British Humor, and the Looks I Get

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Those of you who know me well (which should be about everyone that reads this blog), knows that I am a fanatic when it comes to British Comedies. Ever since I was old enough to stay up past 10:00 PM to watch "Are You Being Served?" on KUED, I have been fascinated with the humor coming from across the Pond. That being said, British Humor is as unique as any national cultural phenomenon. It represents a social commentary that gives a satirical insight into the world as seen by the average Briton.

The following will be a quick mention of several of my favorite comedies, and the statements that I receive from them:

Are You Being Served?
Yes, I had to start with this one. I don't know if it's because I watch this show almost every night (as I own the entire DVD collection), or because it strikes a nerve from my early working days in Retail, but this comedy is brilliant. With a commentary on the working relationship between rivals, seniority concerns, pecking order, and the need to dominate within the lofty positions, the show brings a colorful backdrop to the humdrum daily grind.

The show continues to underscore the growing need for one to find a social status that is higher than they believe they possess. Captain Peacock is always trying to show his position as being lofty, regardless of his evident suburban lifestyle. Miss Brahms is constantly defending her background, regardless of her accent. Customers focus on their social standing in how they address the staff. Social order is very much alive in Britain in the 1970's.

As time moves on to the 1980's, it's less of an issue. Then corruption amongst the management becomes the underlying topic. Old Mr. Grace is constantly betting on horses and spending funds on personal luxuries, as well as his secretaries. Even Mr. Rumbold is placed in difficult situations when he uses store funds to purchase "display" items, which then go on sale over the weekend to himself at a considerable discount. That, and the constant threat of a weak 80's economy, energy costs going out of control, and overseas company takeovers, reflect the economic and political environment in Britain during the 1980's. This perhaps rings true to Americans that had lived during this time, because very similar issues were of great concern here as well.

Finally, I would like to take a minute to talk about the writing. Despite various mistakes in the continuity of the story, the overall writing is brilliantly done. The situations are perfect, the innuendos are well placed, and the studio audience keeps one in stitches. I had to mention the studio audience, because without them, the show would be a complete dud. If you need proof of this, watch "Are You Being Served? The Movie". No laugh track, and no laughs. It was mildly entertaining at best, though the same jokes and situations were happening.

Overall, this was perhaps the best show to get me going into British Comedies.

As Time Goes By
This show dates from the 1990's, and is an absolute joy to watch. Though it's a little slower in its pace, the humor is wonderfully executed. Dame Judi Dench is perhaps my favorite actress from across the Pond, as she has the best expressions and emotional range that I have seen.

This story is about aging, not in the same way as "Waiting for God", but rather about that vacant space between the 30's and the 70's where one finds they are no longer able to do the youthful things in life and how they cope with that fact. The one social aspect that I pull from it, beyond the environmentalism and animal rights positions that are almost taken for granted, is the loss of business under Jean's direction from Secretaries to Computer users. They feel the pinch, and then the pinch is gone when her daughter Judy and secretary Sandi take over the business. I'm not sure why the pinch is gone, but my guess would be that they moved from Secretaries with Notepads to Secretaries with Computer Skills. This leads Jean to feel the loss of her youth by not understanding computers, or the Internet.

All in all, I love this story. Love finds itself again, and is rekindled within very modern and real terms. By far, it is better than I would have expected.

Monty Python's Flying Circus
Currently running on KUED Saturdays at 11:00 PM MT, they have a wonderful prefacing disclaimer that says it all: It's nothing but schoolboy smutty humor. The problem is, I was once a schoolboy, and as a guilty pleasure still enjoy such humor in moderation. There isn't a lot that I can say about Monty Python that couldn't be written in volumes, so I will say this: It has all the humor of any British comedy, but with the political commentary of the early Looney Tunes. That is what really draws me to this irreverent satirical show. That, and the fact that every single Pythoner has earned my respect.

Red Dwarf
I admit it, I watched reruns of Star Trek while growing up. I loved Spock, McCoy, and Scotty (particularly Scotty, as he was a Scot), and detested Captain Kirk for all his arrogance and promiscuity with alien beings. So I became interested in SciFi rather early in life.

That being established, it shouldn't be hard to see why I like Red Dwarf. Who wouldn't love watching a lone space ship, light-years away from Earth in deep space, with a single human, an android, a hologram, and a person evolved from a cat. My love for this show can be underlined with a comment made by Patrick Stewart as he returned to his native England after shooting for "Star Trek: Next Generation". He turned on the BBC, saw Red Dwarf, and started calling his Lawyer to see what he would think... That is, until he heard the punchline. Then he immediately hung up his phone, laughing.

Yes, this show is amazingly funny. It pokes fun at the manual workers who seem to have no ambition beyond a "Hot dog stand" in Fiji, a neurotic hologram of a man who was self defeating in his own arrogant desire to improve his life, and an android that was by far the intellectual superior of anyone, but was too nice to take advantage of that position. Oh, and Holli the ship perhaps embodies the entire computing industry as it can be incredibly brilliant at being stupid. The old saying of "Garbage in, Garbage out" is truly embodied within Holli.

Overall, this show was great until it became rather too raunchy for me in the last two seasons. Perhaps I'm a bit of a prude, but those seasons didn't have the same magic. As additional seasons were not created, I can only guess that the BBC felt the same way. But any previous season, such as the first, is well worth watching.

Allo, Allo
Those of you who know me also know that I love History. While Ancient History is the period I majored in and read about constantly, my father began me at an early age on World War II history. This show, set in German occupied France, appeals to that indoctrination by my father, and is his favorite British Comedy.

Beyond the stereotypes that create each of the characters, it's amazingly light-hearted about the German invasion. The Germans appear to be old softies at heart, just having to shoot a few "peasants" from France on principle. The French are less organized than anyone could possibly be in their Resistance movement, and the English are just plain clueless. Yes, they make fun of everyone, including the Americans that free the small village at the end of the show. For sheer fun, I would highly recommend this show.

The Black Adder Series
I am a big Rowan Atkinson fan, and though I don't list "Mr. Bean" as an all-time favorite, I do the Black Adder series. Again, because it is historically based, it appeals to the Historian within. It covers historical events with such light-hearted cynicism that you can't help but love it. When the Black Adder tricks an enemy to stick his head into a loaded cannon, you are taken back. When the Three Witches from MacBeth tell Prince Edmund (the Black Adder) he will become king instead of MacBeth, that's classic. When Queen Elizabeth threatens to kill just about everyone just for fun, that's brilliant.

Yes, I love this series. If you love cynical comics, and have any exposure to Rowan's work that hasn't offended, then you would love this show.

The Piglet Files
Growing up in the Cold War era, this cloak and dagger show with bumbling spies really hits a chord. I love it because even after the fall of the Iron Curtain, it still shows the English MI5 pitting their wits against the remaining KGB. Hilarious in it's refusal to take intelligence gathering seriously, it continues to make me smile.

There are more that I could post, but I will leave it at this. Perhaps in the future I will post about my favorite British dramas as well. Until then, Cheerio! ^_^