British comedy and its Transatlantic viability

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I read a review of the sitcom ‘The Office' by Dean Allen with great interest. I've always been fascinated by how humour translates (in both directions) across the Atlantic. About 5 years ago, British comedy was in a pitiful state. Native sitcoms were dreary, formulaic and completely unfunny. Instead, we had a series of re-runs of classic shows like ‘Dad's Army' and no end of American imports like ‘Frasier', ‘Seinfeld' and ‘The Larry Sanders Show'. These were wonderful of course (I still use the term 'sponge-worthy' on occasion), but no substitute for some new British comedy.

Recently, however, we've had a bit of a Renaissance. I don't think that we've quite got back to the quality of ‘Monty Python's Flying Circus' or ‘Fawlty Towers', but writers seem to have realised that trying to emulate the shiny, polished wit of American sitcoms is not going to work. The kind of thing we do best is epitomized by ‘The Office': dark comedy – verging on tragedy – which is based on the horror of social awkwardness. Other comedies I've enjoyed recently have included Happiness – written by Paul Whitehouse of ‘The Fast Show', and Marion and Geoff. The latter is the most beautifully crafted drama, carried totally on the shoulders of Rob Brydon. Our hero, Keith is an innocent – one of life's incurable optimists – despite the fact that everyone takes him for a giddy kipper. In the first series he was a taxi driver, but in this one he's gone up in the world and is acting as chauffeur to a rich American family living in London.

The programme is completely mesmerising, despite being filmed from a completely fixed point-of-view inside the car. We always realise what's going on before Keith does, so it's something like watching a car crash happen in slow motion. And yet, the quality of the script is such that you still get taken by surprise. If you get a chance to watch it — do. It's a classy piece of work.

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