Defining and comparison

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Redleg

  • Wednesday 7th August 2013, 12:59am [Edited]
  • United States
  • 10 posts

I have wondered just what it is that draws me to British programming, I think I can say the two are rather different. There are some similarities, such as Coupling, and Friends, well at least in my opinion. As much as I liked Friends, I found Coupling to be much better.

On the other hand there is Bottom, and The Young Ones, which I find it hard to compare them to anything in US sitcoms. I mean in Bottom the beating those two gave the gas meter reader was one heck of a thrashing. In The Young Ones they were also doing things that well, most people would only get to do once.

Then there are ones like Butterflies, Waiting For God, slow, low keyed, yet telling you the most about the people involved. Then ones like Are You Being Served?, or Keeping Up Appearances, Rising Damp, middle of the road sort of stuff.
Then there are ones that could very well be comparable to US sitcoms like Fawlty Towers, Dad's Army.

So what is your defining differences between British and US sitcoms, and what sitcoms would you compare of the two to be alike?
Oh by the way I learned a new word today... dramedy. Ones like Dead Like Me, has anyone seen that one? I love it!!

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Aaron

  • Tuesday 13th August 2013, 5:37pm
  • Royal Berkshire, England
  • 68,746 posts

I think the clearest difference is that American comedy - American, sitcoms, at least - tend to be glossy and aspirational, portraying people and families with, if not perfect, then certainly happy and positive lifestyles.

British sitcom tends to be more closely, directly relatable to Mr Average. Whilst still escapist, it tends toward being based around common life experiences and settings, gently mocking and sending them up in some way.

Of course there are cross-overs. Roseanne portrays a strong family unit in a far more relatable than aspirational manner; and similarly, Are You Being Served? is a big hit with US audiences. Meanwhile The Big Bang Theory is very successful here, and we have our own comedies, such as Coupling, which portray that rather well-off, relaxed, metropolitan lifestyle.

I suspect that our pervading sense of humour is a light relief reaction to the seriousness, the stiff-upper-lip kind of thing, those old ideas of a more rigid societal structure and empire and everything associated. By contrast, the US vein is based on the remnants of the manifest destiny, the great American dream, and the widespread longing for self-improvement that is now so depressingly lacking on this side of the Atlantic.

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Sophie Snezley

  • Thursday 26th September 2013, 3:09pm [Edited]
  • Oxford, England
  • 2 posts

This is a great discussion and I'm actually considering writing about this for my dissertation. I need to find out if there actually is a difference between British or American comedy. I can see this clearly if I look at Bottom against The Big Bang Theory but when it comes to relationships such as Miranda, this can been seen in a British or American comedy so is Miranda classed as a British comedy? What defines this?

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Aaron

  • Thursday 26th September 2013, 4:39pm [Edited]
  • Royal Berkshire, England
  • 68,746 posts

Hi Sophie, welcome.

A British comedy is a comedy produced primarily for a British audience. This is normally quite easily identifiable by the production company making it, the finance, and - if not a film - the station that has ordered it.

The relationship aspect in Miranda is a univerally recognisable human relationship. Or if not universal, then certainly throughout western/Anglospere culture.

What you're really getting at is the difference in style of comedy, not the specific subject tackled. For example, in The Big Bang Theory you have the seemingly unlikely coupling of Leonard and Penny. But they are a couple, and they are - broadly speaking - happy. They have their problems and conflicts and that's where the humour arises.

In Miranda, she and Gary can't even get into a relationship in the first place, and the humour is derived from their constant failings to get together. To a much more subtle extent, the same is true of Lee and Lucy in Not Going Out.

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sglen

  • Thursday 26th September 2013, 4:47pm [Edited]
  • Manchester, England
  • 599 posts

I think Aaron has it spot on. Sitcoms are generally non-aspirational here. I believe Coupling was actually billed or promoted as "the UK Friends" wasn't it? Or have I made that up? But it was released when Friends was big and it was definitely impersonating that style.

I'd go further than say 'average' or 'normal' characters are in UK sitcoms, and say some of the most successful sitcoms have been about failure - and characters as failures/losers. It's rare to find a UK sitcom about someone doing incredibly well for themselves, I'd say, though I'm sure there have been a few.

Quote: Sophie Snezley @ September 26 2013, 3:09 PM BST

This is a great discussion and I'm actually considering writing about this for my dissertation. I need to find out if there actually is a difference between British or American comedy. I can see this clearly if I look at Bottom against The Big Bang Theory but when it comes to relationships such as Miranda, this can been seen in a British or American comedy so is Miranda classed as a British comedy? What defines this?


As Aaron says, stick with 'British comedy' being defined as comedy made in Britain for British broadcast.

I kind of know what you're getting at though having done cultural studies/film studies for my degree (and then becoming a tutor in it...)

