British Sitcoms to Stream

Recommendations by: Zach Owens

If you like British humor as much as I do, you’ll be glad to know many of the best British sitcoms are available to stream online. Even if you’re not very familiar with British TV shows, this guide will help you get acquainted. All of these are either on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

 

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The IT Crowd

4 Seasons and 1 additional season finale episode (2006 – 2013)
Streaming on Netflix

I love a good workplace comedy and “The IT Crowd” is one of the best. It follows geeks Moss (Richard Ayoade) and Roy (Chris O’Dowd) and their non-tech savvy manager Jen (Katherine Parkinson) as they try to maintain jobs in the IT department of Reynholm industries. That’s made much harder than you’d think by the head of the company (played by Matt Berry) and all the calls to the IT department that cause them to repeat the line, “have you tried turning it off and on again?”

 

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Spaced

2 Seasons (1999 – 2001)
Streaming on Amazon Prime

This is the show that gave director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost their big break. Edgar Wright is one of the best comedy directors working today and we have this show to thank for kick starting his career.

It’s about two friends, Tim (Simon Pegg) and Daisy (Jessica Hynes), who pretend to be a couple in order to get the only apartment they can afford to live in. While maintaining their lie is fun and interesting enough, there are also a handful of fun side characters that get involved in their lives as well.

It’s also makes a lot of geek culture references. Tim is a comic book artist who can’t seem to get his dream job, so when he’s not drawing comic book characters he’s playing video games and making Star Wars references.

 

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Toast of London

3 Seasons (2012 – 2015)
Streaming on Netflix

I’m a big fan of just about everything Matt Berry does, whether it’s his comedy TV roles or his music (he’s also a talented musician who created most of the music for this show). In “Toast of London” he plays Steven Toast, a struggling actor going from one bad play to the next.

The show satirizes 1960’s British theatre culture. The costumes and characters certainly have a retro vibe to them even though it’s set in modern day London. The comedy is hilarious, but the interesting thing is the use of music. Like “Flight of the Conchords,” scenes sometimes turn into mini music videos. But here the music is usually used to express Toast’s internal emotional state. Also, just about all of the names in this show are hilarious, and there are some hilarious side characters.

 

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Black Books

3 Seasons (2000 – 2004)
Streaming on Amazon Prime

A hilarious show about two friends running a bookshop. Bernard Black (Dylan Moran) is the alcoholic owner of the shop, but he has no customer service skills or business knowledge. So he hires Manny (Bill Bailey) to do most of the work for him. It becomes something of an “Odd Couple” situation in the setting off a bookshop. Their friend Fran (Tamsin Greig) runs the shop next door and frequently gets involved in their misadventures. The show also frequently hosted recognizable comedic actors like Nick Frost, Nina Conti, Jessica Hynes, Rob Brydon and Simon Pegg in small one-episode roles.

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Peep Show

9 Seasons (2003 – 2015)
Streaming on Amazon Prime

With 9 seasons, “Peep Show” is the easily the longest running British Sitcom on the list. It stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb as an “Odd Couple” that end up rooming together. The show mainly concentrates on their struggles to maintain relationships and jobs, which of course means, despite their desire to get away from each other, they’re inevitably stuck together.

The interesting stylistic choice here is hinted at in the title of the show. Just about every shot throughout the 9 seasons is a point of view shot, seeing the events through the eyes of one of the characters.

 

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Mr. Bean

15 Episodes (1990 – 1995)
Streaming on Amazon Prime

Rowan Atkinson’s iconic character Mr. Bean is a socially awkward, childish buffoon who gets himself into a lot of trouble and comes up with hilariously off-the-wall solutions for everything. He doesn’t speak much so most of the humor is visual, slapstick style humor. This is easily one of the most widely known UK comedies, and it’s the most family friendly of the shows on this list.

There have been two Mr. Bean movies – 1997’s “Bean” and 2012’s “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” – both of which are streaming on Netflix. But the show is where it all began.

 

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Blackadder

4 Seasons (1983 – 1989)
Streaming on Amazon Prime

Blackadder was a mock-historical comedy show that aired in the 80’s but also had a number of specials that aired in the 90’s and early 2000’s. It starred Rowan Atkinson (before he took on his iconic role of Mr. Bean) as Edmund Blackadder, a prominent figure in several significant historical time periods. In fact, each of the four seasons takes place in a different historical era with Atkinson playing descendants of the Blackadder line.

The first season takes place in Medieval England with Blackadder being a slow-witted and cowardly man continually scheming to take the throne away from his relatives. The second season takes place in Elizabethan England with Blackadder competing with several rivals for the favor of the Queen.  The third season takes place during the Regency period with Blackadder having fallen on hard times and serving as butler to the foolish Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie). And the fourth season is set in the early 1900’s during World War I.

 

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The Office

2 Seasons and a 2 part Christmas special (2001 – 2003)
Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime

You can’t talk about British sitcoms or workplace comedies without mentioning The Office. The UK version is brilliant for many reasons, but it also spawned the US version that became one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time.

Anyone familiar with the US version of the show will be able to identify characters, themes and even comedic bits that eventually made their way over to the US version. David Brent (Ricky Gervais) is, like Michael Scott (Steve Carell), a socially inept boss that sees the documentary crew as his chance at stardom and he’ll do or say anything if it’ll the get the camera’s attention. But Tim (Martin Freeman) would rather get the attention of the office’s receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis), that is when he’s not pranking his desk mate Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) – who hilariously straddles the line between geek and bully while being just as socially inept as the manager.

The reason why the show works so well and has gained such a following, even well after it left the airwaves, is because, as over-the-top as some of it may be, it’s extremely relatable.  Everyone can point to at least a couple of the characters and say, “I’ve worked with that guy before.”

 

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The Mighty Boosh

3 Seasons (2003 – 2007)
Streaming on Amazon Prime

Easily the most surreal and absurdist of the shows on this list, “The Mighty Boosh” has earned a cult following for it’s bizarre sense of humor. It’s a bit of an “Odd Couple” situation with Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) and Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) who become friends while working together at a dilapidated Zoo.

The Mighty Boosh started as a stage show and a radio series before becoming a 20 episode TV series for BBC Three. One thing is for sure, you can’t say this show isn’t original. There’s pretty much nothing else out there like it.

 

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Sick Note

2 Seasons (2017 – 2018)
Streaming on Netflix

This show has received some middling reviews from critics, but it’s better than most would lead you to believe. It stars Rupert Grint as a slacker whose girlfriend is about to break up with him and whose boss is about to fire him until his inept doctor (Nick Frost) misdiagnoses him with cancer.

Following the diagnosis, for the first time in his life, things start looking up. People at work are nice to him, and his girlfriend stays by his side. Of course they would, you can’t break up with a guy who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and you can’t fire the guy either. But by the time the doctor realizes his mistake, the media has gotten involved and everyone has been put through such an emotional roller coaster that it’s far too late to come clean now. It doesn’t help that the doctor is one mistake away from losing his job. So the two concoct a scheme to keep the lie going until they can pretend to cure the cancer.

This show is a comedy of errors that moves with a quick pace and continually evolves in new interesting ways. It’s one of those shows where the mess the central characters are in keeps spiraling out of control, but you have to keep watching to see how they get out of it. That’s why you’ll be disappointed to know that the show has yet to be picked up for a third season. But your viewership can only help the odds.

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Well that’ll keep you busy for a while! Hopefully there’s something in here you haven’t seen yet. Let me know if you enjoyed this list, if you’ve seen any of these, or if you have other recommendations!

 

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