It’s easy to get Netflix tunnel vision when embarking on an epic telly session, but you’d be a fool of Kraken-sized proportions to discount Amazon Prime Video’s growing library of gems.
As this collection of Stuff favourites shows, Amazon’s streaming service has become particularly adept at laughter generation. And remember; all of these movies and TV shows are already included in your Prime subscription, so sit back and prepare to engage your face’s smile apparatus with these comedy masterpieces...
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Shaun of the Dead
The first and arguably best film in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy (comprising this, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End) pits London electrical shop worker Shaun (Pegg) against a flesh-hungry zombie horde as he attempts to rescue his girlfriend and flatmate.
This zom-rom-com's scares might be thin on the ground, but the laughs more than make up for it, and there’s loads of heart to it too, primarily coming from the relationship between Shaun and his slacker best mate Ed, played brilliantly by Nick Frost. Wright also demonstrates time and time again the tricks and quirks that have made him a Hollywood darling – with this movie’s inspired quick-fire editing proving a star in its own right.
The Big Lebowski
The Coen brothers’ cult comedy hit – a louche, lackadaisical and outwardly lightweight followup to the multiple award-winning thriller Fargo – is packed to the gills with clever call-backs, references to other films and other oh-so-clever touches for astute viewers to pick out.
But it’s also an absolute riot, as Jeff Bridges’ middle-aged stoner The Dude sets out to right a wrong (in a case of mistaken identity, two hoodlums “soiled” his beloved rug) and ends up sucked headlong into a kidnapping case involving German nihilists, pornographers, a wealthy paraplegic, performance artists, a sullen teenage car thief, the police chief of Malibu, possibly hallucinatory cowboys… and bowling.
With an outstanding script and supporting cast including Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and John Goodman, The Big Lebowski is a rare cinematic gift – one that keeps on giving with subsequent viewings.
Freaks and Geeks (S1)
Before Judd Apatow and Paul Feig hit the big screen directing the likes of Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Bridesmaids, they co-created a little TV comedy-drama based on Feig’s own adolescence in early 1980s Michigan. Dubbed Freaks and Geeks (most of its main characters fall into one or both of these categories) it lasted only one 18-part season, a fact that’s still hard to fathom given how fantastic it is.
Perhaps viewers just weren’t ready for a well-written, funny and entirely honest portrayal of the highs and lows of high school. Despite its untimely demise, it kickstarted a bunch of major Hollywood careers (James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen being the obvious examples) and is regarded as a cult classic almost 20 years later. All the episodes are now streaming on Amazon Prime, so why not go back to school?
The Office (US, S1-9)
It might have started out as a pale shade of the British original, but NBC’s long-running sitcom quickly found its feet and its own comedic voice. Even if Steve Carell’s Michael Scott is a bit broader and a bit less melancholy than Ricky Gervais’ David Brent, it’s hard to deny that Carell has made the role of “awkward boss at a mid-level paper company” his own, and made himself into a massive star in the process.
You know the drill: The Office is a sort-of mockumentary set in a dreary Pennsylvania workplace populated by a few normal folks – representing us, the viewers – and a few caricatures. The comedy mostly springs from the interactions between the two, and the formula works so well that NBC managed to keep it going for an astonishing nine seasons.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge writes and stars in this riotous six-part sitcom about a single woman’s attempts to navigate the many pitfalls of modern London life. Even if that sounds like a hackneyed synopsis, or one that fits roughly 10,000 British sitcoms, we suggest you delve in anyway, because Waller-Bridge’s eyes-open approach – acerbic, dry, unashamed, raw – doesn’t feel unoriginal in the slightest. It’s also really, really funny, which is probably worth mentioning too.
A second series, with both Waller-Bridge and on-screen rival Olivia Colman returning, is also now available to stream on Prime Video – albeit not for free. If you have access to BBC iPlayer, however, have at it on there.
What We Do in the Shadows
Outstanding horror-comedies are few and far between – for every An American Werewolf in London, there are five Scary Movies – but this Kiwi mockumentary (directed by and starring Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi as well as Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) about a group of dysfunctional vampires house-sharing hits the spot dead-on.
With plenty of laughs mined from the awkwardness of being a neurotic immortal living in the modern world, it errs on the comedy side of the line, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without the occasional genuine bit of creepiness. If you’re as much fan of This Is Spinal Tap as you are of The Lost Boys, here’s a movie that you certainly won’t think, er, sucks.
The world doesn’t seem short on wry, quirksome comedy drama series exploring the crushing ennui of modern life, but Amazon has furnished us with another one – and it’s a delightful surprise.
Starring Maya Rudolf and Fred Armisen as a married couple struggling with an encroaching middle-aged itch, Forever starts off as one kind of show and quickly transforms into another. Funny, smart and affecting, it’s Amazon’s best new original series in a long time.
The Death of Stalin
Armando Iannucci brings his brand of political satire to one of modern history’s darkest chapters, as a gaggle of self-serving Soviet grandees – Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs and Paul Whitehouse among them – farcically jostle for power in the wake of Joseph Stalin’s demise.
While it doesn’t quite hit the breezy highs of Iannucci’s debut movie In The Loop or his two series Veep and The Thick Of It (being set in a time and place where political rivals were regularly executed, it’s bleaker and more cynical even than them) The Death of Stalin skewers the absurdity of politics just as effectively, and raises many a laugh while doing so.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
North Norfolk’s finest broadcaster arrives on the silver screen in typical style – singing along to Roachford’s “Cuddly Toy” while driving to work – in this comic hostage drama, rich with all the awkwardness, pathos and lack of self-awareness you’d expect from Alan Partridge.
Alpha Papa might not win over non-fans, but anyone who’s adored Steve Coogan’s past work (and that’s many of you, we suspect) will get a huge kick out of seeing how Partridge works on a bigger-than-normal budget.
For those who like their comedies dark and stylish, this action-thriller-comedy mashup from Brit director Ben Wheatley features an all-star cast who spend most of its running time shooting at each other in a dilapidated factory.
It might not seem like the most fertile ground for laughs, but there’s an absurdist quality to Free Fire’s depiction of gunfights that’s really something – and it’s likely far more close to real-life than 99 percent of Hollywood shoot ‘em ups.