So here's my tutorial advice:
Are you doing something like media studies/critical and cultural theory? If so, you can be pretty creative about this. Research the differing ideologies of America/UK (there's a lot of differences). There's shitloads of books on American individualistic ideology and the 'American Dream' so take note of aspirational culture in the US. Read into psychoanalytical theories of character identification as well. Sit around watching British and American sitcoms literally noting down all of the differences you see. Pick ones that deal with the same stuff - so sitcoms about families, sitcoms about friend relationships, sitcoms about love relationship - then just extrapolate from your research to make it fit.

That will be £20 ;-)

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A Horseradish

  • Thursday 26th September 2013, 5:16pm [Edited]
  • United Kingdom
  • 7,636 posts

Historically, American sitcoms reflected the diversity of the population whereas British comedy was insular. In that sense, nearly every British sitcom until the 1990s was Dad's Army. After all, we are a small group of islands. So, Cosby arrived naturally whereas Desmond's was "a groundbreaking moment". London was Alf and Del Boy whereas New York via Taxi, Rhoda, etc was Jewish, Italian and so on. Ultimately we did have the comedies of Marks and Gran and Goodness Gracious Me. They were then "groundbreaking moments"!

Beyond that, many of ours were suburban. That's an odd mixture of cosy comfort and further aspiration, unfulfilled. It isn't an absence of aspiration. Also, we did clumsiness. The Americans had to be slick even when things were going wrong. Bilko for all of his bumbling was slick. Hancock wasn't slick as a character. Yes, you had some slow ones in the American sitcoms - eg Woody - but most of ours were awkward.

Arguably, many of the British characters were more loveable for being losers at a time when losing was something with which people readily identified. I'm not sure that the population now has the tolerance or indeed the confidence to embrace it when competitiveness is so stressed. I write all this in the past tense because I don't think that comedy - or any other culture - has had particularly definable qualities since the 1990s. The 1990s was the last decade with a distinct cultural identity and even that wasn't very distinct.

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Aaron

  • Thursday 26th September 2013, 5:29pm
  • Royal Berkshire, England
  • 68,746 posts
Quote: sglen @ September 26 2013, 4:47 PM BST

stick with 'British comedy' being defined as comedy made in Britain


I was very careful to NOT say that!

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sglen

  • Thursday 26th September 2013, 5:31pm [Edited]
  • Manchester, England
  • 599 posts

Oooo....also, moralising. Can anyone think of a UK show that moralises in the same way as Scrubs, Fresh Prince of Bel Air etc? Even Frasier seems to have an air of moralising in it. The characters learn something about the way they should treat each other etc. Always found that to be an annoying thing in American TV, though there's plenty of US TV shows that don't do it.

Quote: Aaron @ September 26 2013, 5:29 PM BST

I was very careful to NOT say that!


Oh sorry, I misread your post! Are there, out of interest, British sitcoms made by American companies?

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Aaron

  • Monday 30th September 2013, 9:29pm [Edited]
  • Royal Berkshire, England
  • 68,746 posts
Quote: sglen @ September 26 2013, 5:31 PM BST

Are there, out of interest, British sitcoms made by American companies?


Uhh... Depends on your definition of what constitutes 'making' and being American.

There are certainly co-productions, from The Thick Of It to Episodes.

There are also British production companies that are subsidiaries of American corporations, and British arms of American companies.

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sglen

  • Monday 30th September 2013, 9:41pm
  • Manchester, England
  • 599 posts
Quote: Aaron @ September 30 2013, 9:29 PM BST

Uhh... Depends on your definition of what constitutes 'making' and being American.

There are certainly co-productions, from The Thick Of It to Episodes.

There are also British production companies that are subsidiaries of American corporations, and British arms of American companies.


Ah, I see. I don't know anything about the business end of things so for some reason I had it in my head they'd probably be quite separate entities. But now that seems kinda stupid of me, to be honest...:D

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Aaron

  • Monday 30th September 2013, 9:53pm
  • Royal Berkshire, England
  • 68,746 posts
Quote: sglen @ September 30 2013, 9:41 PM BST

Ah, I see. I don't know anything about the business end of things so for some reason I had it in my head they'd probably be quite separate entities. But now that seems kinda stupid of me, to be honest...:D


Well the companies are legally separate of course, as each country operates completely independent regulation, taxation, etc., but the actual ownership and management structures - and levels of independence in production of individual programmes - vary.

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Sophie Snezley

  • Tuesday 15th October 2013, 1:22pm [Edited]
  • Oxford, England
  • 2 posts

Sorry I've taken to long to add to this discussion again!

After reading all of your replies I've decided my study is going to be about The Royle Family. Making it about a cultural study. Obviously this sitcom is very British so I can talk for ages about that and how other people may not really understand it if they are not British!
I'll also go on about how it's written etc.

Any points about this will be greatly appreciated! :D