British humor to laugh your way through the end of winter
And maybe even ease your existential dread
In today’s newsletter, I present the second installment of things that get me through the winter. Allow me to introduce you to some British TV shows to help you laugh your way through the remaining cold nights and any recurring existential crises you may be suffering from. But first, a quick announcement:
Writers and poets, you can join Diane Mulligan (one half of the Adele team) at the Monadnock Pastoral Poetry Retreat in Southern New Hampshire this April! The retreat is a perfect time to recommit to your writing goals, enjoy some great company, and get feedback on your writing. Check out all the details here.
Now, onto today’s post!
It’s March! Winter is almost over here in New England, not that we had much of a winter this year anyway. Still, if you’re like me, you’ve spent the dark days and long nights of the past few months eagerly awaiting spring flowers, late afternoon sunshine, and the end of winter hat head.
Eager as I am for the return of spring, I know that any nice days we get in the next few weeks are only a tease. We have a saying here in Massachusetts: “Like the weather? Wait a minute.” So, with that in mind, I am well-prepared to hunker down during the wintery blasts of March (and April, that cruelest month). What better way to cope with the arbitrary whims of mother nature than with some dry British humor? Amazon Prime, Netflix, and HBO all have quite a lot to offer in the British TV categories, so fill up your watch list and settle in!
When I say British comedy, you might be thinking Monty Python, Jeeves and Wooster, and Black Adder. And honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these classics. In the sitcom category, let’s add Father Ted (nothing like some Irish priests on a remote island for good comedy) and Coupling (people say it’s like the British version of Friends, which is a fair comparison, but it’s definitely raunchier, wackier, and, in my humble opinion, funnier).
For something more contemporary, try Ghosts (not the US remake, the original British version, which you can watch on HBO). If you enjoy your comedy with a side of murder, there’s always Death in Paradise. And for murder that’s not really laugh-out-loud funny, but is definitely more campy than scary/suspenseful, you can work your way through a whopping 23 seasons of Midsomer Murders. Do you like murder and history? Foyle’s War is for you. A British detective in a seaside town solves murders during WWII. What’s not to like? Like history but not so into murder? Try The Durrells on Corfu, an excellent Masterpiece Theater production.
I could go on and on, but, friends, there’s no reason to limit ourselves to scripted TV shows. One of my favorite genres of British programming is the celebrity game show. Thanks to YouTube, American audiences can discover the joys of this odd category. Many of the guests are well-known here, so you can expect some familiar faces.
For instance, you will recognize Noel Fielding and Mel Giedroyc from The Great British Baking Show. If you’re a fan of standup comedy, Katherine Ryan (technically Canadian but working out of the UK) and Jimmy Carr (a specialist in one-liners and having fun with hecklers) are probably already on your radar screen.
Comedy game shows allow you to see these comedians interacting with one another in spontaneous ways, and they also introduce you to many more comics and actors whose work you’ll want to check out. Once you start finding new favorites, a whole world of YouTube and Netflix opens up (and don’t even get me started on BritBox and AcornTV).
Here are three great options to get you started, all of which can be found on YouTube:
If you like to learn something while having a laugh, try Q.I.
Q.I. is a long-running British trivia show. For many years the host was Stephen Fry. In recent seasons, Sandy Toksvig (briefly a host of The Great British Baking Show) has sat in the host chair. Alan Davies is a perennial team captain and the rest of the cast is a rotating bunch of TV personalities. Instead of being numbered, every season is assigned a letter of the alphabet, and that letter provides the theme for each week’s show. Panelists are asked all sorts of obscure questions, which they inevitably and hilariously get wrong, and then the host gives us a little history lesson. It’s such pleasant TV viewing, and you feel like you learned something, too.
If you enjoy solving puzzles and appreciate absurdity, try 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.
8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is another show with years and years of past episodes. Hosted by comedian Jimmy Carr, this is a comedy take on a British institution called Countdown, a show in which regular people do math problems and word games on TV. Let’s pause for a moment to imagine Americans doing math on TV. You can’t even picture it, can you? On the comedy version of the show, it’s comedians and actors solving the puzzles, with lots and lots of jokes (often raunchy) in between. The math genius and linguist who reveal the best solutions to the puzzles are the same women who appear on the regular version of the show, and the puzzles are also real. You’ll want a paper and pencil when watching this one to see if you can get the solution!
If you spend a lot of time pondering the meaning of life and struggle with existential dread, try Taskmaster.
Taskmaster is a relative newcomer but it now has 13 seasons behind it, so plenty of hours of truly enjoyable television. Created by Alex Horne and starring Greg Davies as the taskmaster, this is definitely my favorite TV show of the moment, maybe of all time. My hubby and I discovered it in early 2020 shortly before COVID took over the world, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this show helped us get through lockdown. Each season, a group of comedians and actors perform a series of tasks that range from absurd to inscrutable, and the taskmaster judges their efforts and awards points. The tasks require creative and/or clever problem-solving and a willingness to totally humiliate oneself in a hilarious way. What I love about this show is how perfectly it speaks to the human condition: Contestants are asked to do truly meaningless things, points are awarded willy-nilly, and the prizes are seldom desirable. And yet, with smiles on their faces and the occasional expletive, the contestants just keep going. (Side note: There was an American version of Taskmaster. It was bad. Don’t let that scare you off. The original UK version is seriously excellent).
If you give any of these shows a try, chime in in the comments and let me know what you think! Do you have favorite British shows to recommend? You know I want to hear all about it.
Spreading a little joy is also part of Adele’s mission. So if you’re like us—afraid to read the news to see what fresh hell the day has brought—we invite you to skip the doom scrolling and settle in with one of our stories. Because you know there’s gonna be a happy ending.
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