Category Archives: Sitcom

‘Porridge’ (BBC1) Review

With Are You Being Served? having heralded the beginning of the BBC’s string of classic sitcom revamps at 9pm, Porridge was up next, starring Kevin Bishop as Fletcher – the grandson of Ronnie Barker’s Norman Stanley – who has been imprisoned for cyber crimes.

On paper, Porridge sounded promising. Unlike Are You Being Served?, it was coming from the pens of its original writers and creators, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and the lead role of Fletch had been put in the capable hands of comedian Kevin Bishop. One can only imagine the pressure that Mark Bonnar as Officer Meekie alongside Kevin Bishop as Fletch Bishop felt; as recently as last year, Porridge was voted the fifth best-loved British sitcom by the public, proving that our affection for not only the series but the character of Norman Stanley Fletcher, too, was as strong as ever. So, even if he wasn’t playing the same role as Ronnie Barker, as the protagonist in Porridge Bishop had huge shoes to fill and high expectations to meet. I doubt anyone truly expected it to surpass or even meet the standards of the original series, but I found this episode to be poor even on its own merits.

Where was the originality? Where was the charm that made the series so popular in the 70s, and continually so to this day? It all just seemed to be badly pitched and not thought-through well enough at all. One got the impression on watching it that Clement and La Frenais focused too much on rehashing old jokes – from the ‘I won’t let you catch me’ conversation with Mackay/Meekie to  the cheeky ‘two fingers’ to the prison officers, via a pineapple chunks motif – that they omitted anything genuinely funny from their script.

Another focus of the writers’ that seemed to have been given undue time and attention was the  impression upon the audience that this episode of Porridge is set in the 21st century – unlike the old episodes of Porridge, which were made and set in the Dave Hill and Bishop as cellmates Lotterby and Fletch70s. For example, while Barker’s Fletch was banged-up for attempting to steal a lorry, Bishop’s incarnation has committed a string of cyber crimes – because it’s the 21st century, so obviously his imprisonment’s something to do with computers. Then, within the first few post-titles scenes, there are references to gluten-free food, Sepp Blatter and Wikipedia, because those things weren’t around in the 70s but they are now, in 2016, and of course everyone’s dropping them into casual conversation. There was even a young character calling Fletch ‘bro’ – because that’s what all the youth say nowadays, you see, and Clement and La Frenais are so ‘down’ with that. Oh, and they then have a character tell Fletch that he ‘smoked some lethal crow last night’ and ‘was well-blunted’ – you know, just in case you were in any doubt as to whether this was still set in the 70s. ‘Bro’.

Calling this show Porridge was always going to be an albatross around its neck, and so it’s transpired to be. Kevin Bishop may have put in a commendable performance as Fletcher 3.0, but when working with a below-par script that I could scarcely believe was the work of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais themselves, even he wasn’t enough to save it. Then again, I had a similar reaction to the pilot of Still Open All Hours, yet that was commissioned for a full series and has since gone from strength to strength, so perhaps Porridge will follow suit. However, I expect the quality of the scripts would have to improve somewhat, as this seemed to be nothing more than a pale imitation of the original.

The cast of 'Porridge'All images thanks to Scott Kershaw and ©BBC

Porridge is available on BBC iPlayer until 27th September 2016.

The Landmark Sitcom Season continues throughout August and September across the BBC. Full details can be found on the British Comedy Guide.

What did you think of Porridge? Do you agree or disagree with this review? Please comment below or tweet @UKTVReviewer.

Alternatively, you can post on the UKTV Reviewer Facebook page.

Advertisements

‘Are You Being Served?’ (BBC1) Review

Following on from a very vague press release in September 2015, earlier this year the BBC announced full details of its Landmark Sitcom Season, launched to celebrate 60 years since Hancock’s Half Hour began on television. Some noted at the time that it would perhaps have made more sense for the BBC to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its first-ever, and arguably the world’s first-ever, TV sitcom, Pinwright’s Progress in 2016, rather than the sexagenary of Hancock – but those small voices were quickly silenced by other, louder ones, who focused on the news that, in addition to documentaries and panel shows and new pilots for BBC2, a host of classics would be resurrected as part of the celebrations. The announcement of new episodes of Porridge, Are You Being Served? and Goodnight Sweetheart, alongside a Keeping Up Appearances prequel, saw some comedy fans rejoicing. Many more, however, adopted the same attitude that is exhibited towards most comedy remakes, and were understandably wary.

