American sitcoms usually have a bland, likable central character who has to cope with obnoxious acquaintances--who usually provide most of the actual comedy. The British smartly put the comic personalities front and center, and Keeping Up Appearances
has one of the best: The petty, pretentious, tyrannical Hyacinth Bucket (played by the impressive Patricia Routledge), a dowdy middle-class social climber with a piercing voice and an unshakable faith in herself. Upon learning that her mailman has seven children, she declares disapprovingly, "Quite an achievement when you have to be up so early." Whether she's scheming to invite a minor local celebrity to a garden party or scowling at an enormous dog left in her driveway, Hyacinth terrorizes all around her, particularly her long-suffering husband Richard (Clive Swift), who takes a small delight in subverting her efforts from time to time; her trembling neighbors Elizabeth and Emmett (Josephine Tewson and David Griffin), who scarcely leave their house lest they be invited in to coffee; and her sexually frustrated lower-class sisters Daisy and Rose (Judy Cornwell and Mary Millar) and Daisy's layabout husband Onslow (Geoffrey Hughes), who longs to be left in peace to eat chips and watch the races.
Though Americans aren't as class-conscious as the Brits, snobbery is universal, and Keeping Up Appearances has developed an appreciative cult following on this side of the Atlantic. The boxed set Hyacinth Springs Eternal contains the third, fourth, and fifth series; but Hyacinth lives in a bizarrely unchanging universe, so you can start with any episode and soon be caught up in her titanic struggle to be the envy of her peers. --Bret Fetzer
Tireless social climber Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "Bouquet," of course) returns for the final 3 seasons of this hilariously classy comedy of manners. This 4-disc set includes the complete third, fourth and fifth seasons (including 9 episodes never before released) as well as "The Memoirs of Hyacinth Bucket", outtakes and interviews with the cast.