Whether it be Spaced, I’m Alan Partridge’ The Office or even Fawlty Towers, all of us have watched, or are at least aware of, one of these short British comedies of about two seasons. And let’s be honest, it was probably one of the best pieces of British television you’ve ever watched, with that classic six episode a season formula, quirky and often cult-status humour, and unique characters. These sitcoms have always been praised and remembered for being short, concise, and highly re-watchable.
So this begs the question: Can comedies go on for too long, and does this make them lose the kind of magic that our favourite cult comedies have? Yes and no. While some might see a show like the US Office as a worse version of the British one, that has gone on for far too long, it has absolutely won in terms of popularity and, according to IMDB, is actually better by a small percentage.
“These sitcoms have always been praised and remembered for being short, concise, and highly re-watchable.”
Then, of course, there’s the well-known notion that a comedy is running out of ideas. I pretty much agree that this can happen with some longer sitcoms, if we take the myriad of newer Simpsons episodes as a reference, wherein the openings themselves can sometimes even set the tone for the entire episode. Just take the episode that opens with Ke$ha’s Tik Tok, for example. Without even parodying the song or doing anything witty whatsoever, the characters just sing along. But, with this in mind, comedies like Peep Show, which seem to go on for a relatively long period of time, seem to be completely justified in taking so long to finish. I want more, damn it!
I think I can best express this conundrum like this: not all longer running comedy shows lose their magic after a while, but shorter shows never lose their magic. If a comedy is short but has also lost its magic then it was probably bad from the beginning. A good example of this might be a comparison between Little Britain and Come Fly With Me by the well known David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Both shows demonstrate similar qualities in terms of comedy, in the unexpected and stereotypical characters but, in my opinion, Little Britain became too reliant on the catchphrases of Vicky Pollard and casual racism. Come Fly With Me, instead, did enough with each stereotyped character that it stayed funny by the end of the first, and only, season.
One thing that we can never be certain of, though, is that a comedy show will stay magical for everyone. We can enjoy a sitcom, and it can keep its magic, even if it is generally seen as bad. Just think of all the cringey comedy of the 80s and 90s that would have been seen as pretty great back in the day, but are now extremely outdated and, in some cases, only finished running relatively recently.
Personally, and to reiterate, I think shorter sitcoms are more likely to retain their magic simply because another season is always a risk. At the risk of sounding somewhat patriotic, it’s why British sitcoms are generally so great. With so many less episodes a season, more humour can be squeezed into the shows.