There was an interview with John Cleese who is pretty much my comedy idol who was once at a film festival I attended and I found out that he was staying in the hotel room next to me and I should have been watching the peephole so that when he emerged I could have opened my door and been like “JOHN CLEESE YOU’RE SO GREAT AND FAWLTY TOWERS IS THE BEST TV SHOW OF THE 20TH CENTURY THAT’S ALL BYE” but I never did and it’s my biggest regret.
What were we talking about? Right, there was an interview with John Cleese in which he explained why he only ever did two seasons of Fawlty Towers. He reckons, and I think he’s right, that people have a tendency to remember someone’s work for its peaks, and measure anything else that person does against said peaks. The first season of Fawlty Towers, at its best, is some of the best comedy that’s ever been on TV, but it has its ebbs and flows like almost anything. Cleese knew that for the second season of Fawlty Towers to be anything but a disappointment, it would have to match those high points, all the time, in every episode. Comedic perfection, sustained over six half hours. I think he got closer than any other sitcom I’ve ever seen.
Does any other TV farce even come close to Fawlty Towers? No, seriously, I’m asking. I’d love to watch it. There’s some great Frasier episodes and that’s all I can think of. Cleese and his ex-wife/co-star Connie Booth spent months and months labouring over these scripts, hired the most talented actors they could find, and had intensive rehearsals in the run-up to showtime. What were the results? Do I have any other forty year old sitcoms on this list?
It’s only six episodes, so, brief reviews.
“Communication Problems” – One of the all time greatest sitcom episodes, it’s constructed like clockwork.
“The Psychiatrists” – The only episode with a bit of a slow burn, but when it gets started, it’s a roller coaster of misunderstandings and gropings.
“Waldorf Salad” – Well ok, If I Had to Nitpick, “Waldorf Salad” is not quite at the level of the rest of the season. But again, I’m measuring it against some truly great episodes.
“The Kipper and the Corpse” – A guest dies in his hotel room, and black comedy ensues.
“The Anniversary” – I used to think this was the worst episode of the show, and now I understand why. It’s DREADFULLY uncomfortable to watch, but funny as any of the others. (Watch out for a young Una Stubbs.)
“Basil the Rat” – Some old fashioned non-stop farce closes things out perfectly.
Just watch Fawlty Towers if you haven’t already. Especially Season 1. But ESPECIALLY Season 2.
Honorable Mentions: Season 1, of course.