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.
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.