Kicking off the Landmark Sitcom Season last night wasSherrie Hewson as Mrs Slocombe alongside Niky Wardley as Miss Brahms Are You Being Served?, which came from the pen of Benidorm creator Derren Litten, following David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s deaths in 2011 and ‘14, respectively. So, with the creators and writers having passed away, and only one original cast member surviving, many were sceptical as to whether the new Are You Being Served? could match its predecessor. Of course, deep down everyone knew that it never would – but I doubt I’m alone in being surprised that Litten came closer than anyone imagined.

A heavy plot was neither needed nor provided, with broad innuendoes and cosy nostalgia being the order of the day. From the first trill of the cash register and sweeping shot of the set, a se nse of familiarity was immediately instilled, and this continued throughout the next thirty minutes. Despite  Sherrie Hewson’s Mrs Slocombe (pictured, above) appearing to be little more than a watered-down Joyce Temple-Savage – her formidable manageress character in Benidorm – the cast and script were as near perfection as it was reasonable to expect. Litten proved quite quickly that his intention was not to create entirely predictable innuendo or simply rely on the show’s age-old catchphrases, as once Mr Humphries had declared ‘I’m free!’ and Mrs Slocombe’s pussy had Jason Watkins as Mr Humphrieshad its moment in the spotlight, what the audience were left with was a pleasing script with moments of genuine brilliance, delivered by a cast of sitcom regulars who pitched their performances just right; distinguishable from their predecessors while also instantly familiar. Jason Watkins’s Mr Humphries (pictured, left) was a particular delight, providing proof – if proof were needed – that he is an actor of supreme talent. Few spring to mind who could portray Christopher Jefferies, the former teacher who was falsely accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates in 2010, with such sensitivity and authenticity, then slip into the kitten heels of the limp-wristed Mr Humphries – yet seem entirely suited to both.

The episode may have seemed cut-short, being wrapped up just as a plot was begin to take form, but this was an otherwise perfectly-pitched remake of an audience classic. One would have struggled to think of a writer better qualified to bring back Are You Being Served?, and I would be incredibly surprised if it didn’t follow in the footsteps of Still Open All Hours and were not at least considered for a more permanent return.

The cast of 'Are You Being Served?'All images ©BBC 

Are You Being Served? is available on BBC iPlayer until 27th September 2016.

The Landmark Sitcom Season continues throughout August and September across the BBC. Full details can be found on the British Comedy Guide.

What did you think of Are You Being Served? Do you agree or disagree with this review? Please comment below or tweet @UKTVReviewer.

‘Josh’ (BBC3) Review

From one of the stars of Channel 4’s The Last Leg comes eponymous new sitcom, Josh, focusing on, alongside Josh himself, his flatmates, Owen and Kate (Beattie Edmondson), and their rather odd landlord, Geoff. A premise of three unlucky-in-love friends who often have to deal with with their interfering landlord is typical sitcom fodder, and the script transpired to be, too – leading to what I found to be a rather dire thirty minutes.

One look at the credits would have told you that this had the makings of a good sitcom; as well as Josh Widdicombe himself, the cast was also comprised of Radio 4 regular, Elis James (Owen), and the ever-reliable Jack Dee (Geoff). The series has been directed by David Schneider – whose face you’ve almost certainly seen if you’ve watched any sitcom since the 90s – and can boast that its Owen (Elis James) and Josh Widdicombe (Josh)Executive Producer is Stephen McCrum, the man who was responsible for bringing Mrs Brown’s Boys to the BBC (whether or not you think that that is something to ‘boast’ about is, of course, down to you). So, Josh has numerous established, successful comedy names working both on- and off-screen. That begs the question, therefore, why on earth did it fall so flat? The answer appears to be quite simple: the script wasn’t of the quality that it should have been. This was the implication within the twenty seconds of this episode, when a vignette clearly designed to establish Josh and Owen’s statuses as ‘unlucky with the ladies’ ended with a predictable whimper, and set the tone for the subsequent twenty eight minutes.

