Archives for posts with tag: family

I usually steer clear of ‘human interest’ documentaries. You know the sort; the people with obscure medical conditions, the ‘benefit porn’, the sensationalist personal lives. Too many of them are about gawping in the style of the freak show for the people partaking to feel any benefit. Even the feel good ones are morally dubious.

Yet I decided to give Bride & Prejudice a go. This was for two reasons: firstly, the trailer looked like, despite its pun title, it was going to be a serious look at some of the issues, and secondly, there was nothing else on.

Basically, the show is about couples getting married that face opposition from their families. This isn’t just the case of mum thinking bride-to-be is a money grabber or dad sensing your fiancée is a wrong ‘un. There are actual discrimination issues at play here.

The first episode featured three couples. Dee and John faced hostility owing to he being more than three decades than she. Simon and Rob were struggling with Rob’s parents not being able to face up to their son’s sexuality. Jaime and Sheeba faced a double battle with Sheeba’s mum, Faye, dealing with the disapproval of him being white as well as transgender.

It is the latter two stories that are currently most gripping, to me anyway. There are layers that add an emotional punch. Rob had been previously married to a woman and his parents had been front and centre at that wedding, but now want to hide at the back now he is marrying a man. Faye, meanwhile, feels betrayed that her daughter’s best friend is now to become her husband, the trust of allowing them to spend time alone as teenagers gone now that she feels there was more of an agenda.

What I find most surprising is how open Rob’s parents are and Faye is about their anti-LGBT views. Rob’s parents openly admit to being embarrassed about their son’s sexuality and refuse to discuss it or even believe it, as they don’t feel he fits the stereotype. Faye consistently refers to Jamie as ‘a transgender’ – not acknowledging him as a man or even a person, but rather categorising him almost as if he is a transformer, something inhuman.

The contrast is that for Rob’s parents it is all about status – they don’t want the gossip of having a gay son and feel it is not the done thing. For Faye, this is about her culture. She sees Sheeba’s choice of husband as flying in the face of respecting your elders’ wishes. There is still an element of fear of a loss of status, but it is on a bigger scale. It still makes her comments unjustified, but there feels like there is more of a context.

More couples are being followed as the season progresses but I feel it is these two that will hit home the most. There feels more at stake here than a disapproval over an age gap. It’s about how truly tolerant we are. This show suggests there is a longer battle to fight than we thought.

Advertisements

On Mother’s Day, it seems appropriate to review series 2 of Mum. This low-key sitcom follows a year in the life of widowed Cathy and her family and friends over a series of inconsequential celebrations or minor life events. For example, one episode focused on a room needing to be cleared on Good Friday in time for a new carpet to be fitted.

The humour is in the turn of phrase within a sentence, as opposed to big gestures, although the most recent episode did feature the ghastly Pauline collapse in a deckchair. It is typical of the show that the joke didn’t rely on the physical, but on the barbed verbal exchange afterwards. Horrified at the impression that she had broken it, Pauline ensured events were span to construe the chair was already broken.

Every character has their streaks of madness in their character. Cathy’s son Jason and his girlfriend Kelly share a dopiness and shallowness although seem to be fundamentally quite sweet, although both also have a dash of selfishness that comes from youthful self-absorption. Kelly also has an inconvenient habit of picking up random sharp objects and playing with them in absent-minded manner.

Then there is the bitterness of in-laws Reg and Maureen, angry at each other, everyone else and, most of all, old age. They spend social events sitting apart, refusing to engage and offering their blunt opinions to anyone who will listed. Dips in particular come in for a drubbing from them.

It is the aforementioned Pauline though who steals the best lines. A comic monster in the most powerful sense, she has disdain for all around her, despite her dependence on them. A virtual nervous breakdown over the thought of going to a carvery in the first episode was a sight to behold, not least her desperate musings on how you could possibly need three types of potato.

