Post reshared from: https://mashable.com, If you’re a Succession-head wondering what to watch next after the HBO hit stops dropping its hours of delectable awfulness with the Season 3 finale Sunday, may I recommend Peep Show? The nine-season British sitcom is little known in the U.S. but regarded as one of the best of this century in the UK. Until Succession, Peep Show was what British showrunner Jesse Armstrong was most widely known for co-creating. It may focus on a council flat rather than the Elysian heights of the ultra-wealthy, but in its leads — ultra-serious Mark (David Mitchell) and everything’s-a-joke Jeremy (Robert Webb) — you will see the progenitors of Kendall and Roman with some Tom and Greg sprinkles. Every scene is shot from the POV of one of the characters, meaning they’re all effectively talking to you, looking you directly in the eye, occasionally kissing you. Peep Show unnerves even as it makes you laugh. It has Succession DNA shot right through it. Peep Show and the other major UK hit that Armstrong co-wrote, The Thick Of It, are the main reasons why I saw his Succession as a dark British sitcom from Season 1. One that hides behind a big budget, and an orchestral score to make everything sound soaring and tragic and fancy, but a dark British sitcom nonetheless. Belatedly, American critics are starting to catch on (“Is Succession the best sitcom on TV?” The New Yorker mused in November), but they aren’t even scratching the surface of the misanthropic British tradition. There is a whole subgenre of UK comedy shows that tell skewering truths about the world, but are also wearily cynical about the chances of anything ever getting better. U.S. sitcom leads are often content to be stuck in an unchanging situation, partly because they still think they’re living the American dream; their UK counterparts are trapped in Hell, which is of course other people. Dark British sitcoms are all No Exit with laughs.
Succession, which is written in a bare-bones office in London by Armstrong and a mostly British writers’ room, may count as the first of this subgenre to make it across the Atlantic unscathed. Traditionally when Britcoms move west, a lot of the cringeworthy darkness gets lost in translation. The UK version of The Office versus the sunnier U.S. Office is the prime example, but this sort of thing has been happening since the BBC’s Till Death Us Do Part (about obnoxious working-class racist Alf Garnett) transmuted into CBS’ All In The Family (about charming working-class racist Archie Bunker) in the 1970s. So often has the Britcom de-fanging happened that it became the subject of a sitcom in itself: Showtime’s Episodes, in which two UK writers are horrified to see their acerbic little comedy softened into American network mush with Matt LeBlanc. Even The Thick Of It, an incredibly sharp and uncomfortable satire set in the craven, conniving back rooms of Westminster, wasn’t immune to this trend. You might be aware that its creator Armando Iannucci also gave HBO Veep, and assume that since they’re both exquisite political comedies, they are effectively one and the same. Not so. Veep, shorn of that Armstrong bite, became an ensemble farce in which everyone’s fortune rises and falls. But The Thick of It centered on the immovable object that is spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). Tucker maintains backroom power by alternating creative insults and sweary threats with steely looks and quiet cajoling. Because people fear his bark and anticipate his demands, he almost never loses. He is a child-free, somewhat younger Logan Roy — and not just because both characters happen to be foul-mouthed Scotsmen. (Both, for example, get episodes in which they casually seek to pick their country’s next leader.)
Logan has plenty of other predecessors in British comedy. On one level, he’s the classic UK boss character (like the classic U.S. sitcom boss, but with an extra helping of class-based cluelessness). Even in the UK, people are starting to forget The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-79), but it had very Succession-like vibes (the title character is a manic fortysomething executive who feels driven to suicide by the meaninglessness of the corporate world). Not least of which was Reginald’s boss, CJ, a pinstriped cigar-chomping caricature whose power, whose very life, seemed immutable. CJ’s catchphrase was “I didn’t get where I am today without …”, followed by something that very likely did not play a role in his rise to the top. Succession doesn’t exactly go in for catchphrases — audiences are too sophisticated for that now — but this one would not sound out of place in the mouths of any Roy family member who was born on third base believing they’d hit a triple. But Logan isn’t just a boss — he is also, increasingly in Succession Season 3, the UK sitcom archetype of the dirty, decrepit, “piss-mad” old man. When I look at him, I see Father Jack, the mean white-haired priest in Father Ted whose main role was to suddenly wake from whisky-sodden slumber to shout “feck off!” I see Victor Meldrew, the ultimate British curmudgeon facing his declining years, in One Foot in the Grave. I also see Albert Steptoe, the scheming, leering rag-and-bone man played by Wilfrid Bramble in Steptoe and Son (you may also recognize him from a similar role as Paul’s trickster grandfather in the first Beatles flick, A Hard Day’s Night). The U.S. version, Sanford and Son, was more like an African-American All in the Family that softened its generational dynamic as the show went on. Meanwhile Steptoe continually, cruelly stomped on his son Harold’s every plan to escape their interdependent financial circumstances. Harold Steptoe (Harry Corbett) was so tragically naive, with such big sad eyes, that as a kid growing up in the UK I found the inevitable failures of his dreams near impossible to watch. Kendall Roy, anyone?
That’s the thing about British sitcoms: They seem to delight in power dynamics. Base characters snuff out the light in cringe-inducingly childish egos over and over. You can find Succession echoes even in something as zany as The Young Ones: anarchist student poet Rick is Kendall, shouty punk Vivian is somewhere on the Logan-Roman axis, hippy Neil is a long-haired ringer for cousin Greg. The suffocating family dynamic is at work in Only Fools and Horses, the most popular UK sitcom that never crossed the Atlantic: east London entrepreneur Derek “Del Boy” Trotter (David Jason) keeps his younger brother, elderly uncle and a variety of hangers-on hooked on his get-rich-quick schemes. Jason had previously played Granville, a grocer’s assistant stuck working for his grasping, penny-pinching Yorkshire uncle Albert Arkwright in Open All Hours. The depressing message of these shows stuck in the mind long after the laughter faded, and the message was this: Want to see God laugh? Make a plan to change your unhappy circumstances. When sitcoms like The Office and Peep Show and The Thick of It made the lack of laugh track the norm, that’s when the inherent darkness became more clear, but in a sense it was always there. Blame the weather, blame our literary skepticism, blame decades of rule by the minority Conservative party that gets an outsize advantage in the electoral system and keeps pulling wool over the eyes of working-class voters, but Brits like Jesse Armstrong have a hard time believing anyone can escape and make it on their own. There would be no UK equivalent of Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in the air in jubilation at her new gig. Indeed, the main innovation of Succession may be that it has put women front and center in the traditionally male preserve of that British-style comedy maelstrom. Shiv Roy (new Waystar president) and Gerri Kellman (its new CEO) are quietly at each others’ throats. Lady Caroline Collingwood (Dame Harriet Walter, herself a veteran of UK sitcoms) has become one of the show’s most cutting recurring characters. Roy enemy Sandi (daughter of Sandy) Furness, chief White House aide Michelle-Anne Vanderhoven, power lawyer Lisa Arthur, comedy news host Ziwe, crisis PR managers Berry and Comfry: they’ve all been smuggled into the story so effectively in Season 3 that you’d barely even notice this most unequal of shows just took a giant leap towards a kind of equality. And that, given the round-and-round-they-go nature of the dark British sitcom, is about as close as you’re going to get to significant, lasting change in the world of Waystar Royco. Source: Read More