort of self deprecating, a little bit dark, and often super awkward. In comparison, American shows look incredibly bubbly and saccharine.
While many British dramas have made the leap over the pond to the US (I’m looking at you, Killing Eve, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Downton Abbey...I could go on...), many British sitcoms I’d never heard of before moving to the UK. While there are many I've watched and enjoyed, these are the top 5 I'd recommend to anybody wanting to know a bit more about the culture through British media.
I intended to post this ages ago, and made the decision to hold off in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. My original list included a lot of pretty stereotypical "classic" British sitcoms, mostly directed by white men and starring white men, which felt inauthentic both to the British experience, and what I actually enjoy watching. British TV and comedy, while I think is probably more progressive than American TV in some ways, still has a long way to go in terms of diversity - so I'm making a concerted effort to consume media that offers varied points of view, be it in race, gender, sexual orientation, or other.
1. Sex Education (2019-)
You could argue that this post is just a platform for me to talk about how much I love this show, and you'd probably be right. Sex Education does a beautiful job of merging British comedy with a plot formula and production design that feels like it belongs to an John Hughes-directed American coming-of-age story. It's the teen-centric show I wish had been around when I was actually a teen. While it's less sitcom-esque than the others on this list, I wanted to include it for not only its moments of absolute hilarity, but because it's done with such heart. Case in point, any episode that addresses Eric (arguably the best character) and the dichotomy between his sexuality and his traditional family values is handled with such love and care. Also - that soundtrack.
The Stats: 2 seasons (so far), 8 episodes per season. Stand-out episode has got to be Season 2, Episode 7 for *that* bus scene, but honestly any moment with Gillian Anderson is absolute perfection as well.
2. Chewing Gum (2015-2017)
Chewing Gum, on the surface, is a pretty silly sitcom, but it contains a lot more depth than you might think. Yes, it's raunchy, comical, and oftentimes nearing farcical, but at the same time it manages to make astute points about class, race, religion, and sexuality. The series follows Tracey, who lives on an estate in Tower Hamlets, London, and follows her quest to lose her virginity at age 24. Written by and starring Michaela Coel, it intentionally tells stories of demographics of British people who often get overlooked in popular media, and does so with almost a childlike joy and hilarity. Not to mention, Susan Wokoma, who plays Tracey's sister Cynthia, has some of the best comic timing I've seen in a while.
The Stats: 2 seasons, 6 episodes per season. Season 1 is good, but season 2 is really where the show hits its stride.
3. Him & Her (2010-2013)
Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani star as a couple in this show filmed nearly entirely in a flat in London. This show really demonstrates the awkward British sense of humor - there are shocking or cringe-worthy moments in every episode, and the next-door neighbor Dan is genuinely painfully to watch at times. It's a show where nothing really ever happens and you kind of hate all of the characters - which sounds like a terrible review for a show - but somehow ends up being entertaining anyway.
The Stats: 4 seasons, but the in the fourth season, each of the episodes takes place on one single day.
4. Fleabag (2016-2019)
If you haven't already seen or at least heard of Fleabag, I don't know where you've been. Acerbic and wonderfully off-beat, Fleabag is awkward, dark British humor at its very best. Phoebe Waller-Bridge writes and stars as Fleabag herself; a kooky, messy, self-crippling 30-something navigating her own love life and family issues while dealing with a devastating tragedy. A pretty depressing synopsis, yet somehow, the series is incredibly funny - from the situational drama to the clever quips when Fleabag breaks the fourth wall to invite the audience in to her thoughts. It also should be noted that Olivia Colman is absolute perfection in her role as Godmother. This show should be mandatory viewing for basically... everybody.
The Stats: 2 seasons. I particularly loved Season 1, Episode 4 where Fleabag and her sister visit the silent retreat, and the opening episode of Season 2 is just perfection in setting up the second series. In fact, the entirety of Season 2 is fantastic (I'm clearly a very discerning critic).
5. Derry Girls (2018-)
Once I got past the strong Northern Irish accents (subtitles were very much ON while I was watching this), I couldn't get enough of this show. It follows a group of Catholic school girls living through the conflict of the 1990s in Northern Ireland and is filled with exactly the right tone of irreverent dark humor I like in a coming-of-age story. Between the 90s throwbacks and the Catholic school jokes, it just hits all the right notes. It's also uniquely brilliant in that the main storylines are rarely about romantic relationships, and much more about the relationships between the Derry Girls themselves. I find incredibly refreshing admist all of the teen angst you'd normally find in a show about four adolescent girls (and one boy).
The Stats: 2 seasons, and it's just been renewed for a third - though apparently has been delayed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Season 1, Episode 3 was where I got truly hooked on this show - it's genuinely hilarious and sets the tone for the entire rest of the series.
What are your favorite British shows to binge watch? I'm always open to more suggestions - hit me with some!