Monday, June 16, 2008

Screw Monty Python: here are some better British Comedies

It's kind of shameful how many people never get beyond Monty Python, or maybe Monty Python + Mr. Bean and Fawlty Towers, in their BBC comedy education.

It has, however, recently come to my attention that by far the best BBC comedy ever produced has finally showed up on DVD in the U.S. (The first two seasons are out, the third comes soon apparently.) What mysterious show is this?

Waiting for God.

From the Wikipedia page (which I refuse to link, because it contains multiple serious plot spoilers, which I've invisibly deleted from this summary and might delete from the wikipedia page too):

Set at Bayview Retirement Village near Bournemouth, the show is based around Diana Trent and her relationship with Tom Ballard, a former accountant who has been exiled there for the convenience of his family.

Diana is a cynical, retired photojournalist who has found herself consigned to the retirement home after a career documenting some of the 20th century's most dangerous places has left her single and with no one in her life outside of her niece, and later, her great-niece. Her frustration at the prospect of years of being alternately patronised and ignored at Bayview is soon channelled into attempts to subvert the régime of the retirement home and taunting the staff regarding their flaws and corrupt nature. Though retired, Diana remains connected with several powerful journalists, which she uses to blackmail the board of directors at Bayview (and Bayview manager Harvey Baines) to stay in Bayview despite her anti-social behaviour. Her only known living relative is her niece Sarah and later, Sarah's daughter Diana. Diana is emotionally distant from her niece, going so far as to telling people that her niece runs a prostitution ring and constantly attempts to kill her with poison.

Ballard is a kindly but deluded old duffer who frequently lives in a fantasy world following his retirement as an accountant. A widower for at least a decade, his increasingly eccentric behaviour leads his alcoholic daughter-in-law Marion and henpecked son Geoffrey to move him into Bayview where he finds himself living next door to Diana. The two form an unlikely partnership and discover that they are able to wreak havoc amongst the younger staff and management in the home in order to create a more tolerable living environment for themselves and their fellow residents. Tom's optimistic, cheery demeanour and unencumbered Anglican Christianity contrast Diana's dark cynicism and avowed atheism, as both attempt to influence the other's world view.

The manager of Bayview is Harvey Baines, who runs the establishment with his assistant, the homely, spinsterish and pious Jane Edwards. Baines is a narcissistic right wing weasel whose management style involves trying to run the retirement home profitably while keeping the residents (whom he variously dubs "oldies" or "units") passive in order to make himself look good before the eyes of the board of directors.

Jane, Harvey's put-upon assistant, is a naïve and religious woman who is madly in love with Harvey, in spite of Harvey's utter disdain for her. Jane serves as a foil for Diana; though Diana loathes Jane's religious piety and optimistic outlook on life. Diana and Tom often help Jane when it comes to the matter of dealing with Harvey's manipulation of Jane's love for him.

Doesn't it sound great? But it's even better than the description. Just watch it. Seriously. I can't even begin to express how wonderful this show is. I don't watch TV, but my (British) mother and I used to drag one out back when this was regularly showing on PBS, just to watch this one show. I really think it's the most brilliant show ever produced for television.

Then you can watch Blackadder and Yes Minister.