Comedy is a subjective thing, which means that already from the title of this blogpost I’ll have umpteen readers clawing at their screens saying that I’m entirely wrong and that there has been nothing of worth in the sitcom stakes since The Office/The Good Life/Steptoe and Son/The Phil Silvers Show (delete as appropriate).
But listen: this year (or at least this autumn) has been seen an above-average bumper crop of good sitcoms that make me laugh.
Television works in seasons, and it’s about this time (with the exception of unexpected summer premiere and hit Sherlock that the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 blow the dust off their musty supply cupboards and insert into them shiny new reels of film of new programmes; they suddenly get very house proud as they try and sell you the shows they’ve spent the last two years developing and blowing small fortunes on so that the tiny percentage of you with a BARB box will watch and unrepresentatively skew the viewing figures towards their channels.
I read an article last week (in The Sunday Times or The Guardian – I don’t remember where) which said that the 2000s didn’t really have a totemic, brilliant sitcom. Which is really rather wrong – although I don’t like it, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are currently waving frantically and screaming hello – though I do agree with the premise somewhat.
Taken in terms of decades, the 2000s had slim pickings. In America pretty much the only programme that’s come close to being a critically lauded and publicly praised hit is 30 Rock – and even that’s a bit niche. There are nearly-rans, like The Big Bang Theory but otherwise it’s been a lean decade.
The 1990s had Friends and Sex and the City in America, but was relatively quiet over here. The 80s were average in the US but there were a slew of mainstream hits that still had credibility as alternative comedy became mainstream comedy. The 70s were possibly the best time to be a sitcom watcher, and the 1960s and 50s have their own hits, many of which are still eminently watchable today.
So what of the 2010s? Well, it’s still a little early in the decade to pass judgement, but while there aren’t any sitcoms likely to achieve world domination and critical affection banging about right now, there are some steady workhorses that are beginning to pave the way to the sitcom’s resurgence.
The first series of Grandma’s House managed to tiptoe around the fact that Simon Amstell curiously can’t play himself and made an asset of it: it’s quasi-metafictional in the way that he blusters around the show, not quite believing that he’s got his own programme about his life where he can’t quite believe that his family are so weird.
Likewise, BBC Three have a cosy but modern potential hit on their hands with Him & Her (click the link to view Episode 3), a domestic coupley flat-share sitcom where not a lot happens – like unexpected joy Roger and Val Have Just Got in – but the laughs are plentiful.
Then Channel 4 (via E4) brought back the programme which has, in its third series, managed to jump the gap between cult favourite and common watching: The Inbetweeners. It looks like this series will be the last (otherwise the premise of the show goes out the window) but it’s been excellent, and the film (currently shooting) might avoid the trap that most sitcom-to-silver-screen adaptations have: that they’re crap.
So 2010 is looking good, with a couple of months left until we have to buy new calendars and pin them to our walls. Let’s hope the rest of the decade does as well.
What have you been watching – and what do you tip to be big in the future? Let me know below.