2018 was a solid year for British comedy on television. We had a deluge of excellent new sitcom series, particularly those with teenage protagonists, from the Northern Irish school kids of Derry Girls to Conor and Jock of The Young Offenders and Gloucestershire cousins Kerry and Kurtan in This Country. Dark and surreal comedy has also been thriving, with the return of Inside No. 9 and Flowers, and also Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out. This article will explore 2018’s TV comedy highlights (let’s just forget about that The Inbetweeners reunion, shall we?)
The fourth series of Inside No. 9, which broadcast at the start of January, certainly lived up to past instalments. The anthology series (created by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton) dabbled in Shakespearean comedy, dark and twisted mystery and heart-breaking trips down memory lane. On Halloween, a special ‘live’ episode aired, which was a half hour of comedy that certainly divided its viewers (that is, those who didn’t accidentally tune out before the end…).
Another stand-out programme that no doubt every fan of dark comedy has watched this year is The End of the F****** World, which originally aired on Channel 4 in 2017 but was released on Netflix in January 2018. With short twenty-minute episodes, vibrant characters and unexpected plot developments, this series is a punchy rollercoaster unlike anything else. With a new series expected later this year, this is certainly not the last we will hear from murderous teens James and Alyssa.
February saw the return of This Country; one of the greatest new comedies of recent years. This mockumentary series about the lives of teenagers in rural areas has plenty unbearable moments of awkwardness that rival Ricky Gervais’ The Office. But the message is a rather sad one; these teenagers are limited in opportunity and experience. But Kerry and Kurtan (played by siblings, and writers of the show, Daisy May and Charlie Cooper) are, unsurprisingly, the stars of the show. Their childishness, pettiness and naivety is what makes This Country a stand out. The dialogue is always unexpected, which brings the hilarity, but all the while the message behind the humour really packs a punch.
Flowers is a truly beautiful tragic comedy. it picks up on family rifts, personal anxieties and implications brought about by mental health issues, alluding to them incredibly subtly in the characters’ actions and words. Series two, which aired in June, showed each character’s gradual demise to be looming ever nearer, often making for an uncomfortable watch (especially when our concern changes focus and hones in on Shun, who is struggling to come to terms with the loneliness he faces in this strange, foreign place). Flowers features stunning comic performances from Olivia Colman, Julian Barratt and Will Sharpe (who also writes and directs).
In July, Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse brought us the hilarious and wholesome Gone Fishing; a documentary series for BBC2 about the beauty of natural wildlife and the importance of looking after our health. The two legendary comics (both now bordering on 60) have had their fair share of health scares in recent years, with both having experienced major heart problems that gave them a bit of a re-awakening. Mortimer and Whitehouse are clearly great friends and their shared humour makes this programme a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
And who could miss the return of Vic and Bob in Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out at Christmas? This revamp of Reeve’s old show format is exactly what we would expect from the absurd duo, with the addition of some up-to-date satirical references (featuring the likes of Piers Morgan and Donald Trump), as well as a visit from George Ezra. But some old favourites are back, including Graham Lister, The Man With The Stick and The Stotts.
So now that we’re comfortably into the flow of a new year, we can really start to look forward to what’s to come in terms of comedy on our TV sets (or laptops, or smartphones, or tablets, or microwaves). In 2019 we will be treated to new instalments of Inside No. 9, The End of the F****** World, This Country and Gone Fishing. Other returning programmes include a final series of Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s Catastrophe as well as a TV series of vampire mockumentary film What We Do in the Shadows. But for now, perhaps a re-watch of some of the programmes above from 2018 will help fight the January blues.