10 Terrific British Sketch Shows to Watch Right Now

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Most Americans relate sketch comedy to Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central, but sketch shows have been an staple of British television for years, even before Monty Python made their famous airwave debut in 1969. With seminal British comedian Tracey Ullman now stateside with a new sketch series on HBO — The Tracey Ullman Show — we’ve rounded up the best sketch-based shows from the U.K. that are currently available to stream or purchase on DVD. Some are a bit juvenile, some are more surrealist, but all are unequivocally funny in their unique ways.

That Mitchell and Webb Look

What’s the gist of it? David Mitchell and Robert Webb embraced the quintessentially goofy and standard sketch format with That Mitchell and Webb Look, which finds the duo in ever-changing roles with each episode. If you particularly fancy them, you might also enjoy their sitcom, Peep Show.
What are the essential sketches?
Numberwang, Nazis, Brain Surgeon
Where can I watch it?
Amazon DVD

A Bit of Fry and Laurie

What’s the gist of it? Before he took his famous turn as Dr. Gregory House, Hugh Laurie and his “m'colleague” Stephen Fry fronted this irreverent and intellectual series — with a surprisingly high amount of musical numbers! This one is equal parts Pythonesque and wholly original. Their comedy-drama series, Jeeves & Wooster, aired concurrently.
What are the essential sketches?
The Understanding Barman, Naked Bible Study
Where can I watch it?
Hulu, Seeso, Vudu

Little Britain

What’s the gist of it? The strange comedic minds of David Walliams and Matt Lucas combined forces for this character-based series that parodied modern-day Britain and the people who live there. Dozens of eccentric faces are featured throughout its run, so prepare for self-deprecation galore.
What are the essential sketches?
Andy Loves Hitler, Vicky Pollard, Fat Fighters
Where can I watch it?
Hulu, DirecTV, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu

The Catherine Tate Show

What’s the gist of it? You probably best know Catherine Tate from her role as Donna Noble on Doctor Who, but the comedienne (and her well-crafted supporting troupe) dominated the sketch scene in the mid-2000s with numerous original catchphrases and characters on this self-titled series.
What are the essential sketches?
Nan, Lauren Cooper, Posh People
Where can I watch it?
Amazon DVD

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

What’s the gist of it? What more can be said about the most seminal sketch series of all time? If you haven’t yet watched Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin’s subversive and pioneering comedy, you must do so immediately, even if you don’t think you’d enjoy the surrealist or animated elements.
What are the essential sketches?
Cheese Shop, The Parrot Sketch, Argument Clinic, The Lumberjack Song, Ministry of Silly Walks
Where can I watch it?
Seeso

Smack the Pony

What’s the gist of it? This female-fronted series uninhibitedly approached ordinary situations faced by women — workplace dilemmas and dating woes, for instance — with sketches that often take sharp turns into the surreal.
What are the essential sketches?
Call Centre, Cybersex, The Perfect Man
Where can I watch it?
Dailymotion

French and Saunders

What’s the gist of it? The cheeky duo of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders primarily used their long-running sketch show to satirize British life, as well as parody famous film and television programs. If you enjoy a well-executed spoof, you’ve come to the right place.
What are the essential sketches?
Next Top Model, Fellini, Fur
Where can I watch it?
Amazon DVD

The League of Gentlemen

What’s the gist of it? These gentlemen certainly know a thing or two about black comedy. Set in a fictional Northern England village, the series follows the dozens of eccentric, often outlandish townspeople and the darkly intertwining narratives that follow them. (Mark Gatiss, of Sherlock and Doctor Who fame, is in the troupe.)
What are the essential sketches?
We Didn’t Burn Him!, You’re My Wife Now!, Mr. Chinnery and the Bird of Prey
Where can I watch it?
Amazon DVD, YouTube

Horrible Histories

What’s the gist of it? This one’s for the kids! (But still very entertaining for adults, too.) Taking place all throughout grim times in Western history, each sketch highlights a particular moment from historical events that didn’t make it into the history books for one reason or another.
What are the essential sketches?
World War I, Historical Wife Swap
Where can I watch it?
Hulu

Big Train

What’s the gist of it? Before Simon Pegg and Mark Heap struck gold on Spaced, they starred in the dark sketch series Big Train, which followed the Pythonesque format of slowly turning a banal situation into something far more absurd or disturbing.
What are the essential sketches?
Join the Army, Working Class, Workplace Wanking
Where can I watch it?
Amazon DVD