British comedy going downhill according to some


According to John Sullivan, creator and writer of the most popular British comedy of all-time, Only OFAHFools and Horses, feels that today’s Britcoms rely on bad language for cheap laughs instead of quality writing. In this interview with the Telegraph, Sullivan says today’s comedies couldn’t hold a candle to the classics of yesteryear such as Fools and Horses or One Foot in the Grave. Sullivan’s long-time friend and OFAH star, Nicholas Lyndhurst, echoed the sentiments, saying that today’s writers and commissioners are not only lazy, but are missing the boat by not commissioning comedies designed for the growing 55+ audience across the country.

Interestingly, Sullivan points to America as the shining example of comedies with higher standards these days, referencing the likes of Everybody Loves Raymond and Frazier as comedies he enjoys.

Just my two cents

Personally, I can agree with Sullivan and Lyndhurst about 90%. While I do think today’s output from M A S Hthe UK is far below what has come to us here in the US in years past, the comedies he points to in America as being “superior” are not new programs either. I would put M*A*S*H, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Cheers and Spin City on that same list. Again, old shows. In later years, both here and abroad, I think the innovative sitcoms or Britcoms have been such series as Coupling, The Office and Modern Family. At the end of the day, there are good ones on both sides of the pond today, you just have to look a lot harder to find the few there are.

One thing that does nothing but help Sullivan’s argument is the difference in standards between American broadcast television and television in the UK. You can get away with a lot more language and blue content in the UK than you can in the U.S.  Sullivan and Lyndhurst are correct. It’s easier to throw in an occasional “F” word here and there to get a laugh than it is to write a good script.

Anyone else think Sullivan and Lyndhurst have a point or do we just suffer from ‘good old days syndrome’?

  • Diane

    I agree in that the clever sitcom has been missing for a while. I read an article about the death of the sitcom in the past few years here in the States. Fortunately, I hope that is no longer true with great comedies (IMO) that have returned: Better Off Ted (RIP), Modern Family, Big Bang Theory just to name a few. And while I don’t watch/care for any of the comedies on NBC, I respect that they are huge hits.

    But back to the question, are they high caliber shows or playing to the lowest common denominator? It’s a mixed bag, but probably more of the later. Times and sensibilities have changed, but not for the better in my opinion.

  • Len

    I don’t think that I suffer from good-old-days-syndrome but I certainly do miss those days. Some old comedies still are funny even though a lot of time has passed. I Love Lucy is a great example.

    What bothers me was the advent of reality TV, or actually the reason for it. It’s cheap to produce and, as far as I am concerned, you do get what you pay for. It seems when Reality TV came into play, the sitcom disappeared somewhat.

    I’m also tired of connecting with a TV show (comedy or not) and then having the show discontinued because it does not do well with the ratings.

    It used to be that a show had time to find its footing. If you see the first season of Friends and compare it to the later seasons you see a lot of growth. The same with Seinfeld. (The only comedy that I know of where this condition is not true is As Time Goes By. The first season is just as great as the last season.)

    In today’s world it seems that if something isn’t an instant hit, it’s gone.

    • Len: I’m right there with you and your frustration of getting involved with a show that’s “critically acclaimed” but is cancelled because of low ratings. Arrested Development and Sports Night immediately come to mind. Interestingly, it seems as though shows in the U.S. are getting more of a chance recently than several years ago, mainly because good ratings these days are much, much lower than years ago. No show gets a 30 rating anymore. Double digits is the best you can hope for these days anymore given competition for time, etc. Many of the UK shows are not getting a fair chance to have a second series commissioned, more so than in the U.S.

  • Cynthia

    I agree with all of you, that is why I watch KERA, TVLAND, TCM.

    • Cynthia: Nothing like a good Andy Griffith or Alfred Hitchcock marathon. Thanks for including KERA in the mix.

  • tony

    I thought that ‘alternative comedy’ largely killed the traditional sitcom years back. A bit unfair to compare Peep Show at 10pm with OFAH. Ironically it won’t be longer before the 20 somethings who were watching The Young Ones will be 55 themselves 🙂

  • Tom Johnson

    Yes, bad language is a cheap laugh but I can overlook it if it’s not excessive and fits with the “character’s” character. If it’s out of character for a typical person in that role to occasionally use foul language, it appears thrown in for shock value and it ruins the feel of the show.
    But I’d go further than language used for cheap laughs. I’ve noticed how shows use the same tired theme of sex for easy laughs. No need to write a clever situation, just throw them in bed or show the pursuit with bed being the result.
    I’m worried about the above-mentioned Big Bang Theory which started out basically sexless and was still extremely funny. Lately it’s been using that tired them more as a plot line. Two and A Half Men started out much less sex-absorbed and now I won’t watch it because it crosses the line for me.
    In all cases, British and American, the idea seems to be, “Let’s see how far we can push the envelope” rather than, “Let’s see how funny we can write this.”

  • Anglophilesouth

    I’ve been out of town for a week and have come back to some excellent posts and commentary. I missed a lot and I’m too late to bid on Blackadder’s very personal effects, as well.

    I agree with Bill’s comment that you just have to look harder for good shows, on both sides of the pond. Keeping my hopes alive on the Brit front is “Old Guys” with Clive Swift, Roger Lloyd Pack and Jane Asher which Tellyspotting featured last year. I really enjoy it.