British television of the past decade has produced some of the funniest, most inventive and most entertaining shows. Here is an overview of a few of the highlights from the current scene of British TV.
Black Mirror, with every episode, creates a unique and often horrifying universe. The show is not unlike Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone, in that it uses clever conceits and science fiction settings to critique the current climate of the world.
Show creator and primary writer Charlie Brooker has been involved in several of the funniest and most honest programs in recent years, most notably Nathan Barley, Dead Set and Screenwipe, as a writer and a presenter — but this is his finest work to date.
Black Mirror focuses on humanity’s recent obsession with and reliance on technology as the basis for its dark, paranoiac storylines, which are global and deeply intimate in scope.
The show’s most compelling characteristic is its uncompromising nature. It is unafraid of confronting the audience with surprising truths and political incorrectness. The writing is intelligent, imaginative and complex. Nothing is ever clear-cut or as it appears to be on the surface. The characters are multifaceted and innately decent and easily corruptible.
Black Mirror is easily the best new piece of television produced in the past year, British or otherwise.
Jesse Armstrong, who wrote the final and most personal episode of Black Mirror, also co-wrote another great new show from the last year with his long-term writing partner Sam Bain.
Fresh Meat is about a group of disparate college freshmen who are forced to live together. It focuses largely on the different façades that they put up in an attempt to reinvent themselves in their new surroundings. Over the course of their first semester of college and the first season of the series, each character changes in monumental ways, both good and bad.
The characters are relatable in their awkwardness and uncertainty about themselves, even the ones who initially appear to be self-assured or annoying jerks. It’s out of this that Fresh Meat’s humor is born, and this relatability is largely based on the fact that the writing and the acting are extremely natural and believable. It’s a show that’s required viewing for college students.
Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy premiered in January and employs Fielding’s signature psychedelic, surreal style of comedy and music. This time, however, he follows a sketch show format as opposed to the more narrative structure of The Mighty Boosh, his project with longtime collaborator Julian Barratt.
The show starts out fairly hit-and-miss: Some sketches are brilliant and make sense within their own surreal logic, while others appear to be total nonsense.
The third episode, however, is where the show starts to hit its stride.
One of the best sketches involves a pompous and deeply British intellectual (Richard Ayoade) waxing critical on the state of art before blaming Ice Cream Eyes — a man with, yes, ice cream for eyes — for everything that is wrong in the art world. There’s also a sketch with Dondylion, a David Lee Roth-obsessed, delusional lion who is trapped in a zoo and going mad from isolation.
Luxury Comedy has to be one of the most visually arresting programs ever created. The universe that the show inhabits is a beautifully painted dreamscape, and Fielding uses his training as an artist to magnificent effect in the creation of imaginative costumes, set dressing and animated backdrops.
To top it all off, the music — written and performed by Loose Tapestries, a band consisting of Fielding and Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian — is also consistently amazing.
Grandma’s House, the first foray into scripted television for Simon Amstell, the former host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Pop World, is a sitcom that is alternately sweet and acerbic.
Written by Amstell and Dan Swimer, the show is largely based on Amstell’s own family and experiences. Many of the subjects he addresses in the first season are present in his stand-up DVD Do Nothing, but that does not detract from the charm or hilarity of the show.
Awkwardness is the focus of much of the show’s humor. The fictional Simon has a hard time relating to people in a genuine way without acting like a crazed TV presenter. It’s only when he’s with his family that he is able to be something somewhat like himself.
The structure of Grandma’s House is fascinating because all the action is constrained to the titular house of Simon’s fictional grandma; for that reason, the plot revolves around honest and funny familial interactions and histrionics. Conflicts arise when various family members disagree with Simon’s often misguided life decisions, or when he disagrees with theirs.
Season two is currently in production, despite the unfortunate death of the great Geoffrey Hutchings (Grandpa) in 2010.