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3 September 2019

Why Stath Lets Flats is the funniest show on television

By Sarah Manavis

When I saw my dad in Greece last summer, I was ready to recommend a new show for him to watch. As a Greek man whose interests include “Greece” and little else, I knew a sitcom about a Greek letting agency would be up his alley. I told him the premise, and he was interested, but when I went to describe the show in more detail, going into scenes and quoting lines, I found myself stuck on why I found these things so funny. “He’s playing football, but in dress shoes, and calls someone a ‘witch’,” I said to a deadpan audience of one. “His one night stand starts to drink chocolate milk from a carton next to her bed, and he asks her if it’s refreshing!” In trying to describe it, I realised it was a type of funny that I’d never actually come across before, and a type of funny that couldn’t be traditionally described.

Stath Lets Flats is Channel 4’s BAFTA-nominated, breakout comedy of last summer, written by and starring Fleabag actor Jamie Demetriou. Demetriou plays Stath, a Greek-Cypriot letting agent who works for his father’s estate agency, Michael & Eagle (“my dad had a friend named Michael and he had a dog… and the dog was called ‘Eagle’”), which sits on a busy main road on the outskirts of London. The humour is eccentric, and the situations surreal, in a bizarre marriage of traditional sitcom humour and dry millennial irony which has seen it become one of the funniest shows on television.

The balance of old and new comedy is a tricky balance; watching Stath Lets Flats is like watching a classic comedy where every other line is a Dril tweet. It manages to couple the stuff that made My Big Fat Greek Wedding this century’s most successful comedy film with the televisual equivalent of shitposts: absurdist jokes shared online that are deliberately silly and nonsensical. Monday night’s episode, for example, saw Stath refer to one character, Harriet, as “Harry”: an exact name misspeak that became a popular joke from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This is juxtaposed with the language of weird Twitter: in the first episode of this season, Stath is effectively called a large adult son – his father, Vasos, calling him “my large boy.” When Stath sleeps with one of his co-workers, he tells his other colleagues, “Last night when we were doing it, I was just looking at her, and I was like, ‘wife, wife, wife.’” Stath is, ostensibly, a wife guy.

Many of the things Stath says don’t make any sense, but like the best shitposts, they are a distorted echo of something you’ve heard before. “Carol, I presume!” he squeals when he finds out a colleague is pregnant; “You’re a priest!” Stath says to Al, another agent, “Who doesn’t want to live with a young, grey priest?” Stath tries so hard it hurts, from mixing up idioms (“this building is brand, banking new”; “howly parker!” instead of “howdy partner”) to obsessive attempts to one-up his perceived rivals that are always leagues ahead of him. In one early episode, Stath joins a laddish agency, where, over a boozy lunch, other staff members share anecdotes of wild flat viewings. Stath, conversely, chips in with his own story about a pig eating a copy of his dad’s newspaper in Cyprus. “Can you imagine a thing like that!” he says. “So dry to eat!”

The spirit of shitposting also appears in the shows “randomness”; moments that are funny simply because they’re entirely unexpected. After watching an over-produced, overly-sexual advertisment for Michael & Eagle made by the agency’s new boss, Stath inexplicably adopts a posh, caricatured South East accent as he spits, “You didn’t make the video.” In the very first episode of the show, a pigeon is stuck in the loft of one property and Vasos doesn’t want to hire someone new to handle it. Another agent asks, “Why doesn’t Stath do it?” to which Stath screams, “I’m not approaching a beak!”

Language is chosen carefully in Stath Lets Flats, deploying the same formula that makes the best and oddest shitposts so funny – with casual, modern speech rubbing up against formal, unusual vocabulary. When one character, Al, looks tired from nights of poor sleep, Stath says, “You are looking very, very foul.” When Stath breaks a shower in one flat, making it constantly on – but then manages to direct that constant water stream out the window – he exclaims, “You should have seen it, it was SODDEN out here before!” When Sophie, Stath’s sister (played by Jamie Demetriou’s real-life sister, Natasia Demetriou) tells a joke about putting a mirror on the floor so that “when people trod on it, they could see up their own knickers,” Stath replies, “That is treacherous, Sophie! What an image!” And when Stath goes to capture that aforementioned pigeon with a thin plastic bag, he calls out, “Come back here, sir! Uh, young lad!”

The aesthetic of Stath Lets Flats can only be described as shit. From the agency’s brown Seventies furnishings to the plastic Greek decorations in Stath’s car to the door beads that dangle throughout the house Stath lives in with his father and sister, everything is cost-saving, old-fashioned, and adorned with relics of the homeland (much like every Greek immigrant home in existence today). For Greeks watching, the show is like reliving every terrible family gathering – scenes like the one in which Stath and his family spontaneously start doing crap Greek dancing across their living room are near identical to my own experience of being forced to Greek dance for elderly relatives as they sing traditional folk songs. In season one’s finale, the agency hosts a birthday party for Vasos’s 70th (the theme of which is “sunglasses”), where Stath and Sophie knowingly tell each arriving guest: “the grapes are over there”. When I took my Scottish boyfriend to Greece for the first time just weeks after watching this episode, he said to me, “I didn’t realise that Greek people actually eat so many grapes.”

Photo via Channel 4

Stath himself isn’t simply a buffoon among straight men – nearly every character in Stath has an air of ridiculousness. His sister Sophie chases dreams of becoming a dancer despite having all the grace and technical ability of an awkward seven-year-old. Carol, a letting agent with three prominent bleach-blonde streaks in her dark brown hair, behaves like an embarrassing mother trying to impress a group of teens (“Two-bed or not to bed!” she says to a tenant in her first line of the new season). Al is meek, awkward, always dressed in an ill-fitting suit, and such a pushover that when his ex-girlfriend takes his mattress he sleeps “on the wooden planks of the bed frame.” Even the agents from other agencies, while not as dorky as the crew at Michael & Eagle, have their own personality defects – spinelessness, the patter of used car salesmen, and try-hard laddish behaviour.

This chaotic cast would become exhausting if it weren’t for two things. Firstly, the one believable straight man, Dean (who takes on a role similar to that of Jim/Tim in The Office US/UK) grounds the show: the actor who plays him, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, is doing some of the best acting on television right now. Secondly, Stath Lets Flats is ultimately wholesome underneath the madness – there is a sweetness to most of the characters, who are either kind to each other or so pitiful you can’t help but feel for them.

One of the best things about the show is the chemistry between Jamie and Natasia Demetriou. You can tell when you watch them that they are playing out scenes they’ve witnessed together, laughing at their Greek heritage and acting out hammed-up versions of their experience of it. In the cold open of this season’s second episode, Sophie hides behind corners and scares Stath as he angrily replies, “UGH! I dropped my energy drink!” After the episode aired, Jamie Demetriou posted his own video showing that he regularly does this prank on his sister in his real life, recording videos as he jumps out to scare her.

Some critics have argued that Stath can be an unbelievable character, but that misses the point. Stath is not meant to be a realistic representation of one single person, but an amalgamation of every cringe colleague you’ve ever had, every awful letting agent you’ve ever met, and every nonsensical tweet that had you wheezing with laughter. Stath Lets Flats is a triumph because it understands how to seamlessly weave all these disparate comic strands into a single character, creating a show with an unmistakably modern sense of humour. This second season proves that it is broadening our definition of what mainstream sitcoms can be – and becoming the most refreshing comedy on TV.

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