Citizen Khan – the BBC’s new, quite controversial, sitcom about a Muslim Pakistani family living in Sparkhill, Birmingham – continued last night. Well, let’s not wait any longer: let’s get down to the review.
‘THE OFFENCE POLICE’
Perhaps it’s because I’m an English atheist but I – naively? – didn’t think Citizen Khan would be perceived as ‘offensive’ or ‘controversial’. Of course, the subject matter is something which British audiences haven’t seen for a long while – race and religion, Islam in particular, so for some reason it was bound to raise eyebrows with some, regardless of the end result. It seems that, with the BBC receiving 187 complaints from disgruntled viewers within the first twenty-four hours of it airing, people are in fact not happy with Adil Ray’s sitcom.
Yes, I found the first episode bland. I think everyone did – it lacked originality and a great amount of humour. And it is this blandness, absence of originality, etc. which people seem to find offensive, not the representation of Islam or British Pakistanis within the half-hour episode. Actually, I asked a Muslim friend what she thought of Citizen Khan and she said “On the whole it was mediocre and far too cheesy”, and I couldn’t agree more: the opening episode really wasn’t anything special at all.
Personally, I think that the majority of people who complained to the BBC about Citizen Khan apparently being in bad taste won’t have been Muslim, nor Pakistani. I’m just making a prediction here based on articles – by Muslim writers – about the show, but I think they will have instead been members of The Offence Police – that invisible group of busybodies who have Ofcom on speed dial and somehow find the time to moan and groan about any little thing which could be perceived as offensive to anyone other than themselves: the professional objectors. That is why I believe Citizen Khan has been slated, not because it gives the people it is representing a bad name, but because the large majority of the audience found it mostly unfunny, and the small rest felt fit to not only find it unfunny, but uncover any degree of prejudice within it, of which I can see none.
‘NOT MUCH OF AN IMPROVEMENT’
I have to say, this episode wasn’t much of an improvement on the first. Once again, it lacked originality and it felt like I’d seen it all before. A lot of the jokes you can see coming a mile off, so it makes it harder to concentrate on the comedy potential as you’re too busy correctly predicting what the next punchline will be.
Sitcoms like Citizen Khan and In With the Flynns just don’t seem modern or new (despite the former appearing to be so with its subject matter). There’s nothing particularly wrong with creating a sitcom with a traditional feel in 2012! Miranda is inspired by the 70s, with its quite over-the-top (yet sublime) acting, asides to camera, and so on. It’s warm, friendly and familiar but doesn’t feel stuck in the past. Ditto Mrs. Brown’s Boys. While the language is slightly more…let’s say ‘daring’ than Khan, Flynns or Miranda, it still is quite traditional: studio audience, the lead character directly addressing the audience – both at home and at the recording – but it has a modern feel, mainly because it is one of the first sitcoms not to take itself too seriously. The storylines are exaggerated, as are the characters, yet writer Brendan O’Carroll has hit upon the brilliantly fresh idea of leaving the majority of the out-takes in for the viewers at home to see.
That is my point: Miranda and Mrs. Brown do rely somewhat on previously established concepts yet have their own modern twists so they’re not predictable, nor tiresome. In With the Flynns and Citizen Khan on the other hand, unfortunately, are. The mark of a truly good comedy, I find, is something which another writer wouldn’t want to try and do themselves: they just want to leave it to the creator, or creators, of that show. The two easiest examples of the classic British sitcom genre are Only Fools and Horses and Fawlty Towers. Only Fools was only ever written by John Sullivan – no one else. After all, who would have wanted to take the risk of penning lines for the Trotters when only the late, great Sullivan himself could do it? I’m a writer and wouldn’t want to even attempt to emulate the genius he brought to that show because I know for a fact that, although I am at least partly competent when it comes to scriptwriting, I wouldn’t do Only Fools and Horses justice. Likewise with Fawlty Towers – John Cleese and Connie Booth are the only ones who know, for example, how Basil and Sybil’s marriage truly worked, how far to push Fawlty’s violence towards Manuel, and so much more. Only they could write it. Citizen Khan isn’t like that, though. I feel that I could jump onto my computer, open up Microsoft Word and start typing out lines for Khan and co. with ease because it’s not precious enough for me not to touch, and I’m sure many writers would feel the same.
WE NEED FUNNIER CHARACTERS!
There are some good gags in this show, don’t get me wrong, but they genuinely are few and far between. Plus, the gags – as I said last week – are nearly all heaped upon Mr. Khan himself. He hogs the jokes and seems to be responsible for every second line, which doesn’t really give other characters a chance to shine – they just remain pretty much in Khan’s shadow. If the writers want more people to realise the funny stuff I’m sure they are capable of producing, they should simply give more characters more jokes. Plus, with the introduction of Mrs. Khan’s mother, they have another character to make funny, don’t they? And from what I’ve seen of Mr. Khan’s mother-in-law in this episode, she seems likely to inject at least a little more ‘comedy’ into the show.
Maybe Citizen Khan will grow on me. I don’t despise it, it’s just that I don’t have a lot to say in support of it (as I’m sure you can gauge). Perhaps others will begin to like Mr. Khan, too, once this whole furore over the offence it has apparently caused dies down.
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