I use this column pretty reliably each week to fill you in on the comings and goings of movies and TV. But it’s always what new items are hitting screens around you. This week I want to highlight some shows you’re going to have to do some looking for, because they’re not all current, or easy to find, and they’re all from England. These shows aren’t coming to a screen near you, so you’re going to have to go out and find them. But you’ll be glad you did.
Toast of London – This is one of the most compulsively re-watchable shows I’ve ever seen. Even having seen every episode of all three seasons multiple times, I can throw an installment of Toast on the screen any time and not be bored. Fueled by its screen-owning star, Matt Berry, it’s the wild, debauched, and often surreal adventures of Steven Toast, a buffoonish semi-successful working actor in London. Berry is like Jack Black mixed with Tim and Eric, and his show, for which he also writes the stories and music, as well as performing songs each episode, is pure pleasure. You may need to get this one off Amazon or a friend, because it’s not readily available stateside. Stars Matt Berry, Harry Peacock, and Robert Bathurst.
Peep Show – This recently concluded comedy from the comedy team of Mitchell & Webb has nine seasons of brilliant, innovative, laugh-out-loud madness. Following 30-something roommates Mark and Jez, two complete opposites who nonetheless depend on each other, the show is presented entirely in first-person POV. This gimmick becomes a never-tiresome and almost always hilarious mechanism that drives the show. Whether it’s Mark’s debilitating lack of confidence or Jez’s crippling overabundance of it, their adventures are the stuff of TV legend. Fortunately, eight of nine seasons are currently available on Netflix, so if you haven’t experienced this gem yet, you won’t need to go far. Stars David Mitchell, Mark Webb, and Olivia Colman.
Spaced – Also available on Netflix, this British TV show hasn’t been on the air in over a decade, but it remains one of the most revered and beloved sitcoms of the British new school. It also put Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright on the map for all of us, and for that alone we owe it our allegiance. Pegg plays a struggling comic artist and Jessica Hynes plays his struggling-writer roommate. It’s a simple setup, but the adventures and the laughs are anything but. This show set the table for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and every other good thing Pegg, Frost, and Wright have done together since. Stars Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, and Nick Frost.
The Mighty Boosh – This show can be a little too silly and bizarre for some people’s tastes. I am not one of those people. Julian Barrat is magnetically likable/loathable, and Noel Fielding is a delight in his completely anchorless role as Vince Noir. This show was beloved when it was syndicated to Adult Swim years ago. I still hold out hopes of a reunion. It’s basically live action Muppets. Stars Julian Barrat, Noel Fielding, Matt Berry, and Rich Fulcher.
Snuff Box – This insane little number from Berry and Fulcher (both on The Mighty Boosh) is the most intricate and inventive sketch comedy show ever conceived. There’s a running plotline concerning two executioners, but it can’t seem to stay on a straight path for all the cutaways and sketch-tangents that are traveled. Perhaps the most avant-garde narrative/sketch show ever. Stars Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher.
Ideal – The setup doesn’t sound that interesting; an overweight weed dealer in England never leaves his couch as a never-ending string of characters he sells to stream through. But director Ben Wheatley and star Johnny Vegas make magic out of the simple premise. This show was unfortunately canceled after seven seasons, but a movie is in the works. Stars Johnny Vegas, Graham Duff, and Nicola Reynolds.
The Thick of It – Conclusively, without doubt or any exaggeration, my favorite TV show of all time. I saved it for last because it is the best. This is the show that inspired Veep, also from comedy genius Armando Ianucci, and it follows the foul-mouthed and quick-witted adventures of the majority and loyal opposition in England’s government. Unlike Veep, which has a central star, The Thick of It is more nebulous. The scene-stealer is Peter Capaldi, currently playing Doctor Who for the BBC, as Malcolm Tucker; borderline-evil Scottish Director of Communications for the Prime Minister. In this role he savages all on his path to ultimate victory. This show is available on Hulu, and if you don’t watch it, we can’t start that TV criticism company together that you’ve been dreaming about. Flat-out. Stars Peter Capaldi.
By Ygal Kaufman