All this borne stoically by Cathy, a patient smile on her face which only drops when alone. She has her own problems, engaging in a delicate dance of flirting-yet-not with her late husband’s best friend Michael. The ‘will they, won’t they’ element between the two of them gives a bit of emotional heft to what otherwise would just be another comedy of manners.

The most recent episode set round a barbecue was as near perfect as it gets. All the classic elements were in place – Jason waxing lyrical on his dad’s technique, Pauline boasting of her connections at the golf club, Cathy and Michael negotiating a visit to the garden centre – but the last few minutes really rose it above. First, Reg had one of those all too common features of grief, as he looked around the room and realising his late son would never be able to join them. Then, in one of the most touching scenes I have seen, Pauline put aside her monstrous nature to help her boyfriend’s daughter fix a dropped stitch. It was a rare tender moment form her, betraying something soft within, a lost maternalism. Single shot looks don’t get better than that.

I never had a gap year. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me and seemed an expensive way to get drunk and have stories to tell. I certainly didn’t fancy going to places like Thailand I don’t deny there is beautiful scenery and a fascinating culture, but I like the familiar and my creature comforts.

Jack Whitehall, however, rues his missing gap year. So now he is having one, or at least a gap six weeks or so. And he is taking his elderly father with him, insisting that it will tick off things on his bucket list that don’t even exist. Hence the show Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father.

The result is an incredibly funny programme about travel, families and the age gap. It is the last one of these that is played on most. Michael Whitehall wants his holidays to be about luxury and history. In episode one he took one look at the hostel that had been planned for him and bolted to the more refined hotel down the road, where he refused to eat the local food and demanded a lamb chop. Jack wants the backpacker experience and to take part in beach parties and free running.

It is their prickly but loving relationship that drives the show. Episode two sees Michael writing his autobiography. When Jack queries what exactly he is writing about, Michael reveals ‘well this chapter is about Hitler’ as if it is the most normal thing in the world, prompting Jack to query if his father was in the Hitler Youth. It is the silly meeting the deadpan that produces the biggest laughs, along with Michael’s lack of self-censure, at one point thinking that a man who was serving them had introduced himself as Stuart when he had actually said he was their steward. In another scene, he openly compared a temple priestess to Mollie Sugden.

I think the biggest reason I love this show is that there is a lot of me and my dad in this. There is a similar age gap and political misalignment. My father is as equally befuddled by technology and resistant to the modern world and makes politically incorrect statements and then has no understanding of the uproar he causes. My revenge for this public embarrassment is too be mildly insulting about his ways. The only difference is that my father wouldn’t even countenance leaving the country.

At just six episodes, it almost feels too short. I hope there is a second season, as there are still many cultures for Michael to mildly offend and bizarre situations to throw the pair of them into. It is after all Travels. It would be a shame to curtail their wanderlust, and our entertainment, so soon.

Firstly, an apology for missing a week. Real life got in the way. And by real life, I mean a Christmas Afternoon High Tea with prosecco. But I am back now, so let’s crack on.

Last year the BBC launched a number of sitcom pilots to see if any could generate enough interest to succeed as a series. Most failed to even raise an eyebrow, but one – Motherland – generated both critical and public acclaim. This perhaps isn’t surprising when you consider the calibre of people working on it. Two of the four writers are Graham Linehan and Sharon Horgan, both of whom have a pedigree in making excellent comedies.

Motherland is, as the title obviously suggests, about parenting. Anna Maxwell Martin plays Julia, who is trying to ‘have it all’ and ending up often with having nothing but stress thanks to a feckless husband. Diane Morgan is the more slatternly (and presumably unemployed) single mum Liz, Lucy Punch as queen of the ‘Tiger Mums’ Amanda and Paul Ready is stay-at-home dad Kevin.

