I’m a huge fan of comedy, especially when it’s from here in the UK. But some have never quite earned the fame or recognition they deserved. This is a list of the comedies I think deserve way more attention than they get.
Starring: Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer
As one of two series’ starring Vic Reeves/Jim Moir on this list, readers may get the impression that I’m a huge fan unreasonably hawking his back catalogue across the internet. That’s only partially true and perhaps indicative of the lesser popularity of his sitcom efforts compared to comedy quiz shows and big nights out. Personally, I’ve always felt that Vic’s character acting shines through stronger in a sitcom setting.
Catterick sees Vic team up with his ever-present comedy life-partner Bob Mortimer for a choaotic chase through the small northern town of Catterick. The series sees the duo star as brothers Chris and Carl Palmer. Carl (Mortimer) has been long absent but has returned to find his son. He’s joined by his brother Chris (Reeves), a bearded eccentric who stayed behind in the town when Carl left.
The quickfire, surrealist style of Vic and Bob is complimented by a host of recognisable names from 90s UK comedy. Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentlemen) and Matt Lucas (Little Britain) provide the lion’s share of odd villainy the brother’s encounter and there’s a noteworthy performance by Morwenna Banks before she found her true calling as the voice of Peppa Pig’s mum.
Fans of either Vic and Bob’s early work or League of Gentlemen will enjoy this, particularly those who are looking for a darkly comedic blending of the two in a neat 6 episode bundle.
2) Shirley Ghostman
Starring: Mark Wootton, Patrick Stewart
At a time when Derek Acorah was still earning a decent living on the telly contacting those beyond the veil and Yvette Fielding was still dragging the Most Haunted team around abandoned hospitals in Basingstoke, Shirley Ghostman was the antidote we all needed to the seemingly unstoppable ghostmania gripping the nation. That was in itself quite remarkable considering they never found much more than lightbeams hitting dust particles.
Along comes Shirley Ghostman. A simple-yet-genius idea expertly placed at a time when the public were coming across as pretty suggestable (astounding, considering this was pre-Brexit), Shirley was a fictional psychic with an audience of true believers. Everyone at the live performances on show was led to believe they were seeing a true psychic, not a funny man. Part of the joy of watching Ghostman is seeing the audience reactions swing wildly from deep offence to disbelief and back through a few other emotions.
Shirley Ghostman would probably have seen much greater success but due to it’s star’s rather unorthodox demeanour on a few very primetime chat shows, it quickly fell out of favour with executives erring on the side of caution
Starring: Kimberley Nixon, Chris Ramsey
Hebburn is a little gem for anyone that was wondering what Vic Reeves aka Jim Moir was getting up to in the years after Vic Reeves Big Night Out and Shooting Stars. Riding the ‘long-distance love’ and ‘clash of cultures’ vibes already laid down by successful sitcom Gavin & Stacey, Hebburn sees newlyweds Sarah (Nixon)and Joe (Ramsey) welcomed back into the bosom of Joe’s family after a rush wedding in Las Vegas.
The show primarily follows Sarah’s adaptation to living with the Pearson family and the new bonds she finds with the characters in Joe’s family. As the series progresses you realise how well formed each of those characters is and it gains more than a passing resemblance to The Royle Family at times.
The observant will recognise Kimberley from her role as Josie in university sitcom Fresh Meat. This was, however, Chris Ramsey’s only foray away from stand-up comedy. I found him watchable but perhaps it just wasn’t his cup of tea.
I don’t know why Hebburn never really got the mainstream love it deserved but, luckily for its fans, at least it impressed enough people to make its way through two whole series’.
Hebburn is also available on Amazon Video
4. Not Safe For Work
Starring: Zawe Ashton, Sacha Dhawan
Zawe Ashton is pretty much at the top of my list for people I REALLY want to see as a Doctor Who companion. It pains me on a weekly basis that she appears to have been relegated forever to just do that one episode where she’s a soldier. We got so close! Just give her a key to the TARDIS!
Anyway, when she’s not being a kickass marine commando type in the BBC crown jewel sci-fi property, Zawe also starred in a little-known but very funny Channel 4 sitcom called Not Safe For Work. Perhaps plagued by the internet curse that there are literally three other things with identical names already out there, Not Safe For Work never seemed to thrive beyond its initial outing. This is a real shame because there was a small cast of real gems. My personal favourite was Samuel Barnett’s performance as office-dweller Nathaniel. I was overjoyed to see him go on to get greater exposure as the title role of Netflix’s Dirk Gently series.
5. The Detectorists
Starring: Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones
The Detectorists is an odd creature. On the surface it would appear to be the story of the one-eyed pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean and his friendship with Marvel’s Arnim Zola but if we can take our geek hats off for a moment, these two reasonably heavy-hitting cinema B-listers have taken a step away to do something smaller and far more interesting.
A heavily character driven piece of comedy, The Detectorists is a story of how two men, seemingly connected by little more than a love of finding metal shards buried in school fields, share a unique relationship entirely seperate from anything else in their lives. When that balance is threatened by the appearance of a new young, attractive detectorist, things begin to unravel and spill outwards.
It’s not always laugh-out-loud funny but there are a lot of endearing moments here that make it worth watching. It’s also worth noting that the whole series not only stars Mackenzie Crook but he also wrote and directed the show as well.
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