Opinion: 2019 – The Year of the Sadcom

Opinion: 2019 – The Year of the Sadcom

A recent interview with comedian and Catastrophe co-writer Rob Delaney in the Guardian made me stop and think. He mentioned that he was writing a new pilot. He wouldn't say more except that "it’s funny, but is it a comedy? I don’t know if it is. But is there funny in it? Yeah."

It won't be the first genre-straddling programme like this to pop up on our screens. I don't know whether it's a reflection of the world, a reflection of certain peoples' states of mind, or something else entirely, but comedy seems to have moved into a new phase in 2019.

At the head of the sadcom table comes After Life, the series Ricky Gervais made for Netflix that has been showered with acclaim. Just because it is about someone trying to get over the death of a loved one doesn't mean it doesn't have to be miserable throughout. And it is funny in parts. But is it a sitcom? It seems to have touched a nerve in the way few sitcoms have. Gervais hmself has retweeted moving comments on social media from fans who have said how the series is so accurate in its portrayal of grief.

So much so Twitter's habit of oversharing. But a personal friend who lost someone close to them and would not touch social media with a bargepole has said to me that Gervais must surely have experienced a loss of a partner similar to the loss portrayed in After Life to have been able to portray it so accurately. As far as I know he hasn't (although he has lost both of his parents, which would certainly not have been easy), so he must be a bloody brilliant writer.

But After Life is not alone in grappling with something deeper. 2019 also saw BBC Three's Back To Life, which Daisy Haggard starred in and also wrote. Haggard played someone who had been convicted of a murder and was now trying to navigate their way back into the real world, which is not easy when people are talking about you behind your back, in front of you and daubing nasty comments on your front door.

Second runs of both After Life and Back To Life are coming in 2020. Somehow I don't think they are going to lighten up.

I'm not claiming to have coined the term sadcom. The Guardian used it back in 2016 to describe Flowers, the C4 series that tackled mental health issues and starred Will Sharpe, Olivia Colman and Julian Barratt. But it does seem to have become an increasingly common phenomenon.

But then television seems intent on blurring these boundaries at the moment. Is Fleabag a sitcom? I've reviewed it regularly here and obviously I'm a big fan, but, between you and me, I wouldn't call it a sitcom at all. Yet Ben Elton, who knows a thing or two about sitcoms, described it as one in his latest show when he was illustrating how smutty comedy had got since he wrote The Young Ones nearly forty years ago. 

One of my favourite shows this year, if not my absolutely favourite, is Succession (Sky Atlantic). I've not reviewed it on Beyond The Joke and on the surface the saga of a rich, powerful family at war with itself is not really a comedy. Or a sadcom. But there are more cracking lines in one episode of Succession than there have been in entire series on BBC One (no names, no pack drill). And it is created by Jesse Armstrong,  who previously co-created and co-wrote Peep Show with Sam Bain and worked on The Thick of It and Veep, so has a strong comedy background. It would still look odd to include Succession in a comedy chart of 2019. But who knows, maybe I'll do just that just to cheer myself up.

Picture: Netflix





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