The odd thing about comedy is that critical acclaim and the number of viewers very rarely match each other. For example, Count Arthur Strong is beloved by many a reviewer, yet passed by unnoticed by most of the public. The most obvious flip reverse of this is Mrs Brown’s Boys, a ratings smash which topped the Christmas viewing list, yet is panned by all except the most populist critics. Comedy may be subjective, but even so it is hard to think of another genre that has such a great divide. Even the soaps have their cheerleaders amongst the intelligentsia.

On the surface, the return of Birds of a Feather should have sat squarely in the Mrs Brown’s category. They have similar markings – traditional format, heavily signposted jokes, sparse plots. It had ratings smash/critical bashing written all over it. Yet only one of the two occurred, and to some surprise it was the ratings that came to fruition as opposed to the vitriol from the reviewers. Yet this is not the big mystery some may think it is.

Firstly, it is worth arguing that in calling it wrong over Mrs Brown the writers may have felt it was a pointless battle to harpoon a show that millions would watch anyway. On the other hand, maybe they felt the project was doomed to fail, and that there was something more worthy to write about. Either way, Birds was largely ignored and quietly soaked up a respectable audience.

The second point to raise is that nostalgia is a strong pull, and whilst an audience seeks comfort a critic is wanting to taste new worlds. TV across all genres is reliant on the law of diminishing returns being less powerful than the need for new ideas. Comedy in particular is reliant on tried-and-tested over novelty, hence why bar Channel 4 and the youth-orientated Sky channels, new sitcoms are like gold dust.

The final argument I wish to make is that it is actually quite good. The chemistry between Linda Robson, Pauline Quirke and Lesley Josephs is as sharp as ever, and as well signposted as the jokes are, most of them still hit the mark. There is also a slight undercurrent of sadness in the air that adds some weight to the levity. Whether it is Sharon’s lost career ambitions, or Dorian’s constant thirst for youth (reclaiming her own or just enjoying other people’s), there is an air of life slipping away. Thankfully, they are choosing to age in the most disgraceful way possible. That is why it is a success, acclaimed or not.

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