It has to be said the strongest character is Liz, full of brutal honesty and realism with also a touch vulnerability. A particular highlight came in episode one when Julia’s entertainer for her child’s birthday party was exposed as a racist and Liz had also used and refused to pay him. When Julia queried if it was the racism, Liz responded with: “No, because he was shit! If I didn’t pay people because they were racist I would have never got my satellite dish fitted. Or my wedding catered for”.

This more down-to-earth humour balances the more manic energies brought by Julia and Kevin. The latter in particular is annoying, a mixture of weird obsessiveness with a desperation to please normally only seen in puppies. It is the fact this portrayal veers in the cartoony that is the show’s biggest weakness. Everybody else you feel is somewhat believable, regardless of their faults.

Putting Kevin aside, this is an excellent comedy. It actually makes you laugh as the strands of the episode build to a climax. There isn’t any of the absurdism of Linehan’s other sitcoms, but then, that wouldn’t work here. This is about wry observations of modern parenting and the social rules that come with it.

I hope this show achieves continued success. Female-dominated comedies often get plenty of well-meaning comments but nothing to show for it. This deserves more. At the very least, a BAFTA for Morgan, who seems to be constantly just bubbling under the surface as a breakout talent. Maybe this could be her chance to join those at comedy’s top table. She has earnt it.

 

After what feels like an eternity, I have once again returned to The Middle. My pause from it was caused by my obsession with working my way through all 12 seasons of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. My word, the contrast is huge. It feels like entering a sunny landscape after days of hiking through rough terrain and a biting wind. Not that I don’t love It’s Always Sunny, it does edgy so well after all, but watching a comedy that isn’t full of anger and with people who are at a basic level likeable feels almost a relief.

Not that there aren’t clouds in The Middle. It’s just that it is the clouds are what drives the family together. Financial hardship, the perils of adulthood, dissatisfaction with life – they are all on display. But there is a love between the characters. And that’s why you buy into them as a real family.

Also, like with any family, you find yourself siding with different people each time. I have watched episodes where Brick is almost a hero to me, fighting his social awkwardness with a charming naivety. Then, in the next episode, these very qualities become overbearing and frustratingly child-like. Likewise, Frankie can be too naggy in one episode, wanting too much from her family and life and then giving up on her dreams when a minor bump appears. But then, you suddenly feel sorry for her when you see how much she tries to support her family with little gratification in return.

I’ve said it before, but it’s true – American TV truly comes into its own when it allows over a number of seasons at twenty or so episodes at time the characters to develop. Long-running plots can develop without being rushed and even minor characters can be fleshed out.

I think, more than anything, you come away from The Middle wanting the characters to be happy. Obviously not too happy. There is no comedy or narrative tension in a smooth life. But happy enough so that you come away affirmed that life can occasionally at least go your way.

You don’t always want happy in a comedy. Life isn’t like that and humour can come from the darkest place. But sometimes fiction needs to lift you up, even if it’s not aspirational. And that’s because aspiration alone doesn’t lift. It takes people to do that. Even dysfunctional families can make things better.

One of the more bizarre consequences of Brexit is the plan for a one-off special of noughties reality TV show Wife Swap. For anyone unfamiliar with concept, a woman would swap family lives with another with a different lifestyle. It was nearly always a case of some middle-class yummy mummy swapping with a significantly less posh type. What was initially a case of exploring issues around parenting and how the other half lives became just an arena for judgement, albeit an explosive one.

Channel 5 have taken a march on this yet-to-be-aired comeback by commissioning Rich House, Poor House. The big difference is that rather than just one member, it is the entire family who lives a different life. It is also more local – the first episode saw two families just 50 miles apart, but tens of thousands of pounds different in wealth. The Williams of Weston-super-Mare are in the bottom 10% in the UK, with just £170 of spare cash a week. The other family (sorry, blank on the name here) live in one of the poshest parts of Bristol and have £1,700 spare a week.