It wasn’t just the jokes – or apparent lack thereof – that resulted in the show failing to meet many fans’ expectations, however; I found that ‘Fictional Josh’s’ remarkable similarity to ‘Real Josh’ was an irritating distraction from the beginning. In the BBC’s press release, ‘Fictional Josh’ is described Josh Widdicombe (Josh) as a ‘baby-faced Victor Meldrew,’ which is annoying for two reasons: firstly, David Renwick’s scripts were funny; and secondly, a ‘baby-faced Victor Meldrew’ is an incredibly apt description of Josh Widdicombe himself. There seems not to have been any distinction made between the character and the comedian, which gives the episode an air of being merely a stand-up routine about chlorine allergies, the annoyances of ‘reply all’ emails and the inability to swim, brought to life. Of course, it would be ridiculous for the two Joshes to be poles apart – but they shouldn’t be carbon copies of each other like this, either. Hence, they just need to be similar – it’s what’s necessary for the sitcom to feel like a sitcom. For instance, we all know that Miranda Hart is probably capable of walking down the street without falling over or making innuendo with a complete stranger, unlike ‘Fictional Miranda’, so we can set the two versions of her apart. Likewise, all fans of Not Going Out know perfectly well that Lee Mack isn’t a feckless layabout – despite what we see of ‘Fictional Lee’. Josh Widdicombe taking his awkward, pedantic, quietly irritated stage persona and creating an awkward, pedantic, quietly irritated character called Josh, however, just didn’t seem to work.

Having not seen last year’s iPlayer short that acted as a springboard for this series, I was really looking forward to Josh, but have been left disappointed by the opening episode. Josh himself is genuinely a great comedian – as both a writer and performer – and it is likely that this reputation led to high expectations, and the show not hitting the mark. He had the potential to make the stand-up-to-sitcom transition as smoothly as Lee Mack, Nick Helm or even Josh star, Jack Dee himself – but, if we’re to judge the series based on this opening episode, it appears that he has not managed it.

  Image credit: Thanks to Des Willie, ©BBC

Josh is on Wednesdays at 10:30pm on BBC3

What did you think of Josh? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Mountain Goats’ (BBC1) Review

Back in 2012, Sir David Jason opined, ‘I think [sitcom writers] haven’t been catering enough for families in general. And I think the BBC have taken that on board and are trying to redress the balance.’ This was perhaps the most notable of a long line of cries for a return to so-called ‘family-friendly’ comedy. Inoffensive comedy. Comedy that doesn’t push boundaries. And the BBC have indeed been producing that a lot since Sir David’s call for it. We’ve seen the arrival of Big School,'Mountain Goats' star, Jimmy Chisholm Still Open All Hours and Count Arthur Strong, all of which have been received warmly by viewers, if not always by critics, and proven that there is indeed still a market for ‘family-friendly’ comedy, if it’s  funny. However, there have also been the less successful programmes; the ones that have died a slow, painful death in the make-or-break 10:35pm slot. I’m thinking of The Wright Way, Father Figure and all three of the 2014 Comedy Playhouse pilots – one of which, unsurprisingly, was Mountain Goats.

Originating as Miller’s Mountain during last year’s rather anticlimactic revival of the BBC’s legendary Comedy Playhouse strand, this series follows a team of mountain rescue volunteers in the Scottish Highlands who, when they’re not going to the aid of other people, are drinking copious amounts of alcohol in the local pub, trying to find a home for themselves or desperately escaping their overbearing mother’s advances. Hilarity ensues. One would find it difficult to believe that this is a million miles away from what Sir David had in mind when talking about the BBC ‘catering for families’.

