A big part of my self care, albeit potentially a dangerous one, is distraction. There’s a lot going on in my head, and I need a break from it. I try not to make a habit of distracting myself all the time, and I’m attempting to get better at addressing and acknowledging my feelings.
That’s a long road, though, and I need a few pit stops along the way.
Enter the marvel of TV. The screen at which all furniture is pointed, where we lose ourselves in dramas, comedies, documentaries. We laugh, learn, scare ourselves silly, and moan about the state of the world. As a side note, I never watch the news on TV because jeez, that shit is heavy.
I know that sitting in front of the TV isn’t the healthiest thing to spend all your time doing. It’s great for filling a silence that might otherwise be occupied by less-than-pleasant thoughts or activities.
TV shows that I enjoy tend to have an impact and stick around. Some shows have honestly been formative, allowing me to indulge my weirder side and discover things that make me tick. As an anxiety-riddled person, I can feel some pressure to like the things that everyone else likes, or to watch and engage with things I feel I ought to.
I do like serious programmes and documentaries. I like to keep myself interested and sometimes challenged, but comedy shows allow me to release the silly side of myself that I’ve felt necessary to hide away at times.
It’s strange to attach meaning and identity to something as seemingly trivial as TV. Some things I just enjoy, some things go deeper.
The shows I’m going to talk about here are both tried and tested and new. They’re all different, but with one common theme – I can rely on them to lift my mood, and sometimes even gently probe at my other locked away feelings.
The League of Gentlemen
This programme is, in my opinion, one of the greatest pieces of television to ever be produced. To me it is almost flawless. If you’re not aware, TLOG is a dark comedy sketch show, although the sketches all form part of the wider narrative.
It was created over twenty years ago as a live show by Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith. They made the move to television, with the show first airing on BBC Two in 1999. At the time I was too young to appreciate it, so it wasn’t until I was older that I started to enjoy it and let my love for dark comedy bloom.
The black humour, twisted storylines, and eccentric (to put it mildly) characters had me hooked. There’s a subtle brilliance to every character they portray, from Pauline the rude, overbearing Job Centre employee to the almost demonic Papa Lazarou.
It’s difficult to describe the programme without watching it, but of you like darkly bizarre stories and characters you’ll love it. Set in Royston Vasey, a fictional but close to home small northern town, the stories and characters intertwine brilliantly. The humour is a combination of the grotesque, slapstick, perfectly timed quips and insults, and grim twists on the familiar.
Watching it will always raise a laugh even when I’ve seen it a thousand times before. I was lucky enough to see them perform the live show last year and it was fantastic. My friend and I laughed all night. It’s a work of creative genius, the perfect mix of raucous hilarity interspersed with moments of genuine compassion for even the most bizarre characters. It’s not always a comfortable watch, but its craftsmanship has stood the test of time and will always be high on my list.
Another formative show for me, Spaced is a British sitcom written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) and directed by Edgar Wright. You might recognise Pegg and Wright from Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Well, Spaced is where it all began.
The show follows Tim and Daisy, who meet when searching for somewhere to live and decide to move in together. Their landlady Marsha and eccentric downstairs neighbour Brian feature heavily, along with Tim’s best friend Mike.
The storylines are often everyday, banal things like job interviews or attending your friend’s weird art show or play, but tinged with the surreal and hilarious. You can expect off the cuff humour as well as genuine human connections and growth.
I fucking LOVE Spaced. It only ran for two series but they’re both amazing. The humour is completely my brand. It’s pretty reference-heavy, in the way that the Cornetto trilogy films, particularly Shaun of the Dead, reference Spaced. Honestly, there are probably references in there that I’ve missed, but of course Spaced has become something that I reference without even knowing it. I genuinely adore this programme and it will never fail to raise a smile.
We started watching Broad City last year, I think, when we had the luxury of my partner’s brother in law’s SkyGo login. Yeah, we’re cheap like that. I’d heard good things, and I was not disappointed.
Broad City follows the escapades of Abbi and Ilana, two women in their twenties navigating life and its many pitfalls whilst living in New York City. It’s a hilarious show without a doubt, with real, relatable characters in sometimes relatable, sometimes less so, circumstances.
My favourite thing about the show, aside from how funny it is, is the bond between Abbi and Ilana. It’s refreshing to see a strong relationship between two women with such genuine love, supporting each other through whatever ludicrous situations they’ve ended up in. The show stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, who created and write the show as well as directing some episodes.
Storylines touch on everything from relationships, shitty jobs and apartments to overbearing mothers and awkward misunderstandings. It’s human, sometimes touching, always irreverent, and extremely funny.
It’s a triumph of recent television that provides the right balance of distraction from reality (watching the characters living in where-dreams-are-made New York) with warmth and humour guaranteed to make me laugh out loud.
I’m Alan Partridge
I actually went until adulthood before properly sitting down and watching all of I’m Alan Partridge. I’d seen bits and knew enough to understand I’d probably enjoy it, but for some reason never got around to it.
It’s cringe-worthy and thoroughly difficult to watch at times. Try as you might, it’s hard to find sympathy for Alan at times, but that’s what makes it so brilliant. He’s ostensibly a rather small and pathetic man, reminiscent of a smug teacher or car salesman who thinks he’s a lot funnier than he is.