I went into this very cynical. I expected the poor family to be unambitious and lazy terrors and the rich family to be saintly but spoilt. Whilst the latter was to a degree true, I could not have been more wrong about the Williams’. Firstly, dad Anthony works a full-time job. Neither parent smokes or drinks because they can’t afford to. They celebrate their children’s achievements at school. Whilst they did splurge the cash they got, they did so in an understandable way. A new necklace for mum, for example. One of the most heart-warming scenes was seeing Anthony buy his son new football boots so he could play the sport again after growing out of his old ones last year.

There was also some interesting insights. Firstly, even though the rich family spend three times as much on their shopping, they hardly found themselves starving living on a reduced budget. They just had to shop smarter. The dad, seeing how difficult it was to make the money stretched, turned odd-job man round the house, fixing the Williams’ broken bathroom door and getting rid of the sofa out the front garden.

One of the most interesting revelations was about the rich family’s dad. Now a semi-retired software engineer, he started out at comprehensive school as his poor counterpart, but managed to climb the social ladder. It is a shame that the programme didn’t shed more light on this – was it sheer hard work? Or did he just have the fortune to walk into the right interview room at the right time?

The one other drawback is, unlike Wife Swap, there was no time for the families to swap notes. In fact, there was little time for reflection at all, the only moment being when ‘poor mum’ confirmed she hadn’t been that much happier with the money – things may have been easier but she couldn’t truthfully say they were better.

I hope the rest of the series is in the same positive vein. There are too many programmes where we simply gawp at those poorer and richer than us, and to actually feel we are meeting genuinely nice people who are just living different lives gives me a glow.

First of all everyone, Merry Christmas. You may find it odd that I’m still doing a post today, but it is so engrained in my Sunday routine it feels natural. Besides, it’s distracting me from the uncomfortable full feeling in my stomach.

Christmas TV is often a mixed blessing. If you are into the kind of show that showcases a Christmas special, then is something to look forward to. For me though, there are very few programmes that fit the bill. Yes, there’s Doctor Who, but other than that, the demise of Downton Abbey has left me slightly bereft.

The one bright spot is Last Tango In Halifax, which came back after an eternity away for a two-part special. For those unaware, it is about a pair of childhood sweethearts who rediscover each other in their twilight years and the collision between their families. Think Romeo & Juliet for pensioners.

Of course it has become so much more than that, and the Christmas special showcased this quite well. The thrust of the plotlines this year fell on the couple’s adult children from their previous relationships. Caroline, Celia’s daughter, found herself climbing out of her grieving over her partner by jacking in her cushy private school job by taking on the headship of a rough comprehensive and moving her family to ghastly damp farmhouse. That beautiful suburban kitchen is no more.

Meanwhile, Gillian, who always seems to have the darkest shadows hanging over her, found herself questioning her marriage to new husband Robbie. It all started with the usual kind of argument – his retirement ushering in a lifestyle change that wasn’t quite working – before a nasty accident led to a more sinister issue arising.

Amongst all this, Celia and Alan almost became bit-part players, which is ironic considering their storyline consisted of them rehearsing for an am-dram performance. With all plotlines involving ghosts, it offered a nice sense of completeness for it to be Blithe Spirit, but even so, it was easily the third most important plot. They have moved from the centre to the periphery.

This isn’t necessary a bad thing. The quiet contentment of love is hardly thrilling, and it is clear that it is Caroline and Gillian that still have a few of life’s journeys to make. The stark contrast of the two of them – Caroline making a new start by choice, Gillian because she is forced to – was subtle but revealing. Caroline had let go of her past, Gillian unable to do so.

Some have asked if a full length series is in the offing. Personally, I don’t think it is needed. Bar a health-related plotline, Celia and Alan seem to be plodding along happily, and I think they should be left that way. There is also enough of a sense of ‘story told’ for Caroline and Gillian – the viewer knows enough to not feel cheated and can fill in gaps for themselves. If this was the last tango of Last Tango, it was perfectly in time.