Brits are often lauded for their unique sense of humour, especially on the small screen. You only need to watch an episode of The Office to understand the British approach to humour in every day life. Typically laden with heavy sarcasm, irony, and deadpan delivery, British comedy flourishes in a variety of situations like family life, friendships, and relationships, but especially in the confines of an office or organisation. On the whole, British workplace comedies thrive on delivering a well-needed dose of relatability. They reflect the nuances of our society and workforce, and defuse situations with a dollop of sarcasm and a pinch of self-deprecation.
When you get home from work, it's not uncommon to feel like you want to leave the office as far away from the sanctity of your home as possible. But the beauty of situational comedies is that when characters encounter a circumstance you have dealt with, it's often gratifying, amusing, and a downright relief to see them handle it with similar difficulty. It doesn't matter whether you work in a supermarket, an office, or a pet-themed cafe, the problems are often universal, and the laughs aplenty.
In recent years, more female-centric narratives have been making their way to the forefront of workplace comedies, such as Fleabag, which earned its creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge the 2017 BAFTA for Best Female Comedy Performance. You'll find that and eight more of the best British workplace comedies below, so go on and bask in comedic bliss.
If you’ve ever worked in a supermarket, Trollied represents the woes of interacting with customers, and some co-workers, undeniably well.
Set in the fictional four walls of Valco in Warrington, the realistic atmosphere makes for a heightened sense of relatability. The camaraderie and exasperation of Katie (Chanel Cresswell) and Lisa (Beverly Rudd) towards deputy store manager Julie (Jane Horrocks) is so real it hurts.
2. 'The Thick of It'
When watching Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It, it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction. The same goes for its U.S. counterpart, Veep, with Iannucci navigating politics for both countries with insanity, profanity, and utter brilliance.
Is it bad to hope that what fans see in The Thick of It actually goes on in the real British government? There’s got to be at least one politician like Peter Capaldi’s Malcom Tucker, who screams insults around government offices.
As Waller-Bridge, creator and star of Fleabag, enthused in an interview with New Statesman, "What’s so useful about the British culture of politeness is the level of passive aggression is really fun to write." That passive aggression is certainly rife throughout Waller-Bridge’s BBC sitcom, allowing her dark humour to thrive.
Focusing on the inner-workings of a guinea-pig themed café, Fleabag charms audiences with unlikeable characters and a very British kind of wit.
4. 'The Office'
The 2016 release of David Brent: Life on the Road saw Ricky Gervais back as David Brent, the hilarious star of The Office, as he tried to make it in the music industry. While the film was entertaining — and blessed us with the fantastic power ballad that is "Slough" — it wasn't a patch on the original series, which cemented the mockumentary-style sitcom as a worldwide export.
Set in the fictitious paper company Wernham Hogg, where themes of triviality and self-importance run rife in a dull, British office setting, The Office was hilarious, emotional, awkward, and romantic. It covered a lot of bases for a show based in an office in Slough. It's a series that is as intrinsically British — and crudely immature — as the original Office could only traverse the globe by being locally adapted, as was most notably done in the U.S.
5. 'Green Wing'
Set in the fictional NHS East Hampton Hospital, on first glance Green Wing could be seen as the UK’s answer to Scrubs. Creator Victoria Pile instead uses the hospital setting to maximise absurdity in sketch-like sequences where comedians such as Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan can thrive.
The lack of reliance on medical jargon, knowledge, and practice also allows Pile to feature meaningful life events for the characters, which adds to the value of Green Wing as a quality workplace comedy.
6. 'The IT Crowd'
The way the IT office is set up and run in the basement of the fictional Reynholm Industries building seems like a dream environment for culture, gaming, and computer lovers.
The office is managed by Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), who knows nothing about IT but keeps the two original staff members, Roy Trenneman (Chris O’Dowd) and Maurice Moss (Richard Ayode) in check. This makes for pure British hilarity, due to Jen's cluelessness surrounding Roy and Moss's strange work ethics and her inexperience with IT in general.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work as an extra? Well, Gervais' portrayal of aspiring actor Andy Millman will take you through the highs and lows of never quite making it to the lead role.
Written by Gervais and Stephen Merchant, every episode of Extras has at least one star from television or film — Patrick Stewart, David Bowie, Kate Winslet, and Daniel Radcliffe — with each celebrity playing themselves in an exaggerated fashion.
8. 'The Vicar of Dibley'
One of Britain’s most beloved sitcoms, The Vicar of Dibley follows female vicar Geraldine Granger (Dawn French) when she is assigned to the small town of Dibley, Oxfordshire, after the Church of England allowed the ordination of women in 1992.
The series began in 1994 and demonstrated the exasperation — and amusement — that running a church in a small village can entail. I especially love the famous committee meetings, which anyone working in an office environment can surely relate to.
9. 'Bad Education'
Equally showcasing what teachers and students go through at British secondary schools, Bad Education embraces the naivety, cluelessness, and insanity of adults and children that are put in one building for eight hours each day. If there were ever a need to show Americans what a British “high school” is really like, Bad Education would be the best example. That and the Educating series on Channel 4.
With more and more young writers making their way into television, it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of more British workplace situated comedies. After all, there are so many more industries to be immortalised on television. Personally, I think we need a mockumentary-style sitcom based in a shopping centre. Just imagine the calamity of that.