It’s the farcical comedy which leaves critics stony-faced. But now Mrs Brown’s Boys has been voted the best British sitcom of the 21st century, beating Ricky Gervais’s observational masterpiece, The Office.
Mrs Brown’s Boys, starring Brendan O’Carroll as the foul-mouthed Dublin widow, topped the Radio Times poll which asked readers to choose the funniest shows broadcast since 2000.
Described as “the worst comedy ever made” by one reviewer, the broad humour of O’Carroll’s creation, initially unveiled on a RTE Ireland radio series, has been labelled sexist and homophobic.
But the BBC1 show, which O’Carroll described as a reaction against the politically-correct “alternative comedy” revolution of the 80s, has become the most-watched programme on Christmas Day and even spawned a feature film.
The troupe of largely extended family members – O’Carroll’s wife Jennifer plays his fictional screen daughter – honed their characters through live stage performances, adding to the anarchic atmosphere of the television episodes, which often embrace mistakes.
O’Carroll said of the poll victory: “It vindicates the fans’ belief in the show. They have kept us on the air – it certainly wasn’t the reviewers.”
He added: “There is an audience out there that comedy forgot, that Are You Being Served? audience has been left behind. Us winning this award proves that.”
The show was rewarded with a Bafta in 2012 as critics began to accept its merits.
Radio Times readers voted from a shortlist of the 40 funniest shows broadcast since 2000, compiled by critics and experts from the British Film Institute.
When the 14,000 votes were counted, the unashamedly populist Mrs Brown’s Boys finished ahead of the understated charms of The Office, first broadcast in 2001 and widely regarded as the most influential comedy of the century.
Peter Kay has two entries in the top 20 with Car Share and his breakthrough Channel 4 sitcom Phoenix Nights
The poll suggested that the comedy audience has yet to fully embrace funny women. Miranda, the sitcom vehicle for the comedy actress Miranda Hart appears at number 8 ahead of Raised By Wolves, the loosely autobiographical Channel 4 family series written by Caitlin Moran and her sister Caroline.
But the poll is dominated by male performers and writers. Irish comedy writer Graham Linehan has three entries with Count Arthur Strong, The IT Crowd and Black Books all featuring.
Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It, The Inbetweeners and Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education are other sitcoms in the list which have been expanded into feature films.
James Corden’s hit BBC romantic comedy Gavin & Stacey, co-written with Ruth Jones, remains highly regarded and makes the top ten. ITV has a one entry with Benidorm.
Best British sitcom of the 21st century
Mrs Brown’s Boys
Peter Kay’s Car Share
Count Arthur Strong
The IT Crowd
The Thick of It
Gavin & Stacey
Raised by Wolves
Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights