Built For Speed: Top 5 Favourite TV comedies

On Built For Speed we enjoy a self-indulgent list so recently we listed our favourite TV comedies. Below are Nick’s top five.

1. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2000 – present)
Curb Your Enthusiasm depicts the semi-fictionalised daily life of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. Like all great comic characters Larry is utterly contemptible but also sympathetic. Despite having enormous wealth and success as well as a stunning and immensely tolerant wife, Larry just can’t stay out of trouble. Whether attending a funeral, playing golf or buying a pair of pants, Larry’s thoughtless bumbling and staggering capacity for social faux pas cause conflict, chaos and even death. The fact that David has made a completely selfish, neurotic, super-rich layabout such a funny and likeable character is a testament to his perverse comic genius.

In laying bare Larry’s mindset you can see the basis for much of what occurred in Seinfeld: the quirky karmic plotlines, the critique of annoying social trends and particularly the inspiration for George Costanza who was effectively Larry’s alter ego.  With its acidic observations about human behaviour, a progressive political agenda (environmental causes are a recurring theme), hookers, drugs, terminal disease and a level of obscenity rivalled only by The Sopranos Curb, however, is a much edgier show than Seinfeld.

Curb is also stylistically unusual as it takes the matter of fact tone of The Larry Sanders Show to a level of near documentary realism which makes the crazy things Larry does more painfully believable and funny.

The show was created when Larry David sought greater creative freedom for his comic writing and moved to HBO in 1999. Curb hit the ground running in the first episode and hasn’t faltered since. Through its eight seasons we’ve seen Larry sink Mel Brooks’ The Producers, steal from coffins, put Tivo repair ahead of his wife’ Cheryl’s life, re-unite and almost destroy Seinfeld and even start a punch-up in a nativity scene; here’s hoping the despicable Larry never learns his lesson.

2. FAWLTY TOWERS (1975 & 1979)
Pompous, neurotic, contemptuous and constantly on the verge of a breakdown, Basil Fawlty was one of the few real people on TV. Like Larry David, Basil Fawlty was a man whose rigid commitment to a set of crazed values put him at complete odds with the rest of humanity and left him constantly trying to worm his way out of disastrous situations.

Fawlty Towers worked brilliantly for many reasons but mainly (to my mind) because it combined the slapstick energy and fun of theatrical farce with scathing wit and a dead-on observation of a disillusioned person forced to bow down to others.

3. THE OFFICE (UK) (2001 – 2003)
Like Fawlty Towers, The Office showed the disastrous impact the workplace can have on the human soul and through the show’s patented cringe humour, revealed that this can also be hilariously funny. While the American version of The Office is one of the best things on TV at the moment, the UK original gets the nod for creating the concept and for its painfully raw view of people oppressed by office life.

With this series Ricky Gervais propelled himself into the world’s consciousness as one most formidable comic talents in years. His buffoon boss, David Brent, was (alongside Borat) the most recognisable and funny comic figure of the decade.

4. THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW (1992 -1998)
After the critically acclaimed and publicly ignored It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Shandling launched this scathing view of the backstage machinations of a fictitious talk show. Shandling played the smarmy, hilariously spineless host Larry Sanders while Jeffrey Tambour (Zach Galifianakis’ Dad in the Hangover movies) played his petty, paranoid sidekick Hank. There were few sit com moments as funny or poignant as watching Hank brashly demand star treatment only to wind up begging pathetically for crumbs from Larry’s table.

The show had its quirky aspects particularly in the form of slightly crazed producer Artie played by Rip Torn but it mostly worked because of its believable, unsensational depiction of the Hollywood underbelly. The show clearly inspired other comedies such as Extras and Curb Your Enthusiasm in its low key approach and by having celebrities parody themselves often as vain, contemptible tossers.

Seinfeld is one of the most successful shows in TV history mostly I think because it was original, clever and took risks. The show went out on a limb combining unusual elements of comedy such as the sitcom format with stand-up interludes. Seinfeld was also able to convincingly place perceptive observations about everyday annoyances and irritating personality types in a fun alternate universe. In this way the show could play the destructive screwball quirkiness of a character like Kramer against the neurosis and bitterness of a George Costanza. A large part of the show’s appeal was that the characters created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were selfish and manipulative like real people but also endearing.

David went on to create a similar but much more cutting and realistic style of comedy in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Just in case you were wondering, the ones that just missed out were:
THE SIMPSONS (1989 – present), THE OFFICE (US) (2005 – present), EXTRAS (2005 -2007), I’M ALAN PARTRIDGE (1997 – 2002), MODERN FAMILY (2009 – present), 30 ROCK (2006 – present) and MARRIED WITH CHILDREN (1987 -1997).

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