The five most underrated American comedies currently on British TV

Ben and Kate

US television shows like American Dad and New Girl get a lot of coverage over here in the UK. However, there are many other shows from America which fly under the radar and go unduly ignored. Here are some of those shows, comedies all, that you can start watching right now on your TV. Remember TVs? They’re like the internet, but not as good.

#1 Ben and Kate

Next on: ITV 2, Monday, 9PM; Sat-Sun, various times; or on the itvplayer.

Ben and Kate is about a young single mother, her brother Ben, her daughter and an assortment of friends. It follows a recent trend in American television for sweet and sentimental shows, but unlike, say, Modern Family, it isn’t sickly sweet, and it mixes the sentiment with good humour. And it is really funny. This isn’t a My Family sitcom; its humour is closer to the best British comedies on TV, but stripped of any cynicism.

The acting is fantastic, especially from Dakota Johnson playing Kate. You also might recognise Lucy Punch, the English actress from the short-lived Vexed, playing Kate’s friend. Unfortunately, Ben and Kate has already been cancelled in the US because of poor ratings, so make the most of it while you can because there won’t be any more.

[Fox being cunts and all, they’ve set the below video to private, and blocked it globally when I re-uploaded it to YouTube. So you can see it here instead.]

#2 Bob’s Burgers

Next on: 4Music, Friday 15 March 1:50am; Sun-Fri, various times.

Originally dismissed as another imitator of Family Guy and American Dad, Bob’s Burgers quickly proved itself to be better than both of those shows.

The cartoon revolves around burger restaurant owner Bob and his family, including his three children: awkward teenager Tina, chubby musician Gene and the precocious, impish Louise, voiced by the fantastic Kristen Schaal from Flight of the Conchords and 30 Rock. The show is smart and fast, and mixes its humour with imaginative storylines and a great use of supporting characters. Bob’s Burgers may well be the best cartoon currently on TV, and it’s criminal how underrated the show is.

#3 Parks and Recreation

Next on: BBC Four, Wednesday 10pm, or watch on the iPlayer.

Season one of Parks and Rec currently airs on BBC Four, and it is, to be honest, not great. However, it picks up towards the last few episodes, and season two is outstanding. The writers sat down after the first season and worked out all the flaws, making some subtle changes that massively improved the show. Stick with it and you will be rewarded with one of the best comedies on TV.

Like Ben and Kate, this comedy, set in the government department from the title, rejects cynicism in favour of heart, but it balances the sentiment well and avoids soppiness. The show is technically a mockumentary like The Office, but it’s effectively a straight sitcom.

The comic performances add a lot to the humour, the writing is slick and the show makes a lot out of its fictional setting in the enjoyably weird town of Pawnee, a live-action Springfield where everyone has an irrational hatred of libraries and a strange affection for a tiny horse.

#4 Happy Endings

Next on: E4, Saturday 7pm; Sat-Sun, various times.

Like a modern day Friends, this show follows six young people as they make their way through their lives. Early episodes can be quite mediocre, and if you watch it on E4 it can be quite hit-and-miss whether you get a good episode or not. But the good ones are really good, and episodes in the latter seasons can be very funny.

The humour is similar to that in 30 Rock: fast and sharp, moving on quickly from jokes which often revolve around wordplay. There’s not much of an overarching plot, but the show isn’t really about plot. It’s about hanging around with some enjoyable characters for a while, and laughing at well written jokes and good comedy performances. It’s not the best comedy ever made, but it’s an enjoyable 30 minutes, and it’s better than most shows on TV.

#5 Louie

Next on: Fox, new episodes Tuesday’s at 10pm; rerun March 16, 9pm.

Louie is written by and stars comedian Louis CK, and is a dramatisation of his life, exaggerated and made more pathetic than it probably really is. Louie gets a lot of critical praise, so it is perhaps inaccurate to describe it as underrated, but very few people watch it in the UK, or have even heard of it, so I think it deserves to be brought to more people’s attention.

Louie is one of the most original comedies on TV, and plays with the structure of sitcoms, mixing flights of fantasy with drama, storytelling and sections of Louie’s stand-up comedy. It can sometimes be a little too self-indulgent, but on the whole it is both hilarious and interesting as a piece of televisual art. And yeah, that sentence sounds a little pretentious, but so is the show, unapologetically so, and if you can accept that, then Louie can be the highlight of your television week.

Non-comedy shows that you might have missed:

The Good Wife (More 4, March 21, 9pm), a legal and political drama currently in its third season, and Justified (Five USA, 21 March, 1:10am), a crime drama about a US Marshal which is also currently half-way through a season, so not something you can just drop in on unfortunately.

Honourable Mention:

Breaking Bad, one of the best and most exciting shows ever made which, bafflingly, hasn’t got a UK broadcaster. Pick it up on DVD, or via, er, other means.

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5 thoughts on “The five most underrated American comedies currently on British TV

    • Me too. He’s one of the most original comedians around right now. He tries to push forward comedy as an art form – if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. Thanks for reading.

  1. Haven’t seen all of these shows, but the ones I have seen are excellent. Seasons 2 and 3 of Parks And Recreation are superb, with the shows biggest strength being its long list of exceptional characters.

    Bob’s Burgers also deserves a bigger audience, although I personally wouldn’t rate it quite as highly as Family Guy and American Dad.

    Breaking Bad is probably my favourite show of all-time so I have to agree that it’s baffling that it hasn’t been shown in the UK.

    • Season one of Breaking Bad was shown on Five US, I believe. I think that’s why it’s having such a hard time getting picked up in the UK; because a new broadcaster would need to pay for and then re-air season one before the rest. Just a guess though. Thanks for the comment.

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