I am a traitor. At least, that’s how I’m beginning to feel. In fact, I should probably be transported. Indeed, if Armando Iannucci is reading this he may well demand it.
You see, I’ve never watched The Thick of It, which finished at the weekend. Nor did I, if I’m being honest, have any interest in seeing it. Maybe if I’d got into it from the word go I would be, but, it just didn’t appeal to me.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t recognise the quality of the production and cast. But, generally speaking – and here’s the traitor bit – I prefer US comedy.
One show I have been making an effort to watch without fail is an American sitcom by the name of Suburgatory. It’s on E4, in case you didn’t know, and I love it. Without fail, it makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. It’s colourful, bright and zany.
Yes, there are several UK comedies that I love, including Twenty Twelve, and the new series of Getting On on BBC4. Both are superb and they do that whole fly-on-the-wall mockumentary so well. But on the whole, I’d rather watch an episode of Modern Family, Will and Grace, Friends, Scrubs and now Suburgatory.
I have tried to put my finger on why this is and I was therefore interested in a programme shown on BBC2 this weekend called Family Guys? What Sitcoms Say About America Now. The programme shone a light on shows such as Modern Family and Will and Grace. Its presenter Tim Stanley says the comedies “don’t just succeed by being funny but also by being real. As a result, they do a good job of capturing the true complexity of people’s opinions”.
I agree with him to an extent. But for me, the reason I think I love them so much is far simpler. It’s just that they feature such brilliantly performed characters. And Suburgatory, for me, like Scrubs before it, is all about the characters. The comedy is full of them – including Cheryl Hines, the actress who played Larry David’s wife in Curb Your Enthusiasm, as Dallas Royce. Then there is Ana Gasteyer, who plays Sheila Shay, best known for her work on Saturday Night Live. Both of these actors, it turns out, started their careers in improvisational comedy. The same is true for Eric Stonestreet, from Modern Family, another of my favourite comedies from the US.
What strikes is that these are performers who really know and understand the craft of comedy. The writing may be good, but they have the timing, the sparkle and the skills to make the roles their own – beyond the words on the page. I am not saying UK actors don’t do that with the scripts they work on. Only the other day, Rob Brydon was telling me how he was part of an improvisation group, where he met Julia Davis. And these are two of our finest character actors, I might add. But sometimes, in UK comedies, I get the feeling that while the writing is good, the actors in them do not always have the greatest grasp of comedy. Reading funny lines off a page is not enough.
The other point I would make is Suburgatory, like Modern Family, is sunny. It’s bright and jolly. I am not saying all comedy should and must be like this – as I said, I adore Getting On, which is about as grey as comedy can get. But when the weather here often provides that greyness for us, the sunny warmth of a US comedy is very welcome.