This BBC mockumentary series originally aired on BBC Radio from 1995 to 1997, and was later adapted to television in two series, the first airing in 1999, the second in 2001.
The show is ostensibly a series of straight "Day in the Life" documentaries about ordinary "people like us," as defined by their profession (e.g., "The Managing Director", "The Police Officer", "The Actor"), and at first glance looks and sounds exactly like a standard, somewhat boring, BBC documentary. Until you notice that host Roy Mallard's smooth, glib BBC delivery hides the fact that much of what he says is utter nonsense, and that he's singularly incompetent as a documentarian.
But Mallard's subjects also tend to be incompetent or wildly eccentric themselves, and despite Mallard's frequent instructions to "Pretend I'm not here," he usually winds up getting personally involved in their strange little human dramas.
The series is sometimes considered a forerunner of The Office (UK), and this is almost literally true. When People Like Us was being considered by the BBC for a third series, it was passed over... in favor of Ricky Gervais' new work-based comedy. It eventually got a true follow-up of its own, by the same creators, in 2012, a mockumentary series about the London Olympics.
People Like Us provides examples of:
- Afraid of Blood: Roy passes out at the sight of blood, and occasionally even at the mere thought of the sight of blood.
- Butt-Monkey: Roy Mallard is extremely accident-prone, sometimes merely ruining his clothes, as when doused with highly acidic developing fluid in "The Photographer," sometimes to the point of serious injury, as when hit in the head by a golf club in "The Estate Agent".
- Dodgy Toupee: George "Wiggy" Carpenter, the chief constable in "The Police Officer".
- The Faceless: Roy, with only a few very rare and fleeting exceptions when he's briefly seen in a reflection. The rest of his body is actually seen fairly often. Roy's cameraman is an even truer example.
- Funny Background Event: Common, and usually very understated. Often involves Roy being inappropriately in view of the camera, realizing this, and trying to hide himself somehow.
- Giftedly Bad: A number of people, but particularly "The Photographer" (played by Bill Nighy) who thinks himself much more talented than he actually is.
- Keeping Secrets Sucks: People sometimes ask Roy what he talked about on camera with other characters. He tries, but usually fails, to keep mum about it on the (mostly unarticulated) grounds that it would be improper behavior for a documentary filmmaker.
- Military Alphabet: At one point in "The Police Officer," Roy Mallard finds himself alone next to an unconscious policeman. He tries to use the officer's radio while applying his own unique notion of the military alphabet:Mallard: No, this is Roy Mallard. R for Roy, O for Aubergine, Y for wife....
- Narrating the Obvious: One of Roy's staples. Sometimes his narration uses exactly the same words that his interview subjects use seconds later (though of course the narration was added long after the people spoke those words).
- Only Sane Man: Strangely, Roy comes across as this in his interviews (if not his narration), which is most apparent when he asks a completely sensible question that the subject finds an incredible way of misinterpreting. In the episode "The Vicar", when the vicar's wife tells him that she lost her virginity with a Tom Jones record playing, Roy asks, "Which one?" Her response: "You only get one."
- Running Gag: The show has several:
- Whenever the fact that Roy is married comes up, the person's reaction is inevitably one of surprise, if not outright disbelief.
- Roy always seems particularly interested in whatever free coffee or food is on offer.
- Nobody ever gets Roy Mallard's name right.
- Roy showing up in the background of shots when he shouldn't.
- Spiritual Successor: 2012
- What Does She See in Him?: The inevitable reaction of people when informed that Roy is married.