15 Storeys High
If there was an award for the most underrated comedy of recent years, 15 Storeys High would be a strong contender.
On a first glance, the title's description seems to be the only distinguishing feature about the faceless London tower block at the heart of this cult BBC TWO series.
But living within its drab walls are a collection of crazed residents among whom is Vince (Sean Lock): an anti-social eccentric who wants to live by his own peculiar set of rules and ensure that his henpecked lodger Errol abides by them too.
Working as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool and with an acute phobia for being touched, Vince does his best to avoid dealing with other people.
Thanks to his lack of social skills, he manages to get himself into a succession of amazingly awkward situations: from teaching a swimming student with a psychotic husband, to helping a neighbour look after his new pet (a horse), to conducting a bitter feud with a gang of kids intent on destroying him.
With its deliberately low-key tone, 15 Storeys High captured a real essence of modern life's mundanity and pettiness, and initially ran for two series on Radio 4 before being snapped up for TV.
Basing several storylines on its successful radio forerunner, the television version heightened the show's drabness by both filming on location in a south London estate and maintaining a washed-out, colourless look throughout.
The grim appearance was well counterbalanced, though, by each episode's serving of surreal plots and hilarious moments: such as when Vince's discovery of a new cut-price East European supermarket leads him to become hooked on its own brand energy drink, Blue Rat ('all the energy of a rat, in a can').
Sean Lock, the show's star and co-writer, may now be best known now for his TV panel game appearances but he deserves plaudits here on two counts. Firstly for the scripts he co-wrote, which delightfully interspersed the main narrative with short vignettes of life in neighbouring flats, and secondly for his very funny portrayal of social misfit Vince, striking up a great chemistry with co-star Benedict Wong as the kind but naïve Errol.
Running for two series on TV, 15 Storeys High suffered from being buried in the schedules and never found the ratings it deserved, but it was a consistently funny watch and remains a bona fide hidden gem.
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