The sad thing is, I simply don’t find Mountain Goats funny – and please don’t think that I’m being disingenuous when I say that that’s ‘sad’. I genuinely 'Mountain Goats' star, Sharon Rooneywant to like sitcoms such as this. The trouble is, nowadays people are all too ready to turn their noses up at such traditional, studio-based  comedy – they dismiss it without giving it a fair go – so, not wanting to jump on that bandwagon, I was desperate to unearth the funny in Mountain Goats but I failed to find it simply because it failed to deliver it. In fact, not even appearances from Doon Mackichan and My Mad Fat Diary’s Sharon Rooney (pictured, left) brought it salvation.

Usually in a sitcom, there’s a sign of promise – perhaps a gag or trait of one of the characters that represents a glimmer of hope for the show – but in Mountain Goats I genuinely struggled to find one. To be frank, I think the problem is that it’s just too bland; there’s nothing in it to suggest that it warranted being commissioned. The larger-than-life characters and subtle-as-a-brick gags may have looked good on paper but in actuality were unoriginal, uninteresting and, ultimately, unfunny.

While a quick look at Twitter will tell you that some people did in fact like Mountain Goats, it will also tell you that I’m in the majority by having not enjoyed it. For the half-an-hour that I spent watching it, I just couldn’t stop thinking about two things: firstly, why writer Donald McLeary hadn’t learned from the numerous mistakes he made in the pilot last year and see this, quite unbelievable, shot at a series as an opportunity to rectify them; and secondly, why at a time when great shows such as The Walshes, Hebburn and Getting On are being axed, things like this are being made.

'Mountain Goats' cast (L-R), David Ireland, Kathryn Howden, Jimmy Chisholm, Sharon Rooney and Kevin Mains All images thanks to BBC Pictures and Alan Peebles, ©BBC

Mountain Goats is on Fridays at 10:35pm on BBC1

What did you think of Mountain Goats? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Ballot Monkeys’ (Channel 4) Review

From the trusted pens of Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin. and featuring a strong cast of comedy stars, Channel 4’s new Election-centred sitcom, Ballot Monkeys launched last night, focusing on the backstage goings-on aboard the Labour, Conservative, Lib-Dem and UKIP ‘battle buses’. Generally, it seemed to immediately impress viewers and critics alike – but left me slightly uncertain.

Hamilton and Jenkin are renowned for their rather unorthodox approach to making comedy; their last hit series before Ballot Monkeys, Outnumbered, was of course semi-improvised, and Drop the Dead Donkey, their 90s sitcom set in a television newsroom, often would not complete recording until a few hours before transmission, meaning that the tapes would have to be rushed to Channel 4 in time for their 10pm airing. Ballot Monkeys is filmed in a similar way, with much of the script not actually written until the last minute, allowing for as many topical gags as possible.

And in that respect, Ballot Monkeys worked very well – the stand-out moments from the episode were indeed those that referenced events of the past week. So, a fictional UKIP candidate calling the migrants who recently drowned off the coast of Libya ‘Labour’s new floating voters’, and two Liberals watching with horror Paddy Ashdown’s expletive-laden BBC News interview provided what were, for me, two of the most memorable and enjoyable scenes of the episode – but neither of which could have been achieved if the script had been written weeks in advance.

However, as is the obvious flaw in making TV in this way, it allowed the show to have a slight air of being tossed together at the last moment, and consequently not seem as consistent in quality as it arguably should have been. The hit-rate of gags was lower than I expected of the writers and assembled cast (which included Ben Miller, Sarah Hadland and Hugh Dennis) – and, while the episode was peppered with gems such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph, and smart one-liners from Sarah Hadland’s disastrous UKIP logistics advisor, I even thought that the satire on which Ballot Monkeys apparently prides itself was lacking true bite. The Herald’s Julie McDowall claimed that Ballot Monkeys ‘packed a far stronger satirical punch than ITV’s Newzoids’ but I would even have to disagree with that; for me, Newzoids’ portrayals of the political parties and their leaders were far more effective than those of Ballot Monkeys. And let’s face it: when someone thinks that your satire is inferior to that of a group of impressionists who use puppets and comedy songs as their main weapons, something has to be lacking.

