Tuesday, October 02, 2018

My Top 10 Female BBC Sitcom Characters

With apologies to the great Olivia Colman, who's in a million shows but always plays it straight. Also, obviously Dawn French and Penelope Keith would be on this list had they not made the original list.

Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley, Absolutely Fabulous)
Violet Crosby (Frances de la Tour, Vicious)
Sybil Fawlty (Prunella Scales, Fawlty Towers)
Barbara Good (Felicity Kendal, The Good Life)
Nessa (Ruth Jones, Gavin and Stacey)

Pam Shipman (Allison Steadman, Gavin & Stacey)
Pretty sure every single thing she said during the show’s run was funny, to say nothing that of course she’s the exact type of character who traps herself into pretending to be a vegetarian for her daughter in-law’s family (during which everyone knows she’s bullshitting.) She also had a way of stretching one-syllable words into multi-syllabic words, and had a perfect mix of cluelessness and sexual openness. Her going head to head with James Corden’s Smithy should be put in a time capsule. Which, I guess, tv really is.

Alice Tinker (Emma Chambers, The Vicar of Dibley)
Of course I can’t write this without being reminded of the sudden death of Emma Cambers earlier this year. Played as Dawn French’s daft sidekick, Chambers brought a lot of heart to the show, and it was her character who drove the series’ most compelling moment: when David Horton told his son that if he married “that idiot” Tinker he’d be cut out of his will, and his son telling him to stick it. Simultaneously funny, endearing, naive and brilliant, all while making everyone watching her slightly concerned she’d be okay in the end.

Fran Fitzenjammer (Tamsin Greig, Black Books)
The most non-surreal character in a very much surreal show (it was, after all, created by the awesome Graham Linehan), Fran was both the glue as well as voice of reason against two ridiculous characters, the misanthropic Bernard and well-meaning space cadet Manny. The show was built for laughs, not heart, and she delivered every time, whether it be “Fran as desperate/hopeless when it comes to men” or “Fran as why the hell does she waste her time on these two losers?!??!” Full disclosure: I have a mad crush on Tamsin Greig, also the star of great shows such as Episodes and Friday Night Dinner. :)

Marlene Boyce (Sue Holderness, Only Fools and Horses/The Green Green Grass)
Of course we first got to know her as Boycie’s daft wife on Only Fools and Horses, but it’s in that show’s spin-off The Green Green Grass that gave her more screen time. After decades of watching their relationship being defined by three things (“All the lads knew Marlene”, Boycie’s probably-not-okay-in-today’s-more-PC-world insults to her, and her desperation to have a child, which she eventually does), here we get to see her lie back and be the one to mock her husband trying to adjust to being a gentleman farmer, all while wondering how the hell she should fill up the hours of her day. Sure she’s a fish out of water, but she finds a way to acclimate and even thrive despite constantly having to roll her eyes at her husband’s unrelenting pompousness.

Florence Johnson (Hilda Braid, Citizen Smith)
While smoothing the edges of her husband, an old-school hardass who hated the main character Wolfie Smith, she was hysterical for two reasons: her strange, raspy voice, and her thinking Wolfie’s name was “Foxy” (being John Sullivan’s first classic sitcom and antecedent to Only Fools and Horses, was this a precursor to Trigger calling Rodney “Dave”?) She had considerably less screen time than my other selections, but when she was on was an absolute delight.
(Sorry, there’s not a lot of Citizen Smith clips on YouTube)

Maggie Jacobs (Ashley Jensen, Extras)
Looking back over ten years later, I realize that Maggie was the heart and soul of Extras. Knowingly or unknowingly, she was always the moral compass for Andy, all while being funny without even meaning to. She absolutely makes the Christmas special, which is of course one of the greatest of all time. Just watching her try to live life makes each of us want to be a better person. As time goes by, her character somehow manages to loom larger and larger, which is no small feat for any character.

Denise Royle (Caroline Aherne, The Royle Family)
Denise Royle wasn’t born on third base and thinks she hit a triple, she was born nowhere near the diamond but thinks she somehow deserves to be on third base. Played by one of the creator/writers of the show, she turns selfish lack of self-awareness into an art form, complete with doing whatever it takes to make sure she doesn’t have to actually do any parenting after she becomes one. And yet as terrible a person as she was, she’s the only one who ever brought out a sense of humanity from her sorta-deadbeat dad. Her being in the muck while somehow breezing above it all is a pure delight to watch.

Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd)
No character was ever more necessary based on their fellow characters than Jen Barber, whose job was to make Roy and Moss somewhat…well, human. The fact that she bullshitted her way into the job is an insight to who she is and what she’ll do to secure a life that expends a little effort as possible. Another Graham Linehan masterpiece, Jen is a female outsider inside a male world, and just watching her even with the sound off makes you start laughing.

Miranda (Miranda Hart, Miranda)
Miranda (I’m only now discovering her character has no last name listed) was truly one of tv’s bravest characters. While it’s become common place for smoking hot women to act goofy/clumsy etc onscreen, Miranda’s does the same while being not particularly attractive, kinda balding, six feet tall and who know how many pounds. She’s much more real and vulnerable, instantly making her more likable than her somewhat-buffoonish character should be.

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