Monthly Archives: October 2012

Is ‘Friday Night Dinner’ Still So Delicious?

I thought the first series of Friday Night Dinner – Robert Popper’s sitcom about a Jewish family – was excellent. It was so fresh and new, not to mention laugh-out-loud funny with worryingly identifiable characters and situations.

The great thing about a lot of Friday Night Dinner is that it’s universal. Yes, it’s about a Jewish family but it could so easily be about any – be they religious or not. There are in fact aspects of the show which I can relate to – despite not having a sibling and still living at home – and not being a Jew.

The second series is now under way on Sunday nights on Channel 4 but unfortunately, I’m not finding myself to be quite so enthusiastic about this run.

‘FARCICAL’

The series returned a week last Sunday with an episode entitled ‘Buggy’, which focused on an elaborate feud between brothers Adam (Simon Bird) and Jonny (Tom Rosenthal), which saw the latter attempt to destroy the former’s childhood treasure – his cuddly toy, Buggy – after it was revealed Adam had destroyed Jonny’s beloved toy, Pandy, when they were eleven.

That was basically the premise for the whole episode. Now, such a squabble could have – and arguably should have – lasted for no longer than five or ten minutes, after which time it would have just fizzled out and peace would be resumed. Popper decided this was not the best way to go, however, and instead dragged out the fight for the twenty two minutes for which the program ran. So, he clearly resisted the urge to make the argument a small gem in Friday Night Dinner‘s crown, and instead crafted it so that it was in danger of stamping on and smashing it.

This episode was far too farcical in comparison to what we’d become accustomed to in the first series. I’d have expected it to have been included in something like My Family or In With the Flynns. I mean, the episode was still quite funny – as was My Family at its peak – but it was just so out of keeping with the realism I’d previously gauged the series was at least partly about. It simply wasn’t good enough.

Don’t get me wrong: it was still an unforgettable episode. Just mainly for the wrong reasons.

‘THE LARGE MAJORITY ANGERED ME’

We then come to the second episode, and the one which infuriated me so much and prompted me to write this piece. ‘Mr. Morris’.

The premise was quite good and worked in itself: this is a close-knit family (despite their squabbling), so anyone new entering the fold would spell trouble: let alone someone like Mr. Morris!

Lou Morris, you see, is Grandma’s new boyfriend and transpires to be rude, obnoxious and an absolute monster, therefore making the Goodmans opposed to, and quite scared of, him.

It can certainly make for interesting viewing when a writer creates a character in order to wind-up the audience and other characters alike (after all, isn’t that what Basil Fawlty does, just like Slater from Only Fools?). However, that interest soon vanishes when the aforementioned ‘other characters’ suck-up to the nasty one in order to appease them, never actually getting one over on them. This is presumably a choice on the writer’s part as a way of extracting comedy by having the audience laugh at how pathetic those sucking-up are being. More often than not, though, it doesn’t work – and so it tragically was with this episode of Friday Night Dinner.

You see, far from making me laugh, the large majority of this instalment angered me greatly. I was not, however, annoyed with Mr. Morris – as I assume I was meant to be. I was in fact annoyed with Friday Night Dinner as a program, and Robert Popper as a writer.

The scene in the petrol station which saw Mr. Morris buy a new light bulb for his car, which he had crashed into the house (only to blame it on the positioning of the building itself, as opposed to his driving…) and a packet of condoms, only for him to force Adam and Jonny to pay up, angered me. It was just so ridiculous and over-the-top that it became unfunny.

Robert Popper can do better than this.

 

To reiterate, I loved the first series and still think Martin (Paul Ritter) and Jim (Mark Heap) are an absolute joy to watch.

At the end of the day, Friday Night Dinner is at its best when I can relate to it. Unfortunately, that’s something which I am unable to do with a deranged octogenarian lunatic, nor an out of control lawnmower in the kitchen (as included in the first episode).

I don’t like criticising Friday Night Dinner as I can still find smidgens of joy in it and, to me, it hasn’t received the credit it deserves. These ludicrous plots, though, are dragging the show down somewhat and I feel that those who are only tuning in now, having not watched the first series, won’t realise just how funny it can be.

Because it can be funny: unlike most of this series.

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‘Hebburn’ – Episode 1.1

Jason Cook’s new comedy – based on some of his own experiences growing up – Hebburn hit BBC2 last night – and I loved it!

‘NEVER FEELS UNORIGINAL OR LIKE A COPY’

People have compared it to The Royle Family and I do sort of see what they mean, in terms of concept: it focuses on a northern, down-to-earth, quite close-knit family. When it comes to quality, though, The Royle Family is pretty much untouchable – so, not to take anything away from it, I don’t believe Hebburn is at that point (and was therefore shocked to read that the British Comedy Guide have described it as, ‘the identifiable, real family comedy that The Royle Family always thought it was’. Although I love BCG, I have to disagree there).

Hebburn‘s similarities to other sitcoms don’t just end with Aherne and Cash’s – oh, no! There are many cringeworthy moments throughout, quite reminiscent of The Office, the plot about Jack and Sarah secretly marrying abroad smells of BBC3’s most recent hit, Cuckoo, and there’s something about the family and setting which puts me in mind of Simon Amstell’s Grandma’s House. Despite, on reflection, being somewhat of a concoction of these other brilliant programs, Hebburn never feels unoriginal or like a copy of another series – something which appears to be rare in the world of sitcom nowadays.

