13 Brilliantly Cringeworthy British TV Comedies

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Last Updated on May 17, 2024 by Stefanie Hutson

If real life hasn't traumatised you enough and you find yourself with the overwhelming urge to feel embarrassed on someone else's behalf, cringe comedy is just the thing for you. Below, we take a look at some of the best cringe comedies British TV has to offer.

The Office (UK)

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The Office (UK)

We'll start with one of the best-known British cringe comedies, The Office. Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, it inspired an American adaptation that lasted for 9 seasons and 201 episodes, becoming one of the country's most popular sitcoms of all time. Of course, we still prefer the original British version.

This mockumentary-style show is set in the bland offices of the Slough-based Wernham Hogg paper company, and it revolves around David Brent, a delusional and socially inept regional manager whose attempts at humor and motivational speaking often result in excruciating embarrassment for both himself and his staff. What makes The Office a standout in cringe comedy is not just Brent's clumsy antics, but the painfully awkward interactions and relatable co-worker dynamics that unfold under the dull fluorescence of office lighting.

Last Spotted On: BritBox, Hulu, Peacock

The Worst Week of My Life

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The Worst Week of My Life

Actor Stephen Fry has spoken out in the past about the difference between British and American comedy, saying, “The American comic hero is a wisecracker who is above his material, and who is above the idiots around him.”

Of the British, he says, “We want to play the failure. All the great British comic heroes are people who want life to be better and on whom life craps from a terrible height, and whose sense of dignity is constantly compromised by the world letting them down.”

The Worst Week of My Life is one of the best illustrations of that idea, with each series following publishing executive Howard Steel through an important week of his life. Along the way, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. In the first season, we follow him in the week leading up to his wedding, the second season takes place during the week ahead of the birth of his first child with wife Mel, and the final season is a three-part Christmas special called The Worst Christmas of My Life

Ben Miller (Death in Paradise) is brilliant in the role of Howard, while Sarah Alexander (Coupling) plays Mel, Alison Steadman (Gavin & Stacey) plays Mel's mum, and Geoffrey Whitehead (Still Open All Hours) plays Mel's dad. 

Last Spotted On: DVD (previously appeared on Acorn TV, but as of 2024 it's no longer available)

Trollied

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Trollied

Set in the fictional supermarket Valco in Warrington, Trollied offers a glimpse into the daily workings of a retail environment where everyone is slightly insane. The series thrives on the cringe-worthy interactions between employees, particularly scenes involving manager Gavin Strong and deputy manager Julie Cook. 

Last Spotted On: Pluto TV

Hapless

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Hapless

Described by some as the “British Seinfeld”, this fun comedy follows the misadventures and mishaps of a British freelance journalist who works for the “fourth largest Jewish publication in the UK”. For context, the Jewish population of the UK was estimated at a little under 300k in 2021 – so you'd be right to guess that would be a very small publication.

Lead character Paul is petty, but also painfully relatable at times. He manages to offend when he's trying not to, and every situation is just a little bit more awkward for having him in it. On the cringe scale, this one is a 10 out of 10.

Last Spotted On: Peacock

Extras

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Extras

This sitcom follows the life of Andy Millman, an aspiring actor who finds himself perpetually stuck in the role of a background artist. His desperate attempts to attain fame and recognition often lead to humiliating encounters with real-life celebrities who appear in guest roles.

Last Spotted On: BritBox, Peacock

The IT Crowd

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The IT Crowd: Jen Barber (Katherine Parkinson), Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade), and Roy Trenneman (Chris O'Dowd).

Plunging deep into the basement of Reynholm Industries, The IT Crowd follows a tech support team composed of two socially inept geeks and their technologically clueless manager. Much of the show's comedy comes from the fact that Jen, Moss, and Roy are just not capable of fitting in with “the normals” who live and work in the world above. Something always goes wrong, and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Last Spotted On: BritBox, Pluto TV

Miranda

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Miranda

This brilliantly cringey sitcom follows Miranda Hart as she struggles more than most with the challenges of adulting. Her constant battles with social norms, her painfully awkward attempts at romance, and her penchant for breaking the fourth wall combine to create a delightfully uncomfortable (but also hilarious) viewing experience. Whether she's getting carted off by a rubbish lorry, accidentally shopping at a boutique for drag queens, or struggling to say words like “sex”, not a single episode passes without some kind of horrendous embarrassment.

