It regularly hovers around the top of greatest comedy lists and deservedly so. I have a tricky relationship with farce and cringe-inducing humour - anything that strays too far into the realm of embarrassment just leaves me feeling embarrassed and not amused. Fawlty Towers manages to walk that line well by having cast iron characterisation with a healthy dollop of the “stuck together, couldn’t live apart” dynamic applied to Basil and Sybil. It’s the character comedy and the great quotable lines (“You can see the sea - it’s over there between the land and the sky”) which keep this at the forefront of comedy fans minds.
Only Fools And Horses
It may have gone on a little too long (coming back after capping off the series with a perfect ending was definitely a mistake) but there’s no denying that this is strong character comedy. It even manages to weather the loss of a main character following the passing of Lennard Pearce (Grandad) by replacing him with a different but equally strong character (Buster Merryfield’s Uncle Albert). This was one of those “whole family watching” sitcoms, back in the day when everyone sat down in front of the same TV (I’m fully aware that sentence makes me sound like a grizzled old pensioner but I’m sticking with it).
The Young Ones
I guess to call this is a sitcom is a little restrictive as a description - it sits somewhere between a sitcom, a sketch show and a variety show*. Again, another group of characters stuck together, this time through the wonder of shared student accommodation. In this case, the “sit” is really an excuse to put these characters into increasingly bizarre and nonsensical situations with a healthy dose of breaking the fourth wall but, as with the others, the characters are clearly defined. Also, responsible for giving us Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson in Bottom which is effectively a cross between Hancock’s Half Hour, a Samuel Beckett play, Carry On and Tom and Jerry.
I wasn’t and am not really a huge fan of the first series. There is undeniably some good stuff in there but, for me, it just doesn’t quite all come together. It’s the Blackadder format of the second through fourth series, once Ben Elton comes on board as writer alongside Richard Curtis, that really spoke to me. A great cast across the board in each series with recurring members dropping in and out, this was a show like Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones which I was in danger of wearing out my VHS copies of due to repeated rewatching. Also, this was a show that was unafraid to mix the comedy with tragedy as memorably shown in the poignant ending to Blackadder Goes Forth
Of course, there was another sitcom of the 80s, one that spanned genres much like Hitchhikers, which was a massive obsession throughout the teenage years….
* Historical Note:- In order to get a bigger budget for the show, producer Paul Jackson had it classified as a variety show. The upshot of this was that each episode had to feature a musical performance in order to qualify for that description, hence the appearances from Motorhead, Madness, etc.