Some comedies just never quite received the recognition that they deserved…so, with this in mind, I’m taking a look back at a few more missed opportunities of the previous decade in the world of TV comedy. Part one is here: https://thatcomedyfan.wordpress.com/2020/01/22/the-greatest-underrated-comedy-shows-of-the-previous-decade-part-1/
Count Arthur Strong - BBC2/BBC1 (2013 - 2016)
The most successful sitcom on our list, Count Arthur Strong was actually voted number four in a Radio Times poll of 'The Top 10 Most Missed TV Show of 21st Century'. Despite this, the show never quite became the household name that it deserved to be.
The double act of Rory Kinnear and Steve Delaney proved a hit with comedy fans in a series full of heart, and sharp writing, not to mention the bold storyline across the show's first series. After three series, co-writer Graham Linehan, felt the series had run its course, while Count Arthur himself, Steve Delaney, felt there was still more to come.
Meanwhile, Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show! is still going strong (no pun intended) after 15 years, winning a comedy award just last month for ‘Best radio sitcom.’ But to me it feels as if Count Arthur Strong, the TV series, narrowly missed out on being placed alongside some truly classic sitcoms.
10 0’Clock Live - C4 (2011 - 2013)
10 0’Clock Live, billed as C4’s answer to The Daily Show, put together David Mitchell, Charlie Brooker, Jimmy Carr and Lauren Lavern to take a comedic look at the week’s political news.
Their no holds barred scrutiny of the current news agenda was always cutting edge and often fearless. Sections showcased each member of the group - such as Charlie Brooker offering one of his weekly ‘wipes’ and David Mitchell providing us with a political soapbox (the one lampooning Jeremy Hunt’s idea for a rolling news channel for local news will always stick in my mind).
David Mitchell also chaired the political debates and interviews, while Jimmy Carr was often seen dressing up and messing about, but unlike his antics on Cat’s Does Countdown this had a more acerbic edge, never more evident than when he dressed up as the ghost of Diana, on the eve of William’s Royal Wedding, for example.
Controversy aside, 10 0’Clock live provided viewers with true scrutiny of the political climate, and in my opinion there’s nothing that comes near it these days. It might sound dramatic of me to say this, but the fact that this series isn’t still running to hold our MP’s to account in the current political climate is nothing short of tragic.
Flowers - C4 (2016 - 2018)
To me, it feels wrong to put Flowers in the comedy category, but as it always has been included alongside comedies (largely due to the cast) I'll include it in this list too. This comedy/drama (with the emphasis heavily on drama) starred Julian Barrett, Olivia Colman and Will Sharpe, who also wrote the series.
Julian Barrett starred as Maurice Flowers, a depressed children's book author who tried to hang himself at the start of the series, then desperately tried to hide his suicide attempt from the rest of his family. He lives with his slightly annoying but well-meaning wife (Olivia Colman), his two dysfunctional children, played by Daniel Rigby and Sophia Di Martino, alongside Shun (Played by Will Sharpe) Maurice's Japanese illustrator who has mysteriously ended up living with the family.
With the focus on a spectrum of mental health issues, portrayed brilliantly through the different family members, there are stand out scenes from the entire cast throughout the two series. Notably, Olivia Colman, as she listens to Maurice's 'confession' in the first series, and from Will Sharpe, who in an emotive performance reveals that he lost his entire family in an earthquake and recalls looking for them.
This series also proved that Julian Barratt is a fantastic actor, who for years had been thought of as ‘Howard’ from The Mighty Boosh (not that that's a bad thing). There are a few darkly comedic moments, but crucially this is a drama. Criminally, this whole series went under the radar, but I think it deserved every Bafta going. A must watch if you haven't seen it.
Stag - BBC2 (2016)
An ambitious three-part comedy/drama, Stag gave us a sort of comedic version of Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None', as the unsuspecting Stag party's members found themselves plucked off one by one by an unknown assailant.
