The general rule for modern British sitcoms seems to be that they don’t know when to end - they continue long after they were popular, mopping up any residual fan loyalty and revenue before they are finally retired. Over the decades there have been some real duds - anything David Walliams and Matt Lucas put their names to, for instance - but we have also been graced with some excellent comedy shows that were cancelled in their prime.
Whereas the Americans crank out their comedies a score of episodes at a time, relentlessly releasing new seasons until they are finally forced into retirement. British shows tend to be much shorter, usually with six episodes to a season, and often with season breaks of several years.
The end result has been quality British comedy content unmatched by anything churned out across the pond. But, when a great show ends with only 12, or sometimes just six episodes to its name, it’s hard not to feel that we’ve been robbed of a good thing. These are five British sitcoms that should return for one more season:
Fawlty Towers did that rarest of things in telly world, it ended before viewers got bored. A very admirable move but how I wish there were a couple more seasons of the show to binge. Basil Fawlty is one of the greatest British TV characters ever created, the problem is that John Cleese, who played the outlandish character has since morphed into him.
Where once Fawlty was a blueprint for the worst kind of person, Cleese seems to have adopted the mindset of the snobbish, misanthropic, and politically incorrect hotelier. I guess what I actually want is to go back in time to 1979 just after Basil the Rat, the fantastic season two finale, aired, track down Cleese and beg him to make a third season whilst he’s still funny, and not an out of step grump who tweets too much. Since first writing this article last November we now know that Fawlty Towers is actually getting another season - perhaps this is a lesson in being careful what you wish for.
I’m Alan Partridge
The Independent’s ‘I hate this popular thing, please click’ article, about how we need to let go of Alan Partridge, constitutes about four fifths of my motivation to write this entire article. No we don’t need to let go of Alan Partridge, what we need is an infinite supply of Partridge shows - I’d watch Monkey Tennis if Partridge commentated the matches.
But of all of Steve Coogan’s outings as Partridge, nothing tops I’m Alan Partridge. Sometimes almost painful to watch because of its brutal depiction of the world’s saddest man, the series followed Patridge as fronted the graveyard shift on Norwich radio and lived in a Travel Tavern off the A11. The show ended in 2002 with Alan’s book Bouncing Back, being pulped, and the failed author takes home a bag of the mulch as a memento.
Crashing may just be the best hidden gem comedy series - the show stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge as one of six 20 and 30 somethings who live together as property guardians of a disused hospital. The series is hugely uncomfortable and painfully hilarious - it follows Waller-Bridge’s Lulu, who is clearly in love with one of her flatmates, who also happens to have a girlfriend.
For some reason the series was canned after just one season and Waller-Bridge went on to make the near-perfect comedy Fleabag, so maybe everything worked out for the best. The six episode series is currently available to watch on All 4 and Netflix, and I highly recommend that you check it out.
Reuniting two of the Inbetweeners, James Buckely and Joe Thomas, and also starring Ed Westwick, the sitcom follows three Essex-based windows salesmen in the mid-80s. White Gold, like the best of British comedy, takes what should be an incredibly dull premise, à la The Office, and turns it into a bingeable riot.
The second season of the show almost didn’t materialise when Westwick was accused of sexual assault, but production resumed when he was found innocent. The show was confirmed to be axed in February 2020 in controversial fashion as Buckley reportedly only heard the news when it was shared on the official Facebook page.
This may be one of those be careful what you wish for kind of ideas - Peep Show had one of the best, most understated endings in sitcom history. Normally the final episode of a long-running show brings back a couple of dozen cast members from the early seasons, leans hard onto fan service, and totally overextends itself. Not so with Peep Show which ended on a tonally perfect flat note.
However, wouldn’t it be great to see how Jez and Mark get on in a post-Brexit, post-Covid London. I assume Hans spent the pandemic selling dodgy vaccines out of the back of a van, while Mark may have used his free time during lockdown to finally learn the clarinet, and no doubt Jez lounged around eating fancy German biscuits. I would very much like to see just one more season, ideally with Mark and Jez, both still single, and still somehow living together, and Mark continuing on his perennial quest to find ‘the one’.