At first glance, this feels like the sitcom version of Black Mirror, minus the science fiction, and with an addition or horror elements (or, less frequently, thriller elements). But that’s not quite accurate, it’s just hard to compare it to much other contemporary TV. So, I guess, think of it as a comedic version of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits without the moralizing. These guys just want to tell stories; they just want to entertain you.
This might seem like hyperbole but it does feel like to me that this is the best show that people (in North America) aren’t watching. (It’s a big deal in the UK.)
It’s been a while since I was so captivated by a show. Not every episode is on the same level – and that becomes more and more true the longer the show runs – but the freshness of the endless variations of “something funny and spooky happening in a particular location” doesn’t seem to run out. Watching this show has made me want to seek out their earlier shows, which I’ve never heard of. (Just like I had never heard of this.)
I forgot how great episodic TV can be, not just in terms of the individual quality of the 10 or so best episodes of this show but because there’s no commitment. These self-contained stories make it an extremely easy show to pick up and put down whenever you want. That’s not how I watched it, mostly, but it makes it the kind of thing you can fall back on whenever some serial TV program (which has come to dominate TV) is letting you down.
I’ve put brief comments below about every episode I’ve watched so far. When I published this they had only made their season 8 Christmas special and had yet to “air” the rest of the season. Rest assured, I will keep going with this as soon as I know the new episodes are out.
A hilarious opening episode, which gets extremely dark at the very end.
“A Quiet Night In”
This is a nearly silent heist farce which is quite enjoyable.
“Tom and Gerri”
This is a wild one – preying on fears of homeless people and then flipping the script.
A pretty funny farce with a dead popstar.
A super meta episode about understudies for Macbeth. Really enjoyable.
This is a weird one, a sort of mock haunted house. The least funny episode of the series so far. Apparently they used to make horror TV shows so, it fits with that.
This is a gross-out episode with a fun twist.
“The 12 Days of Christine”
A Christmas episode which is a little more ambitious than some of them but also I’m not sure it’s quite in line with the tone of the show.
“The Trial of Elizabeth George”
This is a pretty fun one that parodies The Inquisition. The usual twist ending isn’t my favourite, just for what it implies, but it’s still enjoyable.
One of their best episodes, I think. Especially given how it uses its Call Centre situation.
This has a lot of laughs. I don’t love the ending but the rest of it is extremely funny.
Not one of their best.
“The Devil of Christmas”
This is a fun one, with a couple of layers.
This one is more cringe comedy than they normally do, but is pretty effective. I don’t quite get the final twist but mostly enjoyed it. Still not among their best.
“The Riddle of the Sphinx”
This one is a little wild and unhinged and feels a little bit like self parody but is also kind of fun.
Not among their best. Not super funny though full of plenty of intrigue.
“Diddle Diddle Dumpling”
This is a dark one, and a little weird for them given how few laughs there are. Role reversal in terms of who is normally crazy in this situation, though.
This is a fun one even if the reveal doesn’t make a lot of sense.
This is amazing. One of the best of the entire show. The kind of thing that makes me think this show is extremely underrated.
“Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room”
This one feels fairly personal, though I don’t know that it is. A little off beat from what they normally do.
This one doesn’t make a ton of sense if you think about it too much but it’s pretty fun.
“To Have and to Hold”
This one feels like it’s going to be a serious drama and then takes a really dark turn. Cool, even if it doesn’t make a ton of sense.
“And the Winner Is…”
This one is very, very silly.
This is one of those episodes that is really close to self-parody. It’s a bit ridiculous and definitely the weakest of
season series 4.
“Dead Line” [Halloween Special]
This is their most unique episode and arguably their most ambitious. (Certainly their most meta.) I’m not entirely sure it works but also, don’t be tempted to figure out what’s going on too early. My fault for not giving them their due and I had some things spoiled.
“The Referee’s a Wanker”
I had a few weeks off from this show for various reasons and the first episode from the fifth season is a great reintroduction to this great show. The Reservoir Dogs of English football controversy TV episodes.
“Death Be Not Proud”
Not my favourite. It’s mildly funny but does sort of feel like they’ve done something like this.
“Love’s Great Adventure”
This one hits a little too close to home, I think. Very serious but it’s a Christmas episode and their Christmas episodes are more serious.
This is one of their classic episodes, everything that’s good about the show in one episode…well, except the humour. It’s not the funniest, but it’s great.
“Thinking Out Loud”
This one is a bit of a mess. It’s definitely one of their weakest episodes as I think the concept is a little too high for the quality of the story (which is not very good).
This is one of those episodes of theirs which works mostly as a story, but where the twist feels…not necessarily unearned but unnecessary. I mostly like the episode as a whole but the twist, which is their gimmick, feels gimmicky.
This is a super meta episode and another episode inspired by Reservoir Dogs (or whatever movie it took its conceit from). The extreme meta-ness wears as the episode goes on but, initially, it’s quite fun, especially the combination of the two super unrelated dramatical forms. Some of the gags are quite dumb, but funny dumb, if you know what I mean (including some absolutely terrible puns). Sometimes they can get too far away from lough-out-loud comedy and this episode is one of the funniest of the entire series, even if it’s a little too meta for its own good.
I guess they’ve gotten a little fan fiction over the years. It feels like a rather obvious conceit – I’m sure someone’s done the fan blackmail before (and honestly it’s not that far off Misery). But the twist is a welcome spin on the premise.
This is another one-room episode – something that seems to be coming more and more common as the series goes on. But perhaps a few too many twists in this one – it’s fun (and very ’70s conspiracy theory) but a little silly given how well done it is until the double twist.
“Hurry Up and Wait”
Hey, they shot something outside! Feels like it’s been a season since they did that.
This one is fun, given all the stuff about being a bit player, but the final twist is really dumb.
“Who Do You Plead?”
Fewer laughs than some but also a fun play on the idea of “selling your soul” for success and a twist that doesn’t rankle, so an improvement on the previous episode.
“Last Night of the Proms”
This is a funny one. I’m not sure what it means, but it’s riotous.
One of their more ambiguous twists, in the sense that we don’t know how many of them are in the situation. But it has its charms.
Primary School Wicker Man. Not my favourite episode.
“Nine Lives Kat”
This is extremely meta and not super effective. The lead (guest) actor is quite good but the episode itself is one of the weaker of the entire show.
Multiple locations! Split screens! The this episode is among the most stylistically distinct of the entire series, at least in terms of the way it is filmed.
It’s good to have such a great episode immediately after one of the weakest. Not that I was losing faith, but season (sorry, “series”) 7 was feeling like perhaps the weakest of the show so far. But this episode is on the shortlist of the best of the show.
“A Random Act of Kindness”
This is a really weird one. I’m not sure how I feel about it but it’s definitely distinct compared to basically the entire rest of the show. It’s certainly interesting.
The animation is a new touch. This is one of the episodes which is closer to straight horror than it is horror comedy. It’s one of the more unsettling episodes in the history of the show. It’s probably the most unsettling, actually.
“The Bones of St. Nicholas”
Less serious than their usual Christmas fare, this one introduced me to “champing.” It’s very workmanlike but effective.