‘THIS IS LIKE A ROM-COM COMPARED TO GEORDIE SHORE!’

I know a lot of people from the north east will be up-in-arms about this show but I’m not one of them. After all, this is like a rom-com compared to Geordie Shore!

Even if I wasn’t from Sunderland, I know for a fact that I would still really like Hebburn. However, the fact that I am from the north east – and I’m sure this will apply to others from the area who watched it – enhanced my enjoyment.

I particularly loved Chris Ramsey (Jack), reprimanding his wife Sarah (played by Fresh Meat‘s Kimberley Nixon) for saying, “I’ve never been to Newcastle before”, by replying, “This isn’t Newcastle!” That is exactly how my dad – and probably I, if I’m honest – would react if someone said that! And if you don’t think it is a likely response, why don’t you go up to someone in Sunderland, South Shields, or Middlesbrough and call them “a Geordie” or tell them you’re enjoying being in Newcastle. I doubt you’ll get a response which differs much from Jack’s!

The magic of Hebburn is that I can identify with the family – much like everyone could with The Royle FamilyEarly Doors or even Only Fools and Horses. I know who the Pearsons are: I recognise their personalities, the situations they’re in, the colloquialisms they use. It’s all there! Cook has done so well to tap into north east life, yet also make his show universal, so that no matter where you are in the country, you’ll ‘get it’. That is, once again, a rarity nowadays.

 

There’s some masterful dialogue in that script, such as Dot – the ‘couldn’t give a damn’ gran – piping up with:

‘I love sitting in the lounge. We only use it on special occasions.’

To which Jack’s sister, Vicki, replied excitedly:

‘We ‘aven’t been in there since The X Factor final!’

It’s a simple enough line, and may not look like much on paper, but really is brilliant when delivered in that familiar Geordie lilt.

With such a well crafted script, excellent one-liners and subplots, I really do urge you to seek out Hebburn on iPlayer. Ya winnit regret it, pet!

To let me know what you think of any of my comments, or just to share your views on anything about the world of TV, drop a comment on this post or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

Also, watch out for my review on shows such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing on my YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/UKTVReviewer

‘Jews at Ten’ – Episode 1.1

Jewish programming seems to be popular at the moment: Ronna and Beverly is doing well for Sky Atlantic, and ITV have to date produced two series of their documentary Strictly Kosher (with it being given a repeat run on ITV1 from Sunday night).

In addition to this, Channel 4 apppear to currently be running what I would descirbe as a ‘Jewish Season’, with the recommissioning of sitcom Friday Night Dinner, the premier of Jewish Mum of the Year and this – Jews at Ten, a series showing famous Jewish celebrities sharing their experiences as a result of their faith.

CONFUSE AT TEN

I’m not quite sure how to categorise this show. It couldn’t exactly be described as a chat show as it doesn’t have a host as such. Neither would I really call it a documentary. The title – as I’m sure you’ve gathered, a pun of News at Ten – would suggest that it’s a comedy, but the content, on the other hand, would not.

Don’t get me wrong: it can be funny – but a comedy? I don’t know.

I think I’ll plump for ‘a series of talking heads’…although I can’t see the term catching on.

ENLIGHTENMENT

This episode focused on Jewish celebrations and traditions, including; Bar Mitzvahs (a Jewish boy’s coming of age ceremony); the Brit Malah, also known as the Bris – or circumcision; and Hanukkah – the Festival of Light.

Despite studying GCSE Religious Studies, I must confess that I didn’t know a lot about Judaism. I’d heard of the aforementioned traditions, but I didn’t know why they happened, nor when – I just knew they were there. Therefore, I found that Jews at Ten enlightened me about the religion and its customs.

Now, I understand that by me saying it ‘enlightened me’, I may have deterred many people from watching the program as I’ve made it sound like a serious, informative look at Judaism but that is far from the truth. It’s actually a light-hearted program, with many of the participants actually opposing aspects of the religion (the Bris came under particular criticism – unsurprisingly from the men), and a lot actually confessing that they celebrate Christmas – of course, a Christian festival – as well as Hanukkah. Some owned up to actually preferring Christmas than their own festival. So, the large majority of those being interviewed were most certainly not taking themselves too seriously.

What I believe kept it from being a heavy program was the choice to include recognisable faces, many of whom – like Vanessa Feltz, Uri Geller and Tracy-Ann Oberman – I actually did not realise were Jewish. If Jews at Ten had been fronted solely by some boring presenter, pontificating about why Judaism is so great and superior to other faiths, I would have swtiched off because it wouldn’t have engaged me. However, having celebrities discussing honestly and somewhat jokingly their own personal experiences really did engage me and I wanted to hear what they wanted to say, because I was interested in their views and finding out more about them. The fact that I acquired some information which I had been oblivious too, prior to watching the program, is a complete bonus.

 

So, I think it’s safe to say that I will be watching the rest of the Jews at Ten series – whereas not overwhelmingly funny (but, then again, it doesn’t profess itself to be), it is interesting and I come away having absorbed information I didn’t realise I had taken in while watching!

 

Jews at Ten can be seen at 10pm on Tuesdays on More4, or at various times in the early hours of Friday morning on Channel 4 (this week at 1:10am)

 

To let me know what you think of any of my comments, or just to share your views on anything about the world of TV, drop a comment on this post or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

Also, watch out for my review on shows such as The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing on my YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/UKTVReviewer