Sitcoms: It's beyond the cringe, and back to the bellylaugh

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Comedy is re-emerging from the dark side, as TV turns back to big-gag slapstick in front of studio audiences

The nights are drawing in, the global economy teeters, everyone's got a cold. No wonder we need a good old-fashioned laugh. And after a decade of dark comedic cruelty which began with The Office and took in Nighty Night, Human Remains, The Smoking Room and Psychoville, big gags are back.

Gone are the awkward silences and jokes without punchlines. Now commissioners from the BBC to Dave are bringing in a new era of sitcoms, including Miranda and Mrs Brown's Boys, that are filmed – as they used to be – in front of a live studio audience.

"Comedy is cyclical, and darker, crueller comedy isn't currently finding its place," Kristian Smith, a BBC comedy commissioner, told a Manchester conference, this week. "There does seem to be an appetite for proper laugh-out-loud comedy."

There is an argument that with the nation gripped by economic worries, what viewers want is escapism and nostalgia. The digital channel Dave has commissioned a full series of Red Dwarf, the intergalactic sitcom which ran for a decade until 1999 on BBC2. Steve North, the channel's head, said: "We are at a place at the moment where the more straightforward gag-filled comedy is more prevalent. Slapstick is coming back."

Last month the BBC commissioned Citizen Khan, about a self-appointed Muslim community leader, after a Salford showcase in which comedy writers pitched studio-based sitcoms.

Steve Bennet, who runs the Chortle comedy website, said: "Everyone is looking for the next Miranda. It's possibly more a demonstration of crowd psychology than economic cycles."

Henry Normal, managing director of Baby Cow productions which he set up with Steve Coogan, told the Cofilmic event in Manchester: "There was a style that started with People Like Us and The Royle Family that was a sort of post-punk movement, trying to get away from 'Ooh, the vicar's come round and my trousers have fallen down' approach. It tried to do something a little too different. Sometimes you'd take jokes out and say 'that's too comedy'.

"But it led to too many people trying to do conversations in rooms, and it became quite drab. At the moment it's the audience sitcom that's 'in'." Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who stage a comeback this week with their new show, Life's Too Short, chronicling the life of dwarf actor Warwick Davies, deny inventing the genre of the downbeat mockumentary with The Office. In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Gervais said: "We didn't invent the fake documentary – Spinal Tap did that. I suppose if The Office did have one thing that was different, it was that it was such a slave to realism."

One stalwart of low-key sitcom, The Royle Family, was due to return next month for a Christmas special. But its creators Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash failed to deliver the script on time and the BBC has pulled it.

The Office

The buttock-clenching portrayal of chilled showman David Brent, a manager at Wernham Hogg paper, spawned countless poor imitators.

Psychoville

This chillingly dark serial from The League of Gentlemen team was critically acclaimed, then canned this year after ratings halved to 660,000.

Nighty Night

A husband with cancer, a friend in a wheelchair, and an infatuation with a womanising doctor made Julia Davis's cult hit one of the darkest.

Absolutely Fabulous

It's 20 years since Patsy, Edina and Saffron first bickered on TV. Now they're back, and even less steady on their feet. Break out the Bolly, darling!

Miranda

A third series is planned, after she pulled in four million viewers with her one-liners, double-takes to camera ... and quite a lot of falling over.

Mrs Brown's Boys

Part panto, part foul-mouthed drag act, the Brown family's dysfunctionality has delighted viewers on both sides of the Irish Sea, much to the critics' dismay.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference