Archives for posts with tag: family

Some British viewers may be able to cast their minds back a decade to Come Fly with Me, Matt Lucas and David Walliams’ spoof docu-soap set in an airport where they played an array of staff members. It was obvious it was sketch show pretending to be a documentary, the lines distinctly unblurred. Yes, I know that isn’t a word, but bear with me.

But what do you do when the borders aren’t so defined, and the comedy sits somewhere between truth and fiction? This is the case with Meet the Richardsons. On the surface this is a documentary, albeit a funny one, following comedian Jon Richardson and his fellow comic, wife Lucy Beaumont. It has all the hallmarks of a standard of this genre at a more low-key level – simmering tensions, candid thoughts and eventful occasions.

But then it turns out it is actually a sitcom written by Beaumont, making it a mockumentary. So it technically belongs with This Country. But even that is more able to flag its genre more clearly. It is obvious with the innate level of daftness and the extremes of the characters. Meet the Richardsons feels very real.

In many respects this confusion is only a problem for us fuddy-duddys. It is funny whether you treat it as a true slice of domestic life or a fictional comedy. The image of Jon hiding from party guests upstairs feels as if it is does happen, and in fairness, probably does. And it is when they are being just a slightly turned-up version of their real selves that this show works best.

Where the show stumbles slightly is when there is more of a deliberate push to create a ‘situation’. The end of the episode included a very unfunny and obviously false appearance on Mr & Mrs. It was a jarring note to create something so manufactured when everything else appeared natural. It was also an anti-climax, as the previous scene at the disastrous kid’s party had much more of a payoff from the previously introduced plotlines.

I hope as the series progresses that it focuses more on the believable and very nearly true to life stories and less on the ridiculous. Both of them have the comic timing to make it work without the need to insert ridiculous scenarios. The show is too low-key for them to work. Comedy and truth can mingle, but they need to do so the right way.

It is a source of joy and frustration that many dramas and comedies in the UK don’t have a fixed schedule. The next series is often at the whim of the writers and actors. It is a joy because you normally avoid a deluge of your favourites returning at all the same time. But it is also a frustration as you can often be left waiting around to see if it will come back at all.

So it was with Motherland, where were left not knowing the future. But it is now finally back, and remains the bitter joy that it was before. Sighs of relief all round.

This series does see some progression. Julia is now freelancing and working from home, although no less stressed. Meanwhile, new mum Meg is on the scene, brilliantly quick witted but also hedonistic. But everything else remains constant. Amanda is still queen bee faithfully followed around by Anne, Kevin is still the weedy dad and Liz the cynical and slovenly one of the group.

It is the sharp turns of phrase that make this show stand out. Liz in particular has a brilliant way of delivering killer barbs, for example, calling Amanda’s pretentious gift shop a ‘knick-knack prison’ whilst mourning the loss of her favourite kebab shop that has gone to make way for said boutique.

What is also fascinating is that it straddles the lines between making the characters slightly dislikeable but also sympathetic. Kevin is irritating but also sweetly trying to cling on to his identity through his kids. Amanda is a snob but also battling a breakdown in her marriage. Julia is selfish and spiteful but also harried and incredibly aware of her own failings. This means that when bad things happen to them you don’t feel uncomfortable but also don’t take too much pleasure from their pain.

There are some strong points made in between all this. Not least is the constant competitiveness that parenting has become. Another is, as Liz puts it, the yummy-mummification of the high street. Both show that in the battle of the haves and have nots, it’s the mums who are having to use most of the weaponry.

I hope don’t have as long a wait as last time for another new series, or we are at least put out of our misery sooner. Parenting comedies can often be finite so we need as many series as possible before we sink into the too predictable teenage years. Hopefully, this plea will chivvy it along.

TV is rubbish over Christmas. The desire to please a broad, captive audience means that the mainstream thrives at the expense of anything interesting. No Christmas special of Killing Eve for those of us who loved it, at least not this year. Instead, updates of Poirot (albeit supposedly grittier), accompanied by the usual Call the Midwife and Mrs Brown’s Boys.

No wonder I have turned to the Planner, where, in a Christmas miracle, I found dozens of episodes of Bob’s Burgers. I have declared my love for it before, but with so little else on I am unashamed in doing so again.

One of the key things I love about it is that, in what seems to be an increasing rarity in comedy (animated or live), the characters actually love each other. I have got to the point with Family Guy and American Dad! Where I have stopped buying into them as loveable but dysfunctional. They just have pushed each other all too far.

But not the Belchers. There is genuinely a united front in the family and a sense of support for each other, even with the craziest of ideas. I know I may be reading a little too much into a cartoon, but it is a massive mood boost not to watch a family that brims over with resentment.

This means you can focus on the plot and the lines, both of which are at the top of their game. Again, some comedies by now in their lifecycle go for bigger targets and overreach. Suspension of belief is fine but there is a definite sense at times that they are going for plot at expense of humour. With Bob’s Burgers I can still buy into that this is just the regular adventures of a family.

The show isn’t scared of making the audience pay attention either. It can at times shoot rapid fire lines between the characters (Gene in particular goes for off the cuff remarks that you could miss if diverted) and that is one of the joys.

Of course, the greatest two characters are and always will be Tina and Louise. The former is an introvert dying to be an extrovert and fiercely individualistic. She is a hero to anyone who just wants to be themselves and finds themselves half in/half out of the popular group. Louise, meanwhile, is beautifully cynical and strongminded. She is one of my favourite characters from any show ever.

My last point in praise for the show is that even the minor characters are well drawn out (pardon the pun). They may only get a few minutes in an episode once or twice a year, but you still know them. Two of my favourites are Felix, the brother of Mr Fischoder, and Gayle, Linda’s sister, both of whom have the kind of nuance some shows struggle to get into their main characters, never mind secondary ones.

This show has got me through Christmas. It might even need to get me through January at this rate. Mind you, there are worse things. I could actually have to talk to my own 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.

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.