Although we speak the same language, there are wonderful nuances between American and British humor. Often considered to be more sophisticated, British comedies are marked by their dry wit and sarcasm. It’s never a given that British shows or American shows will achieve trans-Atlantic success although there are notable exceptions, such as the comedies below:
Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969– 1974)
The Monty Python comedy group is one of the most notable crossovers into American culture, achieved by the success of the uproarious films following the television series. Flying Circus was a sketch comedy show that the group created from the ground up, writing and performing all of the scenes. This unprecedented amount of control giving over to such a small group allowed the material be genuine in a way that (unfortunately) isn’t seen too often anymore. All of the works of Monty Python have become the stuff of comedic legend, revered for decades. Indeed the cast made several well-received movies, that are equally loved on both sides of the pond. Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, And Now For Something Completely Different and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life are just a few of the movies that were spawned from the Flying Circus.
Fawlty Towers (1975– 1979)
Fresh off of his success with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth wrote this half-hour sitcom about a small seaside bed and breakfast. Cleese starred as Basil Fawlty, the owner and operator of the inn, who holds a distinct contempt for the majority of his guests. As great as it is considered today, many thought the show was not special when it was first aired, and only two six-episode batches were ever produced. Luckily though, those 12 episodes are comedic gold, featuring some of the most outrageously incompetent employees.
Absolutely Fabulous (1992- 1996; 2001- 2005)
Edina Monsoon and Pasty Stone are AbFab; rich and moving in all the right circles. Living the high life, they would seem to invoke the envy of many, were it not for their excessive drinking, drug, chain-smoking, and shopping habits. Immature and incapable of any domestic duties, their intoxicated antics provide all the comic relief you’d need. The responsible voice of reason is Edina’s adolescent daughter Saffron who disapproves of Mummy’s behavior and the influence of her accomplice Patsy. Fashion and fads reign supreme “dahling”. The series has been broadcast in nearly 20 countries and a U.S. remake has repeatedly been talked about given its tremendous cult status. Fingers crossed!
Blackadder (June 1983– November 1989)
Known to American audiences more for his role as Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson co-created, co-wrote and starred as Edmund Blackadder in this hilarious historical British comedy. In a very original twist, each series saw the character of Blackadder in a different historical period, generally during major events. Though never fully explained, it is generally understood that each Blackadder is not the same character, but descendants of each other, starting with Medieval England and working all the way to present day. Despite being different people, he has always been of the same character: a cynical, self-serving opportunist seeking societal advancement, though typically getting nowhere.
The Office (2001- 2003)
Before Steve Carrell on NBC, there was Ricky Gervais on BBC2; before Dunder-Mifflin Scranton, there was Wernham Hogg Slough. In its trademark mockumentary style, The Office captured the day-to-day routine of your average office crowd, in all their disgruntled, disillusioned, small-time glory. Regional Manager David Brent is the oblivious, self-obsessed boss who’s entertaining for all the wrong reasons. There’s a whole host of characters from the domineering suck-up contending for the boss’s good graces, to the office romance between the sweet receptionist and charming sales rep, resonating with everyone who has experienced similar personalities at their own jobs. In a short but prolific run of just 14 episodes, The Office‘s biting, dry satire, and commentary on the idiosyncrasies of human behavior struck a chord, making it one of the most successful British exports of all time. Broadcast in over 80 countries, The Office also spawned localized versions, in the U.S., France, Germany, Québec, Chile and Israel.