British humor is a very singular art form.
Impossible to replicate, even more difficult to get right, it’s best left to our cousins across the pond. Lucky for us, streaming has bridge that gap, introducing comedy fans from all over the world to what real sarcasm looks like. Mundane workplace comedies, bleak coming-of-age tales, a bunch of Simon Pegg and Ricky Gervais — this list has it all.
Here are the best British imports streaming right now.
The Office U.K.
2 seasons, 14 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
What can we say about this genre-defining workplace comedy that hasn’t been said before? Ricky Gervais’ mockumentary has influenced some of the greatest works on television and despite its many predecessors, it remains the best example of what a good, mundane comedy series can do. Gervais as clueless boss David Brent, whose desperate attempts at connecting with his underlings are a painful exercise in futility. Martin Freeman is also a stand-out, playing a role that John Krasinski inhabited in the American remake, but it’s the British sarcasm that really elevates this series and makes it worthy of a watch.
2 seasons, 12 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who also created the show) stars as “a young woman attempting to navigate modern life in London.” That description hardly does the series justice. It’s a hysterical, dirty, sexually devious and surprisingly thoughtful meditation on grief and loneliness that goes by so quickly (there are only six half-hour episodes in each season) that viewers will wish they savored it more before it ends. There’s a gut punch around every corner, but Fleabag always manages to lift itself out of its depths to make us laugh again. It’s truly one of the most distinctive, original comedies of the last several years, and if we’re lucky, Waller-Bridge will become one of the leading creative voices of her generation.
9 seasons, 54 episodes | IMDb: 8.6/10
Peep Show, besides being laugh-out-loud funny, is the kind of innovative comedy the British are known for. Using to-camera pans and inner monologues narrating real-time events, the show quite literally lets the audience peep in on its character’s lives. And they’re as cringe-worthy as you’d expect. David Mitchell plays Mark, a socially awkward loan manager bunking with his flatmate Jez (Robert Webb), a juvenile slacker with musical pipe dreams. The two don’t have much going for them, but that’s kind of the point. We’re meant to laugh at their failures, their lackluster love lives, their failed book club meetings, and maybe, take comfort in being able to say, “Hey, at least we’re not these guys.”
2 seasons, 14 episodes | IMDb: 8.6/10
We wouldn’t have British comedy gems like Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead if it weren’t for this series that’s full of realistically bleak humor. It brought together the creative team of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost, capturing a slice of Gen X life with characters working in dead-end jobs, stuck in stagnant relationships, and generally unfulfilled in life. Sound funny? It is.
The Thick of It
4 seasons, 24 episodes | IMDb: 8.7/10
There’s more to love about this British political satire than just Peter Capaldi’s epic meltdown which feels tailor-made for these quarantined times. The show – created by Veep genius Armando Iannucci – brings a lot of the same government-based humor as its American successor, but with a decidedly English spin. The series follows the daily happening of the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship, a kind of catch-all government branch with a bumbling minister (played by Chris Langham) that’s overseen by Capaldi’s strict, rule-following enforcer, Malcolm Tucker. If you liked Veep and Parks and Rec but thought, “Man, they need more British sarcasm in here,” this one’s for you.
Toast of London
3 seasons, 19 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
Matt Berry is comedy’s original renaissance man, an embarrassingly talented actor who can pull off some truly bizarre characters. He’s currently playing a centuries-old vampire on FX’s mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, but that doesn’t mean his past work on this sitcom should be overlooked. Here, he plays Steven Toast, a struggling, middle-aged actor whose fraught personal life is more dramatic than anything he’s in on stage. There’s enough Berry to go around people!
2 seasons, 16 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Following in the footsteps of Nick Kroll’s Big Mouth, this British teem comedy is committed to exploring all of the cringe-worthy, taboo topics associated with sex, just not in animated form. The series follows a mother-son duo navigating their way through those uncomfortable “talks.” Of course, the mother here happens to be a sex therapist named Dr. Jean Milburn (a terrific Gillian Anderson) and her son Otis (Asa Butterfield) is the kid enduring her overbearing tendencies at home while doling out sex advice of his own in an underground sex therapy ring amongst his friends. Sex is a comedy goldmine, and although the show loves to play up ’80s high-school tropes, there’s real nuance and thought that goes into how these teens are portrayed and their interactions with sex. Plus, Anderson’s comedic timing is spot-on.
The IT Crowd
5 seasons, 25 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Most of the best comedy series are able to extract ridiculously funny storylines from the most mundane premise. That’s probably why this show, from comedy great Graham Lineham, is such a cult favorite. The series champions the real heroes of office life, the I.T. department, with a tech trio played by Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, and Katherine Parkinson, constantly bickering with their incompetent bosses and each other. It’s a bit of mindless fun, but it’ll make you appreciate your own I.T. guy more from watching.
2 seasons, 13 episodes | IMDb: 8.3/10
How do you follow up a show as successful and culturally significant as The Office? If you’re Ricky Gervais, you do it by sticking to what you know. Extras is another tale sort-of based on the comedian’s life. In it, he plays Andy Millman, a background actor hoping to break big despite his lack of talent. He’s got a clueless agent (played by the always reliable Stephen Merchant) that makes his quest for fame that much harder, but laughing at Millman’s journey to B-level sitcom star is made more fun thanks to some ingenious celebrity cameos from icons willing to poke fun at themselves.
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
David Tennant and Michael Sheen star in this hellishly fun adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved work of fantasy. Tennant plays Crowley, a demon who’s spent the past 6,000 years living life as a kind of rockstar on Earth. Sheen plays his angelic counterpart, Aziraphale, a bumbling seraph who also calls Earth home and as a reluctant friendship with his immortal enemy. The two must band together to prevent the Anti-Christ – a kid in Oxford shire – from rising to power, destroying the world, and, most importantly, Crowley’s best of Queen mixtape.
3 seasons, 18 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Before Irish comedian, Dylan Moran worked with Simon Pegg on Shaun of the Dead he gave British audiences this little comedic gift, a multi-camera sitcom set in a disorganized London book shop. Moran plays the owner, Bernard Black, a crusty, middle-aged grouch who loves smoking, drinking, and reading almost as much as he hates people. He hires an earnest, happy-go-lucky fellow named Manny (Bill Bailey) to do his booking and most of the jokes come thanks to their adversarial relationship.
2 seasons, 12 episodes | IMDb: 8.4/10
It’s positively blasphemous how underappreciated this comedy series about a group of rowdy Catholic school girls living in Northern Ireland during the 90s. The girls get into all kinds of trouble — stealing lipstick from dead nuns, pranking hot priests, and holding holy statues hostage — to the backdrop of the Northern Ireland conflict. It’s funny and heartfelt and manages to weave the terror and trauma of living in a war-zone with the normal angst and adventures of teenagedom.
3 seasons, 22 episodes | IMDb: 8.1/ 10
There’s a reason why not many people have seen or even heard of this show, and it’s not just because of its original name. Lovesick isn’t groundbreaking as a dramedy, but it works because of its nonlinear storytelling and its realistic portrayal of that awkward grey area that can form between love and friendship. After Dylan learns that he has an STD, he’s forced to pass along the diagnosis to his past sexual relationships. Each episode is then a snippet of Dylan’s life along with those of his two best friends, Luke and Evie (played by Antonia Thomas, a recognizable face to Misfits fans). While chronicling Dylan’s sexual past, Lovesick really depicts the ever-changing feelings between Dylan and Evie. It’s a simple rom-com depicted in a refreshing way with an even blend of comedy, heart, and chlamydia.
4 seasons, 24 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
The British sitcom is essentially You’re the Worst if the couple at the center of it were 10 years older. Like the FX series, it’s another anti-romcom romcom, although this one involves pregnancy, children, and culture clash (he’s an American wanker, she’s an acerbic, potty-mouthed Irish school teacher). However, the constant bickering and sexual disagreements between Rob (Rob Delaney) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) are what makes Catastrophe so exhilarating. A more apt name for the series would be Amazon’s other series, Transparent, because the relationship between Sharon and Rob — warts and all — is the most open and honest in television, and maybe the funniest. The only downside to Catastrophe is that its seasons are each only six half-hour episodes long, and nine hours is not enough time to spend with these characters.
5 seasons, 37 episodes | IMDb: 8.3/10
There is a rough-around-the-edges quality that makes Misfits irresistible. A rotating team of adolescents gains supernatural powers while they’re fulfilling their criminal community service requirements, but the X-Men they are not. It’s not easy to categorize them as “the good guys” considering all of the people they accidentally kill, but they certainly mean well. Fans of Game of Thrones and Preacher will see some familiar faces, but the whole cast is aces. There are rumblings of an American remake, but hopefully, that will never come to fruition. There is something so decidedly British about Misfits, but not in the stuffy way that people assume. It’s gritty, it’s crass, and to water that down for stateside sensibilities would be a crime.
The End of the F***ing World
2 seasons, 16 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
British humor can be sophisticated or ridiculous, but there aren’t too many dark comedies on this list, which is what makes this Netflix original so interesting. Bleakly funny and heartbreakingly romantic, it follows Alex Lawther’s James, a pubescent self-described psychopath and his budding relationship with Alyssa (a terrific Jessica Barden) a runaway from a dysfunctional family. The two go on a kind of British Bonnie & Clyde crime spree that ends dramatically and, in season two, they’re forced to confront their feelings for each other and the futility of life. Really fun stuff, surprisingly.