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Why Not Just Watch Miranda?

Miranda Hart in Miranda. Photo: BBC

Hello, friends. Imagine me greeting you through the screen, potentially with a cup of tea in hand, while sitting alone in my apartment. That’s both how I spend my days right now and, more important, how most episodes of Miranda start off. The exceedingly British TV comedy stars Miranda Hart as a confident yet inept single woman who runs her own joke shop and gets herself into all sorts of awkward jams because of her social ineptitude, libido, and general love of shenanigans. In the interest of time, you could close this tab, head over to Hulu, and start watching the show now, but if you need more convincing, I am here to provide.

In an appropriately goofy twist of circumstances, I discovered Miranda by trying out an episode of the new Mayim Bialik sitcom, Call Me Kat, on the Fox network. That show, I learned after some light Googling, is in fact a remake of Miranda, an attempt at another Office-like success, I guess. (Stath Lets Flats is also being Americanized. Hmmm.) But Call Me Kat is also, at least so far, not very fun. Bialik does her best to imitate Hart’s performance, but she adds a layer of moral righteousness to her character, who runs a cat café and often lectures the audience about how it’s okay to be a woman in her 30s. It is! But it’s an awfully tedious point for a show to belabor, and unfortunately, Call Me Kat doesn’t have a lot of other stuff going on to recommend it. I hope it improves as it goes, as sitcoms often can, and becomes its own thing.

But enough about that! While I was venting my confusion about Call Me Kat, a friend pointed out that I should just watch Miranda, and I am here to tell you that, yes, this is exactly the right choice. Miranda is currently streaming on Hulu in the U.S., and I have nearly finished watching every episode in the space of a week. In contrast to a lot of the highly processed comedy you’ll find on much of American network TV, what’s compelling about Miranda is its idiosyncrasies. Through the title character, Miranda Hart builds a person who is both shy and insufferable and who runs the joke shop less to prove a point than out of a spiteful defiance of having a real job. In the third season, for instance, Miranda quits a temp gig because nobody will laugh at a woman named Sue Perb. There’s an awful lot of physical comedy centered on Miranda’s height and weight, but for the most part, Hart remains in command of the jokes. She seems to delight in finding ways for Miranda to lose various pieces of clothing in public, but she gives the character enough of a sense of humor about her ineptitude to laugh at whatever happens to her. She also brings a real tenderness to the character that comes out especially in her simmering attraction to the chef Gary, played by a very game pre-Lucifer Tom Ellis.

The best humor in Miranda, however, comes from Hart’s love of wordplay, specifically words or phrases that just happen to sound funny. Miranda loves to repeat the word thrust ad nauseam, while her friend and co-worker Stevie (Sarah Hadland) is fond of referencing her “alluuure.” Miranda embarrassingly, as she tells the audience, went to a boarding school and thus has a number of posh friends, including Tilly (Sally Phillips), who has a fondness for coming up with silly nicknames for everything and often tells everyone to “bear with” as she ignores them and checks her phone. Finally, there’s Miranda’s mother (Patricia Hodge), a busybody who likes to announce that everything is “such fun!” and repeatedly says that things everyone refers to as [insert any adjective here] are “what I call [insert any adjective here].”

The scenes between Miranda and her mother are the best parts of the series, as the two of them push each other’s buttons with rhythmic precision. In a standout episode in the show’s second season, the pair end up having to see a therapist and quickly turn on each other, then turn on him, then back on each other with escalating games of wordplay that would be up there with those in any Jeeves and Wooster book.

Miranda is cut from a very specific, very white, very straight corner of the whole British pudding; its handling of race and sexuality isn’t great. But it knows and serves its very specific world well. Hart wrote all 20 of the episodes (yes, the show ran for six seasons, but there are only 20 — British TV!). Whatever happens on the series, there’s a certainty to her sensibility and a confidence in the proceedings. That may also be why it’s so unfit for a remake. Why watch anyone else try to, what I call “imitate,” Miranda, when one can simply watch the real thing?

Why Not Just Watch Miranda?