So, perhaps it was just a quiet week for politics but this opening episode of Ballot Monkeys certainly didn’t get my vote in the way that it did other critics. What I believe it did do right, however, was hint at the rather shambolic decisions and ludicrous discussions that are made and had on the main parties’ ‘battle buses’ – so much so that it struck me as the right decision for Channel 4 to have scheduled it the day after the deadline for voting registration, because, if the characters in the show are at all representative of the campaign teams themselves, who’d let anyone like that run the country?The cast of 'Ballot Monkeys': Trevor Cooper, Sarah Hadland, Ben Miller and Hattie Morahan (left-right)Image credit: Thanks to Channel 4, Nicky Johnson and Hat Trick Productions 

Ballot Monkeys is on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on Channel 4

What did you think of Ballot Monkeys? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Siblings’ (BBC3) Review

From the – no doubt currently jubilant – production company behind The Inbetweeners comes this new sitcom about ‘the world’s worst brother and sister’: Hannah (Charlotte Ritchie, Fresh Meat) and Dan (Tom Stourton, Common Ground).

Over the course of the six episodes that make up this first series, we will see Hannah and Dan expose, often unwillingly, their selfishness, idiocy and general ineptitude as they muddle through life with seldom much effort at all. The first instalment served up pretty predictable sitcom fodder, with   Hannah trying to impress her new boss (but, unlike in most sitcoms, actually managing it pretty well for a while) and involving her brother, who agrees to pretend to be disabled in order to portray his sister as a caring person with a difficult home life.

As I said, this is typical sitcom fodder – and even the seemingly novel plot of a character posing as someone in a wheelchair, leading to a very awkward social situation or two, will be familiar to fans of shows like Not Going Out, The IT Crowd and Seinfeld. This barely matters, however, as what writers Keith Akushie and Daran Johnson lacked in originality, they made up for in gags. Admittedly, Siblings only really hit its stride, joke-wise, about half way through the first episode, but once it did it was quite a joy, and Dan and Hannah were instantly likeable; he’s incompetent, and she’s only mildly competent, with an abundance of incompetence always threatening to burst out – and sometimes doing so. Their incompetence, laziness and slight depravity make them nothing particularly new on the sitcom scene but they do are potentially hilarious characters, and although this potential was only partially realised in tonight’s opening episode, I have no doubt that the more time we spend with Hannah and Dan, the more we’ll love them and the funnier we’ll find them.

So, Siblings may not have thrown up anything excitingly original but it did provide a good thirty minutes of the sort of enjoyable, cringe-worthy and often bawdy comedy that leaves the audience in no doubt that it’s the work of Bwark Productions. I’d say it’s been a pretty good week for them, wouldn’t you?

Image thanks to: BBC; Bwark; and Ed Miller – ©Bwark

Siblings is on Thursdays at 10:30pm on BBC3

What did you think of Siblings? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘The Inbetweeners 2’ Review

After a three year hiatus, much anticipation and more publicity than Channel 4 could shake Will’s soiled exam pants at, today The Inbetweeners 2 was released nationwide in cinemas – and if the reactions of everyone who joined me in one of the first, packed screenings is anything to go by, has done what was hitherto deemed undoable, and surpassed its 2011 predecessor.

Beyond the worlds of soaps and Mrs Brown’s Boys, you would be hard-pushed to find a TV show with a legion of fans as die-hard and expectant as that of The Inbetweeners. With every new episode on TV and film in cinemas, audiences demand more and more in every sense – but, as we know, for many writers, this is seldom easy to deliver, resulting in very few sequels exceeding, or even meeting, expectations. One can only imagine, therefore, the pressure that The Inbetweeners scribes, Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, were under to create ninety minutes of film that would fulfil every little wish of their loyal fans. We wanted original, ingenious jokes, with the odd nod to old favourites thrown in; we wanted some character development, but no so much that Will, Simon, Jay and Neil had ceased having the traits and nuances for which we love them so much; and, most importantly as this is reportedly the last-ever outing for the