Steve Coogan is one of my favorite comedic actors. As an American, I only first became aware of him in the great modern music history of Manchester film 24 Hour Party People. Luckily, I have a British friend who introduced me to the unctuous Alan Partridge, Coogan's most famous character. To honor my great love of this British legend-in-the-making, I will list five of the best television shows he has appeared in. Subscribe to BBC America or install a gatling-proxy and fire up uTorrent because you will want to check out the following Britcoms. 5. Coogan's Run Coogan's Run was a six-episode series set in the fictional brackish, backwater English town of Ottle. Ottle was populated with a cast of eccentrics and each episode focused on a different town denizen played by Coogan. Sometimes this show felt like a vehicle for Coogan to display his virtuoso ability to inhabit deeply flawed characters, rather than a coherent show in its own right. But the third episode, entitled A Handyman for All Seasons is one of the best single episodes every committed to television, displaying a tight plot arrangement, a quiet economy of elements, and a slyly referential nod to the early days of sitcoms. Filmed in black and white and set in 1960, it followed repairman Ernest Moss as he attempted to stop a massive land grab by an out of town real estate mogul. Reminiscent of The Andy Griffith Show at times, the episode has a classical feel, both in television terms and Greek drama terms. At the very least, it is worth a viewing for the hilarious final line, which makes me laugh even thinking about it. 4. Saxondale The jury is still out on the newest Coogan television show (that means I have only seen two episodes), but it is shaping up to be very much in the vein of Coogan's great characters: deluded, sympathetic nobodies with a tragic glimmer of self-awareness. The titular Saxondale is a ex-roadie still holding on his days as travelmate of the 70's golden gods, despite his advancing years and anger management issues. The writers, as they have in other Coogan shows, hint at disturbing or embarrassing facets of the character's life without ever fully revealing the joke, which makes the humor even more effective. I am fairly confident that this new show will pan out to be as rich as his others. [youtube]tnV2MJBB64c[/youtube] 3. Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge The advent of Coogan's greatest character began here, a chat show parody that was more about the protagonist Alan Partridge than the parodic elements. I should mention here that the real advent of Partridge was in radio and then The Day Today where he was a sport's reporter, but the character reaches his grand fruition in this show. Partridge is a true original character, filled with nuance and hovering somewhere between smugly annoying and oddly sympathetic. Most episodes would proceed from a perceived slight which would trigger Partridge's self-satisfied musings and ultimately end in an ever-widening circle of chaos. Like The Office, Alan Partridge has helped reify "cringe" as a replacement for irony, but without completely erasing the later. KMKYWAP, as it is often abbreviated, also provided the history for what would become Coogan's greatest show. [youtube]29SslXv_Ja8[/youtube] 2. The Day Today This one is a bit of a cheat, as Coogan only appeared in an ensemble as Alan Partridge, a sport's reporter for the local news, but I included it so as to give some kudos to this absurdly brilliant parody of the nightly news. The Day Today was born out of a radio show called On the Hour, which featured two writers and actors who are beyond many of the best shows on British TV, namely Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci. The show combined acute parody, both of structure and substance, as well as the sort of wordplay nonsense that seems to crop up in British humor much more than American. Partridge here was but a seed out of which the fully fleshed character later germinated. A typical segment would involve the incompetent reporting of the rapid degeneration of a ludicrous event. [youtube]5gHorOt6KKw[/youtube] 1. I'm Alan Partridge This was Coogan's greatest show and it ran for two seasons (or series as they say in the UK). It follows the life of Alan Partridge a couple years after his chat show was taken off the air. His marriage has fallen apart and he is living in a Travel Tavern, eking out a miserable existence as a Z-list celebrity. Coogan's ability to mix pathos with comedy really reaches its apotheosis in the first season, as Partridge continually attempts to restart his career only to screw it up. He often takes his anger out on his long-suffering assistant Lynn, the perpetually giggling receptionist Sophie, and the Tavern's incomprehensible Geordie handyman Michael. Partridge is often abusive and boorish and almost always unbearably conceited, but the objective viewer gets to see his pathetic existence from the outside, humanizing his often appalling behavior. Coogan does a magnificent job of creating humor out of the inane and minor interactions of such a loathsome persona. it isn't very hard to derive humor out of an unlikeable character, but it is a much different task to make that character the centerpeice of the show. I get the feeling that British humor often revolves more around the obnoxious character than American humor, which usually needs an affable, yet put-upon protagonist. Curmudgeons and assholes are always minor characters in American comedy. [youtube]Os38o2K0QPo[/youtube] The second season jumps five years later, with Alan getting back on his feet a bit, building a new house for himself and starting a relationship with a Ukrainian woman, Sonja (although a terrible interim of binge eating is hinted at). Although the second season lacks the economy of the minimal setup of the first season, it is also a treasure, keeping Lynn and Michael as characters and jettisoning the rest. The basic format is still the same, the perambulations and meanderings of Alan as he goes about simple tasks, often resulting in offense and perturbation. [youtube]fiDo5E_J6lg[/youtube] I haven't really delved into the specifics of each of these television shows, as Wikipedia has a much better collective memory than I do. But I hope this at least gives some sense of Coogan's approach to characters. Coogan is magisterial when it comes to evoking a complex character with a modicum of gestures. At any rate, the humor, although often uproarious, is sometimes subtle and contextual, so one really needs to view these shows to understand their full impact. Many of these shows are not available by DVD in the US or on BBC America, although I'm Alan Partridge can be obtained either way and Saxondale is currently showing, so *wink wink* do whatever you need to to find these episodes.