That’s the genius, though, and the heart of the comedy. Alan is belligerent, oblivious, and petty. He thinks highly of himself, but how much of that is superficial? Partridge is actually kind of a complex character, which makes him more real.
Again, the situations he ends up in are simultaneously plausible and completely ludicrous, but you can buy into it because of Steve Coogan’s terrific portrayal. Whilst we as the audience might never find ourselves having pierced our foot on a spike when trying to gain entry to an exclusive member’s club, it seems totally reasonable that Alan would.
I love comedy that makes the viewer feel uncomfortable, and I love a good catchphrase. Partridge provides all that, and it’s one of those things where you can bond with someone you’ve just met by quoting it. I may not always be emotionally stable enough to endure the sometimes-torturous cringe factor, but when I am it’s absolutely marvellous.
Parks and Rec
This is a fairly recent addition to the list, but since I broke my leg I’ve been watching it. I find it really easy watching, and it makes me giggle. It’s nice to see Amy Poehler starring in a lead role, and she plays the character of Leslie Knope fantastically.
There are some things that haven’t aged well – Chris Pratt’s involvement in a church that demonises homosexuality, and Aziz Ansari’s refusal to acknowledge that the allegations against him of sexual misconduct have affected anyone other than him.
Set in Pawnee, Indiana, Parks and Rec follows Leslie Knope, a government employee in the Parks department. When written down it sounds like a pretty boring concept for a show,m but it works. It’s reminiscent of The Office in its documentary-esque filming and how the characters occasionally acknowledge the camera.
The cast on the whole are great, particularly Poehler and Rob Lowe, who plays the eternally optimistic city manager. The comedy is slightly different to other things I enjoy, being neither dark, slapstick, nor unbearably cringe. Well, it’s not completely cringe-free as Leslie finds herself in some less-than-ideal situations.
The character’s passion and commitment to her friends and her job are genuinely pleasant to watch, and the cast bounce well off each other. It’s provided a smile on some days where it might otherwise have been lacking recently, so I can’t ask for much more.
This is more typical of what you’d expect me to enjoy. Three stoners, Blake, Adam, and Anders, live together and work at the same dead-end call centre job. They get up to all sorts of hi jinks to procure weed and unsuccessfully impress women, among other things. The show was created and written by Blake Anderson, Adam Devine, Anders Holm, and Kyle Newachek who all star in it.
In terms of laughs, expect slapstick and ludicrously implausible situations. How the characters get away with half the things they do at work is beyond me, but their ability to weasel out of serious trouble is part of their charm. Despite playing very obviously flawed young men who bicker constantly and have very little self-awareness, there are moments of genuinely touching friendship interspersed in the hilarity.
We’ve watched the whole show twice, and I could easily watch it time and again. At times, you’re laughing at the characters rather than with them, as they struggle to understand consequences or proper adult behaviour. The men display reckless bravado in bids to outdo each other, and rarely accept responsibility for anything they’ve done.
As an adult viewer you can understand that their ignorance and belligerence is likely due to insecurity, uncertainty, and a struggle to accept the responsibilities of growing up. There’s the right balance of gross-out comedy and insight. I may be giving the creators too much credit, but I’m pretty sure the characters’ flaws are presented precisely to make them more human and sympathetic.
On a base level, though, sometimes I want to laugh at stupid people doing stupid things. It’s possible to intelligently appreciate the problematic characters whilst enjoying the talent it takes to write them.
Alright, last up. Brooklyn 99 is, quite rightly, a popular show created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur. It stars Andy Samberg, Andre Brauer, Terry Crews, Chelsea Peretti, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, and Joe Lo Truglio as detectives, sergeant, and captain at the 99th police precinct in Brooklyn, New York.
As far as I’m concerned, anything Andy Samberg touches turns to gold dust. I mean, have you seen Hot Rod? Genius. His portrayal of talented yet immature detective Jake Peralta is flawless, his childish enthusiasm somehow teaming perfectly with his detective prowess.
The cast are exceptional and bounce off each other perfectly. In particular, Andre Brauer’s turn as straight-laced Captain Holt is perfect. His relationship with Samberg’s Peralata is almost fatherly, and Holt breaking his typically stoic character to engage with Peralta’s whimsical behaviour provides some of the best laughs in the show for me.
The humour in Brooklyn 99 is often a little silly, but that’s exactly what I want from it. The characters are so well-created and written that the comedy doesn’t need to be up its own arse, it just needs to be real and it needs to work. It does that brilliantly.
A special shoutout goes to Craig Robinson for his Doug Judy character, a semi-regular on the show through the series. Despite being Peralta’s nemesis they develop an unlikely friendship that Judy uses to continue evading justice.
Now in its sixth season, Brooklyn 99 is as funny as ever. The characters have evolved along with the show and it still doesn’t miss a beat. A true joy to watch and laugh along with, and if you haven’t seen Hot Rod, please make space for that as well. You won’t regret it.
Thank you for reading my rambling about TV. It seemed a good idea to write something lighter and share my love of comedy. Maybe it’s problematic to rely on, but it’s a really good way to look after myself and have a laugh when I need it most.