6 TV ‘Comedies’ That Are Ridiculously Depressing


People generally expect a good laugh when tuning in to a TV comedy, and sitcoms are generally known as easy, lightweight viewings. This is actually a misconception, since more often than not TV comedy shows, especially British ones, are ridiculously depressing. Believe it or not, though, that is a very good thing.

Whether it’s a cartoon, a satire, or a sitcom, TV comedy is a fine medium for showing how ridiculous and painful life can be. Comedy films often do this as well, but TV comedies, with more time to develop the situations and usually a more intimate vibe, arguably do tragicomedy better. Although the general stereotype is that British comedy is downbeat while American comedy is more upbeat, that is actually an outdated view and US comedy is often just as depressing, to great effect.

Sad comedies are, on the whole, excellent but they aren’t always as easy to watch and if any viewers have problems with embarrassment comedy, these following shows aren’t for them. That being said, these shows can also be comforting. If you think your life sucks, these comedies should make you feel better; at least you’re better off than some of these characters…

Spoilers Ahead.

6. The Office


The Office is a fantastic and hilarious sitcom, but thinking about its core narrative of a bunch of nobodies working a boring job with their lives going nowhere, this is quite a sad show. This tragicomic vibe is perfectly symbolized by the lead character of David Brent (Ricky Gervais).

Was there ever a more tragic comedy character than Brent? A boss who believes he’s hilarious, kind and beloved when he’s actually annoying and despised by his employees, a man who dreams of being a rock-star but hasn’t got a chance; much of the comedy of The Office revolves around us laughing at his mistakes and self-delusion.

While insufferable, Brent isn’t an entirely bad person and is largely depicted as a tragic figure, so there’s plenty of sympathy for him. The other three leads – Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis) – don’t fare much better and also have lives that are going nowhere. Essentially, this is a comedy about people trapped in an endless cycle of meaningless mundanity, so The Office works as a sad commentary on daily life as well as a hilarious comedy.

In the end, Tim and Dawn finally get together and things seem to be looking up for Brent, but that’s more or less the only bit of relief the characters are allowed. Sadly, the recent David Brent movie showed things never really improved for Brent and this makes the show even sadder in hindsight.

5. The Inbetweeners


While The Inbetweeners was always consistently hysterical, it was also a very painful show to watch. This is partly due to the embarrassment comedy it constantly used and partly due to how relatable it was.

Will, Simon, Neil and, most of all, Jay are very tragic figures; they can’t get any romance, they have no-one but each other and they consistently make stupid mistakes and behave badly. Whether it’s their relentlessly unsuccessful attempts at love or their encounters with school bullies, they are always sad to watch but the thing which makes it worse is that they reflect reality.

Back in school, we all knew an awkward nerd like Will, a moron like Neil, a luckless romantic like Simon, or a hugely insecure person like Jay. Worse still, many viewers were probably themselves similar to the characters at that age.

While viewers won’t have ever punched a fish to death or literally shat themselves during an exam (well… hopefully not, anyway), it’s still a very believable depiction of just how awful being a teenager really is. The two feature films that continued the story showed that things didn’t particularly improve for the four of them later on, so the entire narrative of the show is pretty depressing from start to finish.

It’s a great series, but even amidst all the laughter it’ll bring about many painful memories.

4. South Park

Comedy Central

It’s frustrating that South Park still gets dismissed as a crude show full of toilet humor since, while it was more like that in the early seasons, the show is actually the most on-point satire on TV today. It comments heavily on the current world and ultimately makes for sobering viewing.

Unlike The Simpsons, South Park doesn’t usually do emotional episodes, although when they are done they’re brilliant. For example, season 15’s ‘You’re Getting Old’ is a heart-breaking look at growing up that moved many viewers to tears. Those episodes are exceptions though and for the most part the show is a straight-forward comedy. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still depressing though.

South Park is a sad reminder of just how messed up our world really is and while the situations depicted in the show are just fantasy, they feel shockingly relatable. South Park presents a stark and haunting look at issues such as religious corruption, corporate greed, America’s tolerance of violence, mob hysteria, racism, misogyny, war and pretty much every social issue and hypocrisy out there.

