Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Best of the Britcoms by Garry Berman

Why I read it: Uncontrollable Anglophilia.

Summary: One-to-four page synopses and critiques of about 50 of the author's favorite British sitcoms, with other short chapters.

My Thoughts: So I'm halfway there.

I think it all started with Benny Hill. My dad would watch it when we were young, and either it or M*A*S*H* always seemed to be on the television whenever he was home. I had no idea what half of the double entendres meant, but I knew when Benny spliced in the fast action slapstick stuff, most of which ended up with him repeatedly smacking his old bald friend Jackie on the scalp with a very funny slapping noise, I would howl with laughter. From there it was probably Monthy Python in high school and college.

Soon enough, after taking in these forms of gateway British humor, I moved onto Fawlty Towers, strangely, though, through radio. My mother traveled to London and came back with audio cassette versions of the show. John Cleese was the link. And he was the reason I listened to old episodes of ISIRTA on the internet  ("I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again"). From there I was off: Hancock's Half Hour, The Goon Show, Dad's Army, Yes, Minister, To the Manor Born, you name it. I searched the PBS stations locally and came up with Keeping Up Appearances, Are You Being Served?, The Vicar of Dibley, Last of the Summer Wine, As Time Goes By, One Foot in the Grave, Coupling and more. Oftentimes it became the background noise of my life as I performed menial tasks like editing, or cropping photographs for one of my books. In short, I've laughed my way through the past thirty years or so at the expense of the British monarchy, the German army and the French in general.

Ironically, through DNA testing, I've recently found out I'm half British.

According to the British people, or at least those thousands who responded to the BBC's (British Broadcasting Company) poll to find the country's best sitcom, I'm very familiar, through either radio or television, with 25 of the top 50. Strangely, the number one British sitcom of all time, Only Fools and Horses, I've never seen.

And that was the effect of Berman's book on me. Reading through all of the descriptions of the various shows - he didn't stick entirely to the list, choosing to add a few that he, personally, thought had merit - I realized there were several that I now wanted to add to my list.

There's another whole conversation to be had about American vs. British television, why some shows work here and others don't, what themes we might never grasp, why the Brits are able to pull off period sitcoms and we can't, etc. Berman touches on these topics in fun ways. Hos book will now be a reference tool on my shelf as I continue pursuing my love of all things British.

Well, most.


  1. I have to admit BritComs are not my thing (and this coming from someone who is probably 99.99% British blood). I tried watching Vicar of Dibley, but didn't make it past 5 minutes because I found the laugh track so annoying. My husband, who lived in London for nearly a year when we were dating, likes them much more than I do. Good Neighbors and Red Dwarf come to mind as ones he's mentioned. I remember my dad watching Doctor in the House when I was young.

    I do love British TV, just more of a drama fan, I guess.


    1. And that's about the way it goes with British humor - you either love it or you're completely indifferent. There doesn't seem to be room for lukewarmness or tepidity at all. Dramas? Don't get me started. One of my favorites is "Life on Mars," but there are so many more.