Last week a mate in the pub brashly stated that there haven't been any decent sitcoms on TV in the last decade. I immediately responded that I couldn't believe this decade is very nearly over and I haven't even decided what to call it.
Not the watertight defence you might think but it's really bugged me; I've never been happy with 'noughties' but have failed to come up with a decent alternative. And now, it's too late.
As this is my final blog of the year - and indeed the decade – this entry in the ship's log is my response to that argument. There have been some truly wonderful comedies to have emerged this decade, so here's my list of the very best. The criteria are simple: even if a show was still going in the last ten years, if it started in the 90s it's out. So no Family Guy, no Spaced, no I'm Alan Partridge. So, what have we got?
10. Garth Marenghi's Darkplace (2004)
Another casualty of the fickle hand of fate, this wonderful show only ran for one series and is probably the definitive cult comedy of the decade. If you've caught it, it's unlike anything you'll have seen before. It's about a fictional 80s sci fi/horror show and that show's creator, the eponymous Stephen King-esque writer, played by Matthew Holness, who really should be on TV much more than he is. The attention to detail is excellent, picking apart all those dreadful TV dramas I grew up with and there really hasn't been a British comedy this inventive for a very long time.
9. 30 Rock (2006 - )
A prime example of how good US comedies can be when firing on all cylinders. Set backstage at a Saturday Night Live style comedy show, 30 Rock gave us a new queen of comedy in the form of former SNL writer Tina Fey and has more jokes in it than you could possibly keep up with, so it demands repeat viewings. And who knew that faded film star Alec Baldwin would be such a comedy genius as cynical TV exec Jack Donaghy. He makes this show and you should watch it just for him.
8. Psychoville (2009 - )
Only just creeping in with its debut this year, the grotty bastard love child rising from the ashes of The League Of Gentlemen was a strong antidote to the decidedly average comedies being made recently, mentioning-no-names-Gavin-and-Stacey. Not only did it retain all the ghoulish charm of its parent show with all-new characters, it's got killer lines and managed to cram in a clever whodunnit plot that made it compelling viewing. And, from the cliff hanger ending, I'm guessing this is only the beginning and I can't wait.
7. Green Wing (2004 – 2007)
OK, so some may say that this is not really a sitcom – it's an hour long, it throws a little drama in with the comedy but it is very much set in a specific situation and it's one of the more unique comedies this country's ever produced. Cleverly mixing the utterly bizarre with the mundane, this hospital show was an excellent marriage of actors with roles (props to the always brilliant Mark Heap from Spaced and Big Train as the borderline insane Alan Statham), with a whole load of surreal flights of fantasy thrown in for good measure. If you missed it first time around, seek it out.
6. Black Books (2000 – 2004)
When Father Ted came to an end I was distraught. Writer Graham Linehan had proved, along with Arthur Matthews, to be a truly unique comedy voice and so when the former joined forces with exceptional stand-up comedian Dylan Moran to create this wonderful piece of surreal whimsy set in a London Book shop I just knew we were in for a treat. Like Father Ted, it's both inventive and hilarious, and uses its three cast members to full effect. I still miss it, but am glad it bowed out before running out of steam.
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 - )
If I had my way, I'd put Seinfeld in every list ever compiled about things that are good, because I think it's the greatest comedy ever made. The show ended as the 90s came to a close, but fortunately the spirit lives on in its co-creator Larry David and this, his world of social minefields and inappropriate behaviour. Curb pushes the boundaries like no other comedy and, while it's not been consistently brilliant, the latest series has been some of the best comedy I've seen in years.
4. The Office (UK: 2001 -2003; US: 2005 - )
Naysayers be damned, Gervais and Merchant's sitcom is an excellent show and David Brent is up there with Basil Fawlty and Blackadder as an iconic comedy character. Not only that, but they even managed to top it with the US version. Think of it as the Godfather Part Two in relation to The Godfather, except without the prolonged stint in Cuba. I'm sure those two Brits knew they couldn't sustain The Office over here so they sold it to the US TV industry, which ploughed much more money into it, maintained quality control and let it flourish. With more main characters, well developed stories and a sublime performance by Steve Carell as Michael Scott, the American version is also a thing of genius.
3. The Thick Of It (2005 - )
Flying the flag for British comedy you know you can rely on is writer/producer Armando Iannucci. The man gave us The Day Today and Alan Partridge and now he's given us another iconic character with Peter Capaldi's master of spin, the terrifying Malcolm Tucker. The great thing about this scimitar-sharp political satire is that, like Yes, Minister before it, you don't have to know about politics to appreciate it. It's just a marvel that it not only survived the whole Chris Langham unpleasantness but also went on to greater heights. Now in its third series and with a movie spin off, it just gets better and better.
2. Peep Show (2003 - )
Thank you comedy gods for giving us Peep Show, because it bequeathed us Mark Corrigan. David Mitchell and Robert Webb are perfectly cast as two chumps trying to survive the increasingly baffling big wide world but, for me, it's the uptight Corrigan who stands out. He's a mess of middle class guilt, awkwardness and righteous indignation, played (I imagine without much difficulty) brilliantly by Mitchell, this generation's Stephen Fry. The one-liners and plots are so wonderfully inventive that it has become a truly reliable show for top quality comedy and, while some say it's gone off the boil in later series, it's still one of the best British comedies being made.
1. Arrested Development (2003 - 2006)
Forget the death of Michael Jackson, the cancellation of this comedy is the biggest tragedy of the decade. It's simply one of the funniest comedies of all time. Focusing on the dysfunctional Bluth family and lasting only three series, Arrested Development frankly put us Brits to shame when it came to creating fast-paced comedy with more twists and turns than, to quote Lord Melchitt, "a twisty turny thing." With a huge array of brilliantly realised characters, everyone has their favourite. Mine is definitely David Cross as neurotic Tobias. If you haven't seen it, you should be ashamed of yourself.