Regular readers of this blog will know that comedy features with surprising regularity. I like to think the reason is that we are going through a purple-patch of the genre, where minor classics are sprouting up on both sides of the Atlantic. But I think that is being over-generous. Looking back over some of the previous posts I’ve written, I realised that whilst a lot of the shows gave me a few small laughs, only a very select band left me with happy tears rolling down my face. Even Grandma’s House, a programme I treasure the same way others obsess over Doctor Who or Lost, was too black-hearted to leave me feeling truly elated at the end of each episode. It was clever-funny, not funny-funny. My mind very often went “That’s a good piece of writing”, but my body convulsed only occasionally.

Has the era of the under-stated sitcom led to amused minds but untouched bodies? I confirm that the answer is no. Friday Night Dinner has restored comedy to its correct response. Of course, some may argue that FND isn’t truly part of the under-stated sitcom family. Whilst it is minus canned laughter, it still relies on the physical farcicalness of more traditional sitcoms to get its laughs. The first episode of the new series had a running of the Dad sneezing everywhere and not covering his mouth; a very broad stroke of humour, but one that I couldn’t stop laughing at. Tears were actually rolling down my face. I nearly hyperventilated. The storyline focused around the sneezing, a beloved family toy and a lawnmower in the kitchen. The signposts for the final scene were obvious, but it didn’t matter. Comedies are not murder mysteries, we don’t watch them for a twist at the end, and a good writer can make the most blatant set-ups work.

Not that the show can’t do subtlety. The creepiness of next-door neighbour Jim may be another broad stroke, but his irrational fear of his own pet dog adds a good running joke. In fact, it is the running jokes that lend this sitcom an air of authenticity. Families share the same jokes repeatedly because it is one of the many things that holds them together.  Besides, Friends  managed to last 10 years just on a handful of jokes: Ross’s marriage-addiction, Joey’s stupidity, Monica’s OCD. The nicknames, obvious punch lines and deliberately bad jokes (“a lovely bit of squirrel”) of FND give it its charm. It may not be the most intellectual comedy on TV, but if you are still laughing at the thought of a man sneezing over green beans three days later, then it has done the job it set out to.

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