I made a startling discovery which regular readers who share my imdb obsession may find difficult to believe. It turns out three of my all time favorite British sitcoms were created by the same man. Who would have guessed? While Graham Linehan had absolutely nothing to do with my number one favorite British comedy Spaced, he did develop, write and direct the next three on the list. It just so happens I’ve been following his career without ever noticing.
You see when I was a young wipper snapper I was without the benefits and drawbacks of cable television. There were five main choices for television and more often than not my family and I chose PBS. Public television provided me with a sense of humor based on the likes of Red Green and Are You Being Served in addition to introducing me to Clive Owen in a police mini-series called Second Sight and providing countless educational shows. Towards the end of my high school days I began to catch episodes of this very peculiar show about three Irish Catholic priests trapped on a little island for disgracing the church in various ways. Father Ted‘s blatant irreverence was so far beyond anything I had seen before and they even said feck and arse during Saturday night prime time. I was captivated. Not to mention the whole thing was immensely funny. Unfortunately the show ended abruptly in 1998 when leading man Dermot Morgan died of a heart attack in February of that year.
Linehan went on to other things and I went off to college. Then about 10 years later I was flipping through Netflix recommendations and I came across a nerdy little show called The I.T. Crowd. Again we have three people cut off from society at large by an unpopular career. The show’s humor is of the wall but approachable by anyone and it’s peppered with tech humor. The big inside jokes are in the set pieces, whether it’s Rory’s T-shirts or the parade of oddities that fill their office. But unfortunately Linehan has said he’s pulling the plug after four seasons. He is trying to organize a big special episode or movie as a send off, but there will be no season five.
My final Linehan experience came when I was again browsing Netflix and came across Black Books. It’s the perfect recipe for my kind of comedy. Three bibliophilic social outcasts trying to run a bookstore and drink each other under the table with good red wine. The humor is a bit lofty at times and the characters are quirky to the max. I enjoyed Bill Bailey in Spaced but Black Books gave me a new appreciation for his talents. The show really gives him space to shine. Like many BBC 4 casts numerous connections can be drawn between the shows and even Dr. Who, but I won’t bore you with those here. Black Books too followed the trend of Linehan and ended after three seasons.
There is something to be said for ending a show before the writers run out of ideas and it all turns sour like the last three seasons of House or even Heroes, but on the other hand when you have a good thing going you should be able to attract talent to keep it fresh and entertaining. After all, Seinfeld’s final seasons featured some of my favorite episodes. I suppose the differences between Hollywood and the BBC are significant enough to hinder the replication of a similar process for The I.T. Crowd. I known Linehan has said the funding just wasn’t there to bring together a team of writers to keep the show going. It must be exceptionally frustrating to watch your genius wither on the vine. I know it’s painful from a consumer perspective. Still, I am more than happy to draw out the enjoyment that is to be had in these three shows. Now I just need to find out what Big Train is all about.
Of course Tophat flat-out refuses to watch any of these shows because they feature a laugh track. After years of watching sitcoms I’ve built up an immunity against laugh tracks myself and rarely notice them unless he points them out.