Sometimes you feel a comedy series deserved more recognition, and in the last decade we had quite a few series that never quite reached their full potential, or, through no fault of their own went under the radar. In fact, there were so many that came to mind, I decided to split this list into two parts. I only included shows that we know have officially ended and the listing is in no particular order. So, here are a few of my top picks for the most underrated comedies of the last decade.
Ambassadors - BBC2 (2013)
Of all the missed opportunities on this list, surely Ambassadors must be the greatest. Mitchell & Webb’s satirical comedy drama written by James Wood and Rupert Walters starred David Mitchell as Keith Davis, the newly appointed ambassador of the fictitious Tazbekistan, and Robert Webb as his deputy, who appeared to have had ulterior motives…
After a promising start the BBC went quiet about commissioning series two. An official reason for the show ending was never revealed, but press speculation pointed to an intervention by ‘the government’ after Prince Andrew was apparently unhappy with the character Prince Mark. Tom Hollander played the entitled Prince, who always travelled with a six-foot ironing board…who could they possibly have been parodying?
Although Mitchell and Webb’s Back is the show’s spiritual successor. This was a very disappointing decision on the BBC’s part, as sadly a show that managed that rare thing of balancing both comedy and drama, along with true suspense wasn’t able to bring its story to a conclusion. I explored the series in a bit more detail here.
The Ginge, The Geordie and The Geek - BBC2 (2013)
It was a rare thing that the BBC commissioned a sketch show in the last ten years, and it was even rarer that the entire cast were relatively unknown in the TV world. The Ginge, the Geordie and The Geek were a popular Edinburgh fringe troupe, comprising of Graeme Rooney, Paul Charlton and Kevin O'Loughlin who landed their first TV sketch show on BBC2 in 2013.
Featuring lots of daft sketches, including the very funny ongoing saga with a ventriloquist's dummy (which was superbly acted by Kevin O'Loughlin). It felt as if a huge opportunity was missed when the BBC didn’t commission series two, especially as sketch shows were so thin on the ground in the last decade, and this one in particular had a lot of promise.
A Touch of Cloth - Sky 1 (2012 - 2014)
Of all the things that you’d have expected Charlie Brooker to have written, a silly Police Squad! style sitcom for Sky 1 would probably have been very low on your list. Nonetheless, this series packed in the gags at a dazzling rate and showed us an entirely different side to Charlie Brooker, as he teamed up with long time Harry Hill contributor, Daniel Maier to create the series, which only amounted to six episodes.
John Hannah starred as DCI Jack Cloth, alongside Suranne Jones as D.I. Anne Oldman. These big names from the real world of police detective dramas added to the surrealness of it all. In my opinion, it's the best comedy Sky TV has ever produced, but the fact that it was on Sky 1 only, limited its success to a core fan base. John Hannah said of the series in 2015:
"I imagine that's dead. I think it's been too long. I loved that show. Charlie wanted to do more, everyone did. It was Sky I guess. There might have been something to do with the negotiations, I don't know. We did the first one, then they wanted a lot more and Charlie wasn't sure he could sustain it over twelve episodes. So we did two more and then by the third one, they had figured out what they were doing. I think it's dead, it's a couple of years since we did that now. Normally when these things go, they go pretty quickly because people have other commitments, and Charlie is busy. It's a real shame. I doubt I'll be playing DCI Jack Cloth for the next few years!"
Roger & Val Have Just Got In - BBC2 (2010 - 2012)
At the start of the decade, we were introduced to Roger (Alfred Melina) and Val (Dawn French) a married couple who had just got in from work, and then preceded to have a chat about their day. This simple premise shot as if it were an ‘art house style’ play, focused entirely on the pair arriving home to the comfort of their four walls.
It was written by Dawn French, alongside Emma Kilcoyne and Beth Kilcoyne. Both charming and well-written, it ran for two series on BBC2 before quietly bowing out in 2012. Something of a reboot is currently on radio 4, the new Roger Allam and Joanna Lumley Radio 4 sitcom, Conversations from a Long Marriage, which bares something of a resemblance to a show that probably deserved a bit more love back in 2010… Although, it's worth mentioning that Dawn French was nominated for a BAFTA for her performance as Val in 2011.
Psychoville - BBC2 (2009 - 2011)
I know, I know, 2009 doesn’t count as part of the previous decade, but I thought I’d give Psychoville a free pass, based on the fact that the series was rooted in the past decade, and also due to the popularity Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have enjoyed since with Inside Number 9 and The League of Gentleman revival shows.