Since the show’s satire feels so believable and true, it is a sad reminder of the general folly of mankind and the stupidity of our world. It is a brilliant, brilliant show and one of the funniest things ever in any medium, but it is undeaniably depressing.

3. Peep Show

Channel 4

Britain truly are the masters of downbeat, depressing comedy and Peep Show, easily one of the best British TV shows of the 21st Century, is a typically tragicomic affair from the UK.

It’s depressing on two levels. Firstly, it’s one of the most cringe-worthy things you’ll ever watch and the embarrassment comedy is so painful it gives Ricky Gervais a run for his money. As Mark and Jeremy, the two leads, mess up conversations, ruin their relationships and, on one occasion, eat a dead dog right in front of its former owner, it’s incredibly uncomfortable viewing.

Secondly, the narrative is an insanely depressing one. Mark is a socially awkward, romantically unsuccessful man while Jeremy, his only friend, is a lazy failed musician whose life is going absolutely nowhere. Both are A-holes, particularly Jeremy, meaning they often destroy their friendships and relationships through their own incompetence and selfishness. The ending is one of the saddest TV show endings ever, with both men back to square one and sitting miserably in their flat once more.

They are characters with no real future or prospects in life. Every attempt to get ahead in life or find love is unsuccessful, meaning there’s plenty of sadness within the laughter. It’s a very realistic and grounded comedy as well, so much of the time when watching Mark and Jez viewers will be thinking: “What if that was me?”

That really is an idea terrifying enough to keep you up at night.

2. Arrested Development


Who said American comedy can’t be depressing too?

Arrested Development is a completely ingenious bit of comedy and is by far one of the funniest TV shows ever, but it’s a lot sadder than you remember. Once again, the characters are tragic figures but this lot arguably puts characters such as David Brent, Mark and Jeremy, and the Inbetweeners to shame.

The Bluth Family is one of the worst families imaginable. A bunch of spoiled, narcissistic, selfish and obnoxious rich people who treat each other like trash (and you thought your family was dysfunctional) and manipulate each other for their own gain, they are so pathetic you can’t help but feel sorry for them in spite of how awful they are.

Every single member of the family is an excellent comedy creation and the cast is uniformly great, so they are undeniably likeable despite all of this. Sadly they are another group of people whose attempts to get ahead in life misfires badly and who can’t seem to catch a break. One could argue they deserve it since they’re such terrible people, but some of them are far nicer than the others and all of them are easy to root for given how well they’re played and written, so watching every little thing fall apart for them is still a depressing experience.

This is a deeply sad look at a dysfunctional, broken rich family who lose everything; a satire of the American Dream perhaps?

1. Extras


And you thought The Office was depressing.

In this second Gervais and Merchant sitcom, a failed actor goes through life as an extra. He’s unhappy, he didn’t lose his virginity until he was 28 and all he’s got is a similarly luckless friend with no direction in life. As they go from set to set, all their attempts at love and success fail and everyone treats them like s**t until, finally, a stroke of luck.

The actor gets a very successful sitcom going at the BBC… but everyone hates it and he starts experiencing the unpleasant effects of fame. Eventually, both characters hit rock-bottom and abandon showbiz altogether. No, this is not a depressing social-realist drama, this is a sitcom.

Extras is occasionally hilarious but the comedy is also painfully cringe-worthy. It’s essentially an upsetting story about the price of fame and life’s miseries. For example, in series one episode four we witness a depressed Les Dennis having an emotional breakdown while performing in a pantomime and also see a young woman being mistreated, controlled and forced into a career of showbiz she doesn’t want by her unpleasant, inappropriate father. But this is supposed to be a comedy.

The season finale basically abandons any comic elements and the show finally turns into a miserable drama. The ending is presented as happy, but it isn’t really since both characters still have nothing.

Which other ‘comedies’ are actually really depressing? Share your thoughts down in the comments section.

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