6 comedy series for those with a dark sense of humour
The dark comedy genre exists because without it we’d be ignoring a fundamental aspect of life – it’s a tragedy and a comedy. As John Cleese once said: “Some people think life is a tragedy and we are all going to die, and some people think life is a comedy.”
It’s this strange light and dark tension that makes this blend of comedy-drama storytelling such a wicked delight. Here are six dark comedy series now streaming on Showmax.
Alan Ball is the Oscar-winning screenwriter who brought us American Beauty. As the creator of Six Feet Under and Here and Now, it would be an understatement to say he’s got a thing for dark comedy. Six Feet Under journeys with life and death at a family-operated funeral home in Los Angeles. A dysfunctional yet profound comedy, the macabre setting lends itself to deliciously dark comedy as the Fishers do life, love and everything else, including dealing with a lost foot and a porn star’s funeral.
The bold dark comedy drama series earned its nine Emmy awards in spades. Starting with a fresh cadaver, each episode functions as a fine drama with full-fledged characters and witty dialogue carried out by a fine cast.
These were the days when Michael C Hall wasn’t known as Dexter, taking on the iconic role of David Fisher, which set the platform for his career-defining role as the charming serial killer. Hall plays opposite Peter Krause, Frances Conroy and Lauren Ambrose as family members in a compelling and even touching ensemble drama where each character undertakes their own personal journey.
Crisp writing, well-rounded characters, gasp-worthy twists, gallows humour and a fearless examination of mortality make Six Feet Under a perfect choice for anyone wanting to laugh in the face of death.
IMDB rating: 8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 81%
Beloved movie critic Roger Ebert, who became known for the one or two thumbs up rating, regarded Fargo as his favourite film of all time. The quirky dark comedy, also streaming on Showmax, about a pregnant detective investigating a snowy Minnesota murder is the film that established the Coen brothers as visionary filmmakers and launched Frances McDormand’s acting career. Testament to its timeless influence is the television series of the same name, which premiered almost two decades later, devised by Noah Hawley, who serves as head writer and producer.
The Coen brothers were so taken with the series idea they agreed to act in an executive producer capacity. The critically acclaimed and award-winning anthology series delves into the same universe, adopting a similar atmosphere, style and setting. After a diabolical drifter stirs up trouble in a small Minnesota community with the help of an insurance salesman, a deputy and police officer team up to trail the two men who become linked to a string of grisly murders. And that’s just the first season – the following three seasons share similar themes and settings but follow entirely new characters.
Fargo is a stellar and well-acted series featuring Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzmann, Ewan McGregor, Alison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons… the list goes on. The writing is just as deft as the performances, managing to capture the spirit of the Coen brothers through its dark comedy undertone, oddball characters and brilliant twists, managing to bring every duplicitous episode back to North Dakota.
IMDB rating: 8.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 93
Jemaine Clement is a very funny man who rose to fame with the cult sitcom, Flight of the Conchords. The mockumentary series is centred on two roommates from New Zealand who try to launch their band in New York City. Having conquered the two-roommate comedy, he switched up to the challenge of a four-roommates situational comedy. First envisaged as a film with Taika Waititi, the proven concept was adapted into a full-blown series.
Having lived together for centuries. Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja navigate their lives by night on Staten Island. Starring Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetrio and Mark Proksch as Colin, this absurd dark comedy about vampires trying to integrate into modern society plays into Clement’s mockumentary wheelhouse. Leaning into a ridiculous premise involving world domination, the writers take their vampire lore quite seriously, and plant their toothy characters in many Dracula: Dead and Loving It type scenarios.
Clement has always had a knack for comedy and turns it up in this outrageous and award-winning handheld camera style horror show. A charming cast, awkward comedy moments and many funny scenarios surrounding their order make this irreverent series an off-kilter and ghoulish delight.
IMDB rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 97%
Bill Hader is best known for his years at Saturday Night Live and It: Chapter Two (coming to Showmax on 31 May 2021). Nowadays, the actor, comedian, writer and director should be better known for his starring role in Barry. Having already won two Emmy awards, he’s quite literally the backbone of the dark comedy series as creator, writer, producer, occasional director and star.
Hader plays Barry Berkman, an ex-marine turned hitman, who finds himself drawn to a small community of actor hopefuls in Los Angeles after a mark lures him into the world of theatre. Trying to stay one step ahead of his old life, the new thespian in town attempts to start over, to the incredulity of his cowardly, money-grabbing handler and past associates.
It’s a role Hader probably wrote for himself, realising his talent for walking the line between cold-hearted assassin and flouncy performer. Toying with this precarious balancing act of real and unreal, Barry does a great deal with a fun dual-identity premise. Taking a similarly understated approach to its star, this witty dark comedy packs a punch and mines the heart of a career criminal who will do almost anything to get away from his dark past. Supported by screen legends Henry Winkler and Stephen Root, Barry also benefits from a star-making turn by Emmy nominee Sarah Goldberg as Sally, Barry’s favourite classmate.
IMDB rating: 8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 99%
Here and Now series creator Alan Ball is best known for American Beauty and Six Feet Under. The screenwriter can die happy with his work praised across film and television. Now that he’s essentially conquered both mediums, there’s room for him to experiment with more ambitious concepts, like Here and Now. This latest TV project of his is another dark comedy drama, and it grapples with the highs and lows of a multi-racial family following their father’s strange 60th birthday celebration.
With commentary on American culture in the Trump era, Ball uses the family dysfunction behind Here and Now as a microcosm for much broader themes relating to race, identity, mental illness and self-medication. It’s a provocative springboard, leveraging the hedonistic urgency of now as a driver for this series about flailing parents, scattered siblings and their alienated relational misadventures. It may not be the most popular series with critics, but there’s no doubt that the show engagingly tackles hot social topics with bold and experimental brushstrokes.
Screen veterans Tim Robbins (Castle Rock) and Holly Hunter (Mr Mayor), head up a talented young cast. Their fearless approach matches the exciting undercurrent of this ambitious, divisive and unpredictable series. Moving at some speed and trying to remain fiercely relevant to echo its title, there’s rarely a moment’s quiet or time to be distracted by your phone.
IMDB rating: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 24%
Get Shorty is based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name. The book was adapted into a film with John Travolta in 1995, but this rendition is more of an homage, adopting the basic plot and tapping into Leonard’s dark comedic tone. Centred on a Nevada criminal named Miles Daley, Get Shorty follows his attempt to convert from mobster to movie mogul. Trying to shake his shady past and get clean for his daughter’s sake, he struggles to overcome his underworld affiliation, laundering money through a Hollywood film.
Chris O’Dowd is that funny, spirited Irish guy who tends to show up in the strangest places. Starting in The IT Crowd, the likeable chap has had a colourful film career with memorable roles in Bridesmaids, The Sapphires and Juliet, Naked. O’Dowd proves he’s really difficult to hate in Get Shorty, enjoying great chemistry with co-stars Ray Romano and Sean Bridgers. An underdog of an actor, he truly owns the role as a family man and gangster.
The deadpan dark comedy caper generates plenty of heat through its see-sawing mix of fun-filled comedy and brutal violence. Comparable with Breaking Bad and Ozark, this entertaining series has sharp production values, charming offbeat characters and witty banter in spades.
IMDB rating: 8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 78%