Psychoville put a different spin on the League of Gentleman formula, as the grizzly main characters were each blackmailed with a letter telling them simply 'I know what you did.'. And, we the audience were left trying to solve the mystery. Despite picking up a couple of comedy awards, the show didn't enjoy the same levels of success as Pemberton and Shearsmith 's other creations.
Watching it now, there’s a feeling that this show would be a lot more popular if it had been released today. If only for Reece's terrifying children's party clown, Mr Jelly, who is far more frightening than ‘Pennywise’, if you ask me. It boasted an impressive supporting cast too, with Dawn French and the brilliant Daniel Kaluuya. If you love horror/comedy, you really won't find better.
Zapped - Dave (2016 - 2018)
Dave's original shows may be few and far between, but with the success of Red Dwarf and Taskmaster for the channel, people forget about Zapped. Zapped was written by Dan Gaster, Will Ing and Paul Powell, and starred James Buckley (The Inbetweeners) as Brian Weaver, who opens a parcel addressed to someone else, tries on the magical amulet contained within, and is transported to the weird world of Munty. There he meets a crazy magician called Howell (Paul Kaye), a soothsayer who definitely isn't useless called Barbara (Sharon Rooney) and half-giant half-dwarf Steg Steggson (Kenneth Collard), who might actually be useless.
Full of heart, and most importantly funny, there was a lovely attention to detail in the worldbuilding of Zapped, and as the series went on it just got better and better. It was Paul Kaye (of previous Dennis Pennis fame) that really stole the show, as the demented, but lovable wizard, Howell. Particularly entertaining was the last series where he accidentally got transported to the real world in place of Brian.
That episode also contained a fantastic guest appearance by Steve Coogan as a sadistic circus master (Coogan also worked behind the scenes on the show). The series quickly developed a cult following online, but sadly Dave announced there wouldn't be a 4th series last year, the writers had hoped for more, telling fans:
"We're gutted that we won't get to make more Zapped, but maybe the show will become a massive cult sleeper hit, and in ten years' time could be revived by, say, the Dave channel? We've had so much fun making it, we're just so sorry that we've had to put all our ideas for Series 4 in a big bin and set fire to them."
The sad thing is, if Zapped had been on BBC2 it would probably have been a huge show- but struggling to get noticed is a problem that plagues any series that isn't on BBC1, 2, ITV or C4. I honestly feel that Zapped was easily one of the best sitcoms to come out of the previous decade.
The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff - BBC2 (2011 - 2012)
Offshoots from Radio 4 making their way onto TV were becoming a thing of the past in the last decade. The formula many classic shows of the ‘noughties’ followed were to start on Radio 4, work their way onto BBC3 or BBC2 (if they were lucky), before settling on BBC2 or maybe even BBC1. I really do think that the fact that sitcoms are becoming so very hit-and-miss these days is because comedians aren't able to hone their craft in this way.
Anyway, the last sitcom that I can think of that followed this formula was The Bleak Old Shop of stuff. This show came directly off the back of the classic Radio 4 comedy, Bleak Expectations, which was a well-established Charles Dickens parody series, written by Mark Evans, which starred a then unknown Tom Allen alongside James Bachman and Anthony Head.
This TV spin off put Robert Webb at the forefront as Jedrington Secretpast, who alongside Katherine Parkinson, as his wife, Conceptiva, ran The Old Shop of Stuff. With guest appearances across the series by comedy heavyweights, Stephen Fry and Tim McInnerny as villains. After a successful Christmas special the following series sadly seemed to get a bit lost in the January schedule. The BBC missed a trick when they didn't commission a second series. At the very least, another Christmas special was in order.
Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy - E4 (2013 - 2014)
Tucked away on E4, Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy was a Mighty Boosh spin-off of sorts. The first series was a surreal sketch show, but series two mutated into more of a sitcom, with Noel effectively playing a ‘Vince’ who had set up his own coffee Shop. With cameos from Michael Fielding and occasionally Rich Fulcher, as well as Richard Ayoade, thoughts of ‘where’s Howard?’ were inevitable.
However, there were moments of ‘Boosh style’ brilliance, particularly with ‘Fantasy Man’, a fantastic creation of Noel’s - a superhero with a cup on his chin, who inhabits a strange ‘Tron-style’ world. Unfortunately, due to the simple fact that this show was broadcast late night on E4, it never really entered the national consciousness - a fact Noel made fun of in the second series. Sadly, there wasn’t a third.
Stay tuned for part two, as I dig through the archives for some more missed opportunities from the 2010’s.
Previously published on The Comedy Blog
Written by Rhianna Evans