There have been several high profile surveys in the last decade, determining the best sitcom ever made (of course what they mean is "in the English-speaking world"). Seinfeld is mentioned, as is Fawlty Towers, but, as far as I am concerned, the two greatest to date are The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and Agony.
These were shows so in tune with the times, so forward thinking that they stunned viewers, and are probably still more shocking/surprising than most of what is on television (yes, even Sarah Silverman, The Family Guy, and the latest celebrated HBO or AMC series). A simple run-through of Agony's plots, plot twists or gags would prove this.
Most significantly, Agony featured a gay couple as regular characters, and showed them in bed together more than a few times. It also had the two declaring their love for each other. Compare this to Will & Grace, in which Will was never seen in the bedroom with a man to whom he was attracted. Even the Sarah Silverman Show skirts around the gay issue, choosing to have its resident gays behave like dorky frat boys who - we are invited to assume, depending on our comfort level - actually having sex at some time, somewhere...deep in the shadows. And here is the stunning fact: Agony is technically a 70's Britcom, having gone into production in 1979.
Agony's other plots/plot-twists/back-stories featured drug use, sex, birth control (including abortion), interracial relationships, pornography, censorship, swinging, etc, etc. It openly mocked government, the ruling classes, and religion, and the series only got more and more cutting as it evolves.
Even the production values of the series were remarkable. Val, Jane Lucas' secretary, was a New Romantic poster girl, appearing each time as a new glamorous space-aged persona. Diana, Jane's boss, was a Grande Dame fashionista who would make Anna Wintour look like a Gap employee with an inferiority complex. Vincent Fish, one of Jane's suitors, was a post-punk glamboy. The Lucas' apartment was decorated in a relaxed and slick way still found in lofts and city "pads". Andy Evol now seems to have been a template for many a 90's and noughties hipster-doofus.
Most importantly, Agony was funny, with the humor as slick and savvy as the clothes, sets and makeup. And Maureen Lipman, with her openness and earnestness, is primarily responsible for the shows success, though she also had a supporting cast there to back her up.
Agony still holds up today, and the only problem with a viewing, is that it is bound to make one dissatisfied with what is currently on television. Having a region 1 DVD set of this series is at the top of my Wish List. If only.
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