There is a lot to be envied about the American TV industry, it has cash pouring out of its orifices and, potentially, a multi-million figure audience.
However, us Brits have remained quite smug when it comes to quality over extravagance – especially when you consider that Two and a Half Men is the most successful Sitcom of the decade – so we get a bit put out when they actually produce something good.
Here are some US comedy shows that you may not have seen, but are definitely worth a gander.
What’s it about? Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is the head writer of live comedy sketch show TGS (The Girlie Show). 30 Rock shows the struggles that Lemon faces as she deals with her cast, crew and enigmatic boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin).
Why would I like it? Tina Fey, who also writes and produces the show, is the funniest woman on the planet. Not that her gender is a factor at all – she is officially the funniest person in America at the moment (see video below). The earlier seasons have some of the best visual gags since Leslie Nielsen’s Airplane.
Who would I recognise? Tina Fey became internationally renowned for her impression of Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. She also wrote and featured in Mean Girls. Jane Krakowski, who plays the shows dim-witted diva Jenna, was in Ally McBeal. Oh and there’s Alec Baldwin – from the 80s.
Where can I watch it? Season 5 is currently being shown on Comedy Central at 7.30pm on Sundays. You can buy all the episodes (up to what has been aired on CC) on iTunes. Or you can rent the first 4 seasons on SeeSaw.
Factoid: Despite its low audience ratings, it has received wide critical acclaim. In 2008, the show received 17 Emmy nominations making it the most nominated comedy show of the awards history.
What’s it about? Set in the Community College of fictional town Greendale, Colorado. It’s the first day of the year and misanthropic Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) pretends to be fluent in Spanish so he can ‘study’ with Britta Perry. Word gets round and a whole group turns up for the session. After a rocky start the ‘study group’ become firm friends. Like most institution-based shows these guys quickly become the ‘cool outsiders’.
Why would I like it? Although the premise is hardly original, under the surface it is one of the freshest comedies around. Filled to the brim with gags and pop culture references, it is the perfect show for comedy lovers and movie/TV nerds. The relationship between former high-school jock Troy and high-functioning autistic Abed is both touching and hilarious.
Who would I recognise? Avid watchers of E! might recognise Joel McHale from The Soup (America’s answer to Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe). Mad Men fanatics will notice that goody two-shoes Annie (Alison Brie) is long-suffering Trudy Campbell. Oh and there’s Chevy Chase – from the 80s.
Where can I watch it? It was being shown on Viva – the Freeview music channel – but is currently not being aired on British TV (UPDATE: You can now watch it on Sony TV – thanks Josh for the wonderful heads up). However you can buy the whole series on iTunes.
Factoid: If you feel like the fat cats in America are US-centred – not the folks at Community. An episode
What’s it about? Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox) is a successful real estate agent in her early forties. She recently divorced Bobby and spent most of her twenties raising her teenage son Travis. In an effort to take back the youth that she lost she starts to date younger men.
Why would I like it? Ok it is hardly groundbreaking stuff but it is a Sitcom aimed at women which a) isn’t patronising b) men will also enjoy. The chemistry between the three main characters (Cox, Christa Miller and Busy Philipps) is infectious. Created by the same people as Scrubs, and everyone liked Scrubs (when it was good and didn’t out stay its welcome).
Who would I recognise? Unless you were born in 2002 and have never flicked on to E4 you will recognise Monica from friends. Christa Miller was Dr. Cox’s wife Jordan on Scrubs. Her husband, Bill Lawrence, is the creator of both shows. Usually this nepotism would rile me, but she is fanbloodytastic.
Where can I watch it? Season 2 is currently on Sky Living on Tuesdays at 8pm. Missed Season 1, you can buy it from iTunes.
Factoid: The show is currently on hiatus in the US as ABC makes room to debut fellow Friends‘ star Matthew Perry’s new Sitcom Mr. Sunshine. The jury’s still out on how that one is going.
The Office (US)
Ok so in a way this is a British show but if you put the Ricky Gervais version out of your mind you’ll appreciate it much much more.
What’s it about? Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is the deluded regional manager of Dunder Mifflin, Scranton, Pennsylvania. It is in the increasingly popular mockumentary style and follows the day-to-day at the office.
Why would I like it? If you can withstand a bit of cringe then it is definitely for you. Carell is flawless at Michael Scott, you can actually see his thought process with every minuscule furrowing of his brow. Also notable are the three supporting characters romantically attached Pam and Jim (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer) and fascist bootlicker Dwight (Rainn Wilson). However, every single character over the seven, yes seven, seasons becomes extremely well-formed, probably due to the improvisation that the show incorporates.
Who would I recognise? Steve Carell is probably the most famous over here, he stars in the film 40 year-old virgin and is famous for his ‘I love lamp’ line in Anchorman with Will Ferrell.
Where can I watch it? Season 5 is currently being shown on Comedy Central at 10pm on Wednesdays. You can rent seasons 1-4 on SeeSaw
Factoid: Recently an episode in the US aired where Ricky Gervais made a cameo as David Brent from the UK version.