Last Spotted On: BritBox

Friday Night Dinner

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Friday Night Dinner

Though this one's a bit hard to watch after Paul Ritter's untimely passing, it's another wonderful example of the talent British writers and actors have for cringe comedy. Each episode revolves around the antics of two brothers, Adam and Jonny, who return home each Friday night for dinner. Though they don't make dinner a religious affair, the family is Jewish and this is occasionally a source of awkward comedy (especially when neighbour Jim tries his hardest to fit in with their traditions). 

Every meal is a new kind of disaster – from dad Martin asking Adam about his “females” to Grandma Nellie showing off her bikini – but it's never boring.

Last Spotted On: DVD, some seasons available to rent on services like Amazon Prime Video

Peep Show

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Peep Show

This British comedy classic follows the dysfunctional lives of two distinctly flawed roommates, Mark Corrigan and Jeremy “Jez” Usbourne, whose misguided attempts to navigate adulthood lead them into all manner of awkward and embarrassing situations.

The show uses a first-person perspective complete with internal monologues, giving viewers an intimate and often painfully honest peek into the characters’ thoughts and motivations. Mark, a socially awkward and overly cautious credit manager, contrasts sharply with his roommate Jez, an irresponsible and deluded wannabe musician. This odd couple's dynamic fuels much of the show's cringe-worthy humor, as they pursue love, career success, and social status, often with hilariously disastrous results. 

Last Spotted On: Tubi, Roku Channel, Crackle, Freevee

Back

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Back

After you finish Peep Show, be sure to check out Back for more delightfully cringey Mitchell and Webb comedy.  In it, David Mitchell plays Stephen, a failed lawyer who returns to his hometown to take over his family’s pub after his father's death. Unfortunately, it's not long before his charming former foster brother Andrew shows up to make everything in his life a bit worse.

Andrew has a way of winning people over to his side, threatening Stephen’s place in the family. Everything just works for Andrew, while Stephen seems plagued by bad luck and misunderstandings. It masterfully crafts uncomfortable scenarios filled with bitter rivalries and awkward family dynamics, all while exploring themes of identity and belonging.

The only bad part? There's been no word about a third season. There was a two-year gap between seasons 1 and 2, and it's now been a little over 3 years since the second season ended with a cliffhanger. We'll keep our fingers crossed, but we won't hold our breath for more.

Last Spotted On: AMC+, Sundance Now

Keeping Up Appearances

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Keeping Up Appearances | BritBox

Keeping Up Appearances might not be the first show most people think of in connection to “cringe comedy”, but it definitely qualifies. This classic British sitcom is built around the escapades of Hyacinth Bucket (that's  Bouquet!), a perfectly ordinary woman who goes to great lengths to appear more refined than she really is. The cringe comes from Hyacinth's relentless and often failed attempts to climb the social ladder, much to the embarrassment of her long-suffering husband and neighbors. Her elaborate plans inevitably unravel, leading to hilariously uncomfortable situations that highlight the absurdity of social pretensions.

Last Spotted On: BritBox

The Outlaws

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The Outlaws

This one is the only dramedy on our list, and it occasionally veers much darker than the others – but the presence of Stephen Merchant guarantees the sort of awkwardness any cringe comedy fan can get behind. It follows seven disparate characters, each sentenced to serve community service in Bristol, as their lives intersect in unexpected and often humorous ways.

As they clean up a derelict community center together, their initial prejudices and misgivings give way to an unlikely camaraderie. The cringe factor arises from their awkward interactions and the clash of their vastly different backgrounds and personalities. 

Last Spotted On: Amazon Prime Video

The Brittas Empire

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The Brittas Empire

Set in the fictional Whitbury New Town Leisure Centre, “Brittas Empire” follows the misadventures of Gordon Brittas, the well-meaning but disastrously inept leisure centre manager whose good intentions often lead to chaos. The cringe comes from his obliviousness to the frustration he causes among his staff and patrons, as well as his uncanny ability to turn minor misunderstandings into full-blown disasters. 

Last Spotted On: BritBox

Need More British Cringe Comedy Ideas?

Certain actors seem drawn to cringeworthy comedy. Stephen Merchant and David Mitchell, for example, are particularly adept at making us feel uncomfortable on their behalf. Others to look for include Miranda Hart, Ben Miller, Sarah Hadland, Dominic Coleman, Rob Brydon, Jane Horrocks, and any comedy involving Jason Watkins (he's equally brilliant when it comes to drama, but you miss out on the cringe with those). 

 

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The Best Cringe Comedies of British TV

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