For several decades now, situation comedies have formed a vital part of the world of television.
All over the world, in many countries, people of all ages and backgrounds will have a sitcom to which they relate and which never fails to make them laugh. It might be a specific character, or maybe a particular episode. In any case, we all have a sitcom which helps us to enjoy life that little bit more.
When a sitcom has achieved a considerable degree of success on the small screen, its creators (or other powerful people in the television and film industry) often deem it necessary to transfer it onto the bigger screen of the cinema, where the joy of the original series can spread further, to a broader range of people. Ever since sitcoms began, a film-style follow-up will have at least been considered, and will most likely have been pursued in some form.
An example includes a classic and much-beloved sitcom from days of old, Dad’s Army (1968-1977). Created by Jimmy Perry, the show ran for nine series and told the story of a team of Home Guard volunteers, led by the ineffectual Captain Mainwaring, who bumble their way through various efforts to resist the invading German forces during World War II.
Arthur Lowe starred as Mainwaring, with John Le Mesurier and Clive Dunn in supporting roles. Each of these actors, along with the rest of the cast, earned laugh upon laugh thanks to their comedic skills and the excellence of the scripts.
The series’ big-screen treatment came in the form of Dad’s Army (2016), intended as a tribute to the original sitcom. Directed by Oliver Parker and written by Hamish McColl, the film saw Toby Jones, Bill Nighy and Tom Courtenay in the roles originally played by Lowe, Le Mesurier and Dunn. Though criticised by some as not capturing the same magic as the original series, the film surely receives plaudits for its fondness and affection for the series from which it derives its inspiration.
A more recent, politically inclined sitcom is The Thick of It (2005-2012). The five series were created and directed by satirical heavyweight Armando Iannucci.
The show focusses on the working of British government, with a minister, played by the now disgraced Chris Langham, aided by the expletive-ridden spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, played expertly by Peter Capaldi, with a variety of often less-than-competent advisors in the wings, played by Chris Addison, Joanna Scanlan and Rebecca Front
Iannucci took the sitcom to a new level with the film In The Loop (2009), sustaining most of the cast of the original series, with additional appearances by Tom Hollander and James Gandolfini. The British approach to politics depicted in the series is blended with American politics in the film, particularly with regards to the upcoming invasion of Iraq. The satirical wit achieved by the series was, by and large, agreed to have been carried successfully into the film.
A sitcom which arguably appeals to a lower level of wit is Mrs Brown’s Boys (2011-present), a series created by, directed by, written by and starring Irish comedian Brendan O’Carroll, with his family and friends forming the supporting cast.
The show follows the escapades of the titular character, a foul-mouthed Irish housewife, and her family. Despite being derided by critics, fans have retained their devotion to the show since the beginning.
The success with audiences found by the show led to O’Carroll and company launching a movie based on the sitcom, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie (2014). The plot tells the story of how Mrs Brown’s market stall comes under threat from a business company, and the Brown family’s efforts to fight back.
In terms of audience reaction, the film has a similar standing to the series: the critics were quick to express their disdain, but that never held the public back from enjoying the film in their hordes. A mixed bag, by all accounts.
Another sitcom to have been transferred onto the big screen is Absolutely Fabulous (1992-2012). Over the five series and five specials that were broadcast, there were a variety of directors and writers. The principal cast, however, remained the same: Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders were at the helm, with Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield and Julia Sawalha in supporting roles.
The show has at its centre the drunken, debauched antics of the lead characters, Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon, portrayed by Lumley and Saunders, respectively.
These decadent activities also form the basis for the movie, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016), directed by Mandie Flanders and written by Saunders. The film is perhaps notable for its high cameo count, with small roles played by, among others, Kate Moss, Alesha Dixon, Bruno Tonioli and Dawn French, the former comedic sparring partner of Saunders.
Another comedic series to spawn a film is The League of Gentlemen (1999-2017). The show is set in the fictional Northern English village of Royston Vasey. It portrays the lives of the bizarre townsfolk, most of whom are played by Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, who also write the show along with Jeremy Dyson. Three series were made, along with specials in 2000 and 2017.
The film, The League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse (2005), was directed by Steve Bendelack. It is a self-referential tale of how the original series was made, with the original three actors appearing as themselves, along with Michael Sheen as Dyson. There is an unfortunately high death count along the way, hence the apocalypse referred to in the title.
Comedy, as they say, is a serious business. Most sitcoms, along with any films that go along with them, will hit the spot with some people, but not others. Comedy is such a multi-layered, multi-faceted phenomenon, which relies so heavily on the widely contrasting views of so many people, that it is impossible to find any single sitcom which appeals to everyone.
That is, perhaps, why it is a good thing that there are so many comedy shows- and films- to pick and choose from.
–Luke Mayo, Editor (Art)
(-Picture, Peter Trimming)