The Surprising New Place for Scottish Comedy is Netflix!

The cast of "Gary: Tank Commander" (Photo: BBC)
The cast of "Gary: Tank Commander" (Photo: BBC)

Or McNetflix, more like. Lately I’ve noticed a flurry of Scottish comedy programs have popped up on the streaming service’s listings and I have to say I’m thrilled. For one thing, I’ve tried to watch some of these series before, but without proper subtitles I was lost in a world of Scots dialects and unfamiliar slang. With the very helpful Netflix subtitles, I now know “pish” from “sannies” and “bam” from “ken.”

A word of warning, these shows don’t resemble Monarch of the Glen or Hamish Macbeth. In fact, I haven’t seen a bagpipe, castle or kilt yet. Most of these series take place in the gloomy, working class environs of Glasgow, not the picturesque lands of lochs and glens. Nevertheless, if you take the time to get used to their unique cadences and what The Guardian journalist Jenny Colgan described as, “the self-deprecating humor of the self-declared underdog”, you’ll be sure to find something you like from this list.

Burnistoun. This sketch comedy show gets its name from the fictional Glasgow suburb in which it’s set. The show’s writers, Iain Connell and Robert Florence, also play a majority of the town’s residents. Some are quirky like the Burnistoun Butcher, a serial killer who objects to his media coverage or Paul and Walter, the extremely dysfunctional brotherswho operate an ice cream van business together. Other sketches focus on ordinary town folk reacting to ridiculous or awkward circumstances like this one… 

There are only three series of Burnistoun, which aired from 2010-2012. Sample the first series that Netflix currently has on offer.

Empty. A kinder, gentler sitcom, Empty stars Gregor Fisher (he played Billy Mack’s manager in Love Actually) and Billy Boyd from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This series follow workmates Jacky and Tony as they clear out empty or damaged homes for a property management company in Glasgow. Despite the tedious nature of their work, the two men fill the time with guessing games, pop culture references and the occasional song and dance. 

Written by the same duo that would later bring us Burnistoun, Empty only lasted one series – not sure if it was by choice or cancellation. However if you like upbeat, easy-going comedy about friendship, you might want to give this one a look.

Gary: Tank Commander. This is the only show on this list not to be set in the Glasgow area. In it we meet Corporal Gary McLintoch (Greg McHugh) and his tank crew members who have returned home to Edinburgh after their deployment in the Middle East. Gary is quite self-involved with his appearance, food and his own life regardless of any horrors he’s seen on the battlefield. He is also more naïve than you would expect a soldier to be about women and swearing for example.

All in all, he seems quite happy with his life in the Army. This is evidenced by a number of video clips featuring Gary and his platoon mates pulling immature pranks on one another to pass the time while in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, each episode includes several talking head scenes wherein Gary discusses his philosophy about life and being a soldier.  

Greg McHugh, the actor who plays Gary, created and wrote all three series of this sitcom which is available in its entirety on Netflix.

Limmy’s Show. Written, directed and performed by Scottish internet celebrity Brian Limond, this sketch show is more surreal and darker than Burnistoun. As expected there are some recurring characters such as ex-junkie Jacqueline McCafferty, who attempts to get back to a normal life and soft-spoken Falconhoof, the host of a fantasy role-playing TV show who regularly encounters angry or unexpected callers while he’s on air.

Limmy also appears as himself with observational tidbits about modern society and life in general. 

Three series of Limmy’s Show were produced from 2010- 2012 and it earned two Scottish BAFTAs in that time. Currently, the first series can be viewed on Netflix.

Rab C. Nesbitt. Gregor Fisher reappears on our list in the title role of this classic Scottish series. Rab is an unforgettable character to be sure. He’s a hard drinking Glaswegian who expends a great deal of energy maintaining his unemployed lifestyle. He’s a family man who loves his wife, Mary Doll (Elaine C. Smith) even though they regularly bicker and she’s left him on more than one occasion. First and foremost though, Mr. Nesbitt is a philosopher who shares his opinions about the state of world and the human condition directly with his viewers. 

The first series of Rab C. Nesbitt debuted in 1990 and ran for eight consecutive years before taking a decade long hiatus. The sitcom returned for two more series in 2010-2011 and a 2014 holiday special. At this time, Netflix only has series 6-8 available.

Still Game. Life-long friends Jack Jarvis (Ford Kiernan) and Victor McDade (Greg Hemphill) are widowers, pensioners and neighbors who live in a fictional (and depressing) district of Glasgow called Craiglang. Spirited and fun-loving, these gentlemen endeavor to enjoy the freedom of their golden years.  Mostly this means frequenting their local pub and giving the landlord a hard time.

In spite of the fact that most of the actors in this series are actually decades younger than the characters they play, they do a commendable job addressing the issues of aging in society today. They tackle loneliness, abandonment, the slow but steady decline of the body and the inevitability of death. Still Game treats these topics with sensitivity but mainly with great humor. 

This Scottish BAFTA-winning sitcom produced six series from 2002-2007 - though there are whispers the show might be making a comeback soon. Netflix has the first five on its streaming menu at this time.