Created by Jim Field Smith and George Kay with Jim Howick starring. An actor who usually takes supporting roles (such as in Ghosts or Peep Show), but proved excellent here as the lead. The series was Suspenseful and much like Flowers, perhaps mislabelled as a comedy. Stag was well received, although wasn't noticed in any Bafta nominations and passed by without the credit it so deserved. I had a look back at this show for Halloween, so have a read here:
The Bubble - BBC2 (2010)
Already a popular TV panel game in Israel, David Mitchell’s 2010 panel show, The Bubble used an unusual format. The series sent three comedians to a remote house with no internet or access to any press or media for a week - then when they finally came out David Mitchell presented them with news stories and asked which were real and which were fake.
An interesting social experiment, the series proved funny and interesting, not least because of the excellent hosting abilities of David Mitchell, despite the obvious challenge of getting celebrities to give up their entire week. Although a revival these days would be truly fascinating and very entertaining it would probably be decided that the current news climate is far too volatile for such a show to exist. Imagine trying to discern the real stories from the ‘fake news’ today! Unfortunately, the show only ran for one series due to David Mitchell's filming commitments with 10 0'Clock live.
Rock and Chips - BBC1 (2011 - 2012)
Less of a comedy, and more of a dramatic prequel, Rock and Chips was the Only Fools and Horses origin story, focusing on a cheeky young Del Boy (played by James Buckley) and Del’s mother (Eastenders’ actress Kellie Bright) as she falls for the suave gangster, Freddie the Frog played by Nicholas Lyndhurst.
While an Only Fools prequel might sound strange on paper, it was a well-acted and compelling drama, showing us that perhaps Freddie wasn’t such a bad guy after all. John Sullivan said this about creating the series:
"The most important person in the flat [in Only Fools and Horses] was never, ever seen; it was the spirit of Del's (and Rodney's) beloved mother, Joan who had passed away seventeen years before, and throughout the run of the series, Del constantly referred to her and past events within the Trotter Family. ... But much of his historical information was at best contradictory, and at worse outright lies. We were left with a situation where the only person who really knew what had happened was an unreliable witness, so I decided to return to those misty days of 1960 to meet all those characters we'd only ever heard about..."
Unfortunately, due to John Sullivan’s death in 2011, just five days before the final episode aired, the series ended somewhat poignantly with the apparent death of Freddie Robdal, and therefore wasn't continued.
Harry Hill’s Stars in Their Eyes and Cheap, Cheap, Cheap - ITV1/C4 (2015/2017)
A special mention goes to these two shows that made the bold move of fusing out and out comedy with light entertainment game shows. Harry Hill’s Stars In Their Eyes saw a true sitcom mash-up as contestants were invited into Harry’s ‘home’ studio where they often met Stouffah the cat, or participated in a crazy game, such as real life Candy Crush Saga (using real sweets and mallets), or rapped to obscure Nicki Minaj album tracks. While many found the madcap fun refreshing, it left Saturday night reality TV viewers scratching their heads and sadly wasn’t given a second series.
A few years later, Channel 4 launched Cheap, Cheap, Cheap in a daytime afternoon slot. This interesting concept saw Alex Lowe in the guise of his character, Barry from Watford, star in a Noel Edmonds fronted guess-the-price gameshow.
Barry was the owner of the shop while Noel showed items to the contestants for them to guess the prices. There were other comedy characters hanging around too and the series often descended into mayhem, leading it to feel like an out and out improvised sitcom.
Odd at first, but eventually compelling, the show started to build a cult following on twitter. However, this wasn’t enough to bring the show back for a second series, much to fans' disappointment.
Of Harry Hill’s Stars in Their Eyes, I remember Richard Osman stating on Twitter at the time of the show’s axing that the show was brilliant, but the world just wasn’t ready for it (or words to that effect). I think that’s certainly true of these shows, but with the current popularity of The Masked Singer anything’s possible, and maybe ITV and C4 should have taken more of a chance on a second series, just as all the broadcasters could have done with all the shows on these lists.
Written by Rhianna Evans