With so much streaming content clogging up our computers, it’s inevitable that some of the best shows have been buried over time – and under the behemoth of Netflix. But though it’s easy to settle down with another faceless sitcom, a little digging into back catalogues and down more oddball rabbit holes yields some incredible TV.
Kid’s can’t be allowed to have all the fun, and that’s why Idiots Assemble, the team behind CBBC’s acclaimed TV adaptation of Horrible Histories, decided to create something for grown-ups (in the loosest sense of the term). Their wonderfully silly fantasy series Yonderland takes us into the titular realm via Brummie housewife Debbie’s cupboard after it is prophesied that she is destined to save the land from a dark power. Using both puppets and a hell of a lot of costumes and makeup, the cast manage to craft a whole world of quirky and imaginative characters – including a council of elders featuring a blob and a man whose main contribution is a regular suggestion to “cast off our cumbersome robes”.
A Touch of Cloth
Comedy’s biggest cynic Charlie Brooker has cut and polished endless TV gems over the years, from Black Mirror to the just-aired Antiviral Wipe, the latest COVID-19 edition of his razor-sharp topical screen satires. But his keenly critical eye also gifted us with a criminally underappreciated police parody, A Touch of Cloth. The Detective spoof plays on every trope in the book, from the DI with the troubled past to the ridiculously overdramatised opening credits – and proves that when they are well-written, puns don’t have to be painful. It really is a wonder that this show has kept off the radar; even by the third viewing you’ll be uncovering new jokes and wondering at Brooker’s genius.
This show is essential for lovers of offbeat comedy. Set in the most surreal hospital you could imagine, the sitcom takes you on an absurd trip to A&E where you will meet a medley of mad characters including an insufferably obnoxious anaesthetist, a staff liaison officer with an insatiable sex drive and a skin-crawlingly creepy consultant radiologist – perfectly played by Mark Heap long before he bagged his role as Friday Night Dinner‘s resident weirdo, Jim. This is the show that springboarded both Tamsin Grieg and Stephen Mangan into the spotlight (and their collaboration on Episodes) and what’s more, Olivia Coleman makes a wonderful appearance pre-stardom as a mother who drops her child at the vet and her pet at school.
Flight of the Conchords
Kiwi folk-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords have been around for a while now, but despite acquiring an international fanbase (they recently completed a world tour), they remain something of a niche band. Their biggest foray into the mainstream, however, was a two-season sitcom featuring their eclectic discography. The pair do an admirable job of shoehorning their songs into a narrative that takes them on a terrifically underwhelming arc from sheep farming in New Zealand to holding signs in the US. It’s dry, it’s self-deprecating and it’s a sheer delight.
If you like this Kiwi brand of humour, you’ll love Wellington Paranormal. It’s created by one half of Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement, along with his friend Taika Waititi, who has risen to global stardom with his films Hunt For the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit. This series follows the inept Wellington police force as they investigate reports of strange otherworldy sitings, interviewing werewolves and spectres with straight-faced sincerity. It’s also worth checking out the equally eccentric Vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, a TV adaptation of the Waititi’s 2014 cult hit.