Eight Darkly Surreal British TV Comedies You May Have Missed


British comedy, for many viewers, is synonymous with a smattering of iconic exports. Cult phenomena like Monty Python, or the slapstick buffoonery of Mr. Bean are its high watermark, but in the twilight of its broadcasting schedules lurks a plethora of moodier mirth.

Severin Films have recently highlighted one such gem — demented fan favorite Snuff Box , starring the darkly funny Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher. The Anglo-American twosome feature as professional hangmen who love whiskey, women, and silver cowboy boots. This got us thinking about other quirkily macabre British television series that need more love from the American side of the pond. Click through for more of Britain’s dark side.

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

Hosted by a self-aggrandizing writer (or “author, dream weaver, visionary, plus actor”, as he puts it) à la Stephen King, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a witty satire of eighties horror televison. The series stars Matt Berry (again), and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade, who plays the writer’s publisher, Dean Learner. A hilarious hospital melodrama — the facility itself being built upon the gates of hell — is presented as a show within a show, one of which is a fictional TV series titled Darkplace. Showcasing cheesetastical continuity errors, poorly dubbed dialogue, and a host of other bad special effects, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is meticulously kitsch and a smart, addictive treat.

The League of Gentlemen

Surreally funny, The League of Gentlemen hosts an oddball assortment of characters like a transsexual taxi driver, a vicar who doesn’t believe in God, and a clumsy veterinarian who ends up killing most of the animals he treats. Potently original, beautifully strange — and sometimes downright disturbing — writers and actors Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have crafted a cast of unforgettable personalities.

I Am Not An Animal

If the premise for this animated series sounds like a Disney preamble, the execution (and the execution of its executions) offers anything but. A group of talking animals are freed by an activist group from the vivisection laboratory, forced to abandon their sheltered and luxurious lives. But liberation brings them into conflict with the big bad world — a place where other animals don’t talk and life frequently bemuses. Like Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles, the medium doesn’t shy away from violence and raunch — adding a pinch of blood and lust to its anthropomorphic frolics.


Eddie and Rich (you’ll recognize them from The Young Ones) are the pervy, chaotic duo who live in a dirty apartment — which you’ll end up becoming very familiar with — where they drink, scheme, and idle the day away. More smackstick than slapstick, the two delinquent flat “mates” frequently degenerate into preposterously violent bouts of saucepan-assisted disorder. A stage show version of Bottom ran for three productions, proving that there’s plenty of adult allure in turbocharged, Itchy & Scratchy style guignol.

Rising Damp

Seedy landlord Rupert Rigsby (acclaimed British thesp Leonard Rossiter) may seem familiar to Americans, thanks to All in the Family’s Archie Bunker — who was ironically modeled after a British sitcom character in Till Death Us Do Part. Rising Damp is a claustrophobic 1970’s series that often takes an extreme politically incorrect stance, and should frequently find you cringing at its mean-spiritedness. Rigsby’s contemptible thrift and and frequently idiotic (and sometimes racist) pronouncements mark him as a tragicomic figure one laughs at, rather than with.

The Day Today

The Day Today is caustic British satire at its finest. Loaded with absurd surrealism, media mores are acerbically perforated, using a pointed brand of wit tonally reminiscent of The Onion. Coolly played by Chris Morris, the series’ anchorman provides up-to-the minute coverage on sensational spoofs such as a punch-up between the Queen and fearsomely dull PM John Major, and the sinister deployment of IRA “bomb dogs” against the UK.

I’m Alan Partridge

U.S. audiences will probably recognize Steve Coogan from 24 Hour Party People, where he played Factory Records supremo (and total douchebag) Tony Wilson. As a spin-off of sorts from the BBC show Knowing Me, Knowing You, Coogan’s character Alan Partridge — an ignorant, crass presenter crippled by an ego of zeppelinesque dimensions — returns divorced, but determined to get back on the air after his show was cancelled. Coogan’s brilliant caricature alternately invokes pathos, hilarity, and contempt as the fallen, ABBA-loving chat-king tries to ingratiate himself with media powerbrokers.


Chris Morris of Brass Eye fame created a Lynchian nightmare with Jam, which uses audio from his BBC Radio 1 ambient cult-comedy show, Blue Jam. Dream-like and often unexpectedly disturbing, Jam is a bizarre nightmare that isn’t afraid to offend.