The week in comedy: When beating the January blues is as easy as pie


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The Independent Culture

Did you watch it? Statistically some of you must have done. I'm talking about Mrs Brown's Boys, which was the most watched programme on television on Christmas Day. Its festive special, "Buckin' Mammy", attracted 9.4 million viewers to BBC1; its New Year special, "Who's a Pretty Mammy", drew in 8.71 million, or 20.3 per cent, of the audience share. Last year, its Christmas Eve and Boxing Day specials were also the top rated of the day, with 11.68 million and 10.72 million viewers respectively. That's a lot of people who find a man in a dress grappling with a spinning Christmas tree funny.

Wherever you stand on Brendan O'Carroll's sitcom, its success is both undeniable and a bit of a curveball. Having started out as a ramshackle stage show, created to help O'Carroll pay off £2.2m in debts from a failed film and starring his family and friends, it has become that rarest and most lucrative of things, a comedy that appeals to all ages and works on TV, on DVD and in arenas. Many have tried to fathom the secret of its success – is it its simplicity, its traditionalism, or as O'Carroll puts it the fact that "it's just a man in a fucking dress"? – and as a new year begins many will try to emulate it.

January is prime time for TV comedy. Nobody wants to go out and everyone is feeling a bit blue. There is much to look forward to in the coming weeks. I can't wait for House of Fools, a surreal houseshare sitcom from Vic & Bob, co-starring Matt Berry, Dan Skinner and Daniel Simonsen, which begins on BBC2 this month. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a Golden Globe-nominated police comedy from the team behind Parks and Recreation and starring Andy Samberg, also starts this month on E4. Channel 4's homegrown cop comedy Babylon, written by Peep Show's Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, directed by Danny Boyle and starring James Nesbitt, Paterson Joseph and Jonny Sweet, follows not long after. Meanwhile, a third series of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has already kicked off on on, with Tina Fey, Louis C.K. and Jay Leno among those in the passenger seat.

Elsewhere, two spin-offs catch the eye. Catherine Tate reprises her foul-mouthed Nan for a full-length episode tomorrow night on BBC1 and the team behind the superlative Twenty Twelve, including Hugh Bonneville's ineffectual Ian Fletcher and Jessica Hynes' superlatively annoying PR Siobhan Sharpe, will reunite to streamline and redefine the BBC's core values in W1A on BBC2. Next month, two of the League of Gentlemen, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, will reunite for Inside No. 9, a comedy horror which takes place in six very different No. 9s, from a country house to a bedsit.

Looking further ahead, Channel 4 announced a raft of pilots just before Christmas, the juiciest of which looks to be Catastrophe written by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, who will also co-star as a pair of struggling lovers. Mr Sloane, a Sixties-set comedy starring Nick Frost with Olivia Colman and Peter Serafinowicz screens on Sky Atlantic in May.

There are countless family sitcoms in the works, too including Graham Linehan's The Walshes, a spin-off from the hand-held camera web series The Taste of Home. All About the McKenzies also makes the leap from YouTube to London Live later in the year; Fresh Meat's Charlotte Ritchie (aka Oregon) and Tom Stourton will co-star in BBC3's Siblings in spring; and Grey Mates, starring Alison Steadman, June Whitfield and Russ Abbot will set out its stall to be a Friends for the retired community. Finally, Mrs Brown's Boys will return for a fourth series in late 2014, after Mammy makes her debut on the big screen in Mrs Brown's Boys: D'Movie in June.

Bride of place for Him and Her

It was a bold choice to make an entire series out of one wedding day but Him and Her has always had gloriously restricted horizons. Becky and Steve simply swapped their cramped bedsit for an uncomfortable hotel reception for the fourth and final series and the result was brilliant, compelling and heartfelt comedy.

It screened too late in the year to make it on to the comedy award shortlists but if it doesn't win a handful of prizes in 2014, not least for Kerry Howard's magnificent Laura, I'll eat my fascinator.

What I watched this week

Tim Vine

On DVD. 'So I Said to This Bloke' is perfect family-and-turkey-sandwiches viewing. Countless brilliant one-liners and an epic "pen behind the ear" routine, too.

Still Open All Hours

On BBC1. The Boxing Day revival of this corner shop comedy made me nostalgic for Ronnie Barker in his heyday. Still, at least it wasn't another repeat.

Between Two Ferns

On Zach Galifianakis' offhand celebrity interviews are a gift that keeps on giving. In this festive episode, Samuel L Jackson is patronised, Tobey Maguire is ignored and Arcade Fire sing "The Little Drummer Boy".