Sitcoms go through fashions as to how they centre themselves. There was a trend in the 90’s and early noughties for ones based around friends or workplaces, both alternatives to the traditional family unit that seemed to be dying away both as an actual unit and as a cultural force. Yet recently the family sitcom is back in vogue, albeit with an added factor of regionalisation thrown in. Accents seem to be key markers now in comedy, creating a cosy feeling for the audience.

Two such sitcoms have begun on BBC2 recently. The first is Cradle to Grave, which is based upon the 70’s childhood of DJ and TV presenter Danny Baker. Set in working class of the East End of London, it has lots of in-jokes that someone of that time and social background would understand, for example the mocking of the more middle-class suburbs.

Even though this is supposed to be Danny’s story, you feel as if the beating hearts of the show are the parents, played so perfectly by Lucy Speed and Peter Kay. Yes, that’s right, professional Northerner Kay has to do a Cockney accent. And he does it well. As with any cross-generational sitcom, you see the kids gliding through the social changes going off around, be it music, relationships, or other cultural markers, whilst the parents find the changes more frightening and are left torn between embracing them or putting up resistance.

In episode two this is seen more through the eyes of Bet, the matriarch. Slightly envious of some of her neighbours social-climbing (holidays in Portugal, drinking wine, posh do’s) she attempts to match them, even if the wine tastes awful and all her husband can afford is a caravan holiday. Meanwhile, Fred the dad in episode three finds his livelihood under threat by the progress of time, especially the scams which ensure his family ensure they stay above the breadline. These are dark clouds that float above what is otherwise sunny nostalgia. It does make you wonder what those of who had our formative years in the exaggerated boom-and-bust decade of the noughties will be nostalgic about in 30 years.

The other sitcom is Boy Meets Girl. In some respects this is more of a relationship comedy than a family one, but having said that, so was the peerless Gavin & Stacey, but that quickly became so much more about the people surrounding them then just the couple themselves. This time it is the Geordie accent that sets the markers. I find this accent a particularly pleasant one, overtly friendly and warm, so is often ideal for setting your stall out as being cosy.

This sitcom is quite ‘modern’ in its twist, in that the Girl used to be a Boy. It is a credit to the show that this aspect is not sensationalised. Rather, it is dealt with very matter-of-factly, even if the plotline is heavily dependent on the trope of only some of the group knowing the truth. The central characters of Leo and Judy are sweet and endearing, and a positive oasis of calm compared to their families.

In fact, this where frustratingly this show falls down. The side characters, that made Gavin & Stacey work so well, are just caricatures. Leo’s mum is drawn as a matriarch who uses passive-aggressive behaviour to get her own way, and is constantly miserable. Judy’s family has the double-cliché of daffy mum and over-sexed sister. You feel as if they all need some more layers in order for you to actually warm to them. This is doubly important when you consider that in the genre it is these characters who actually are more relied upon for comedy as they react to the drama of the main characters.

Nevertheless, both shows are charming diversions. It is not the differences between the shows that make them so appealing, but the similarities. Both at their centre have family, with one generation finding the world opening up, and the other shrinking. That’s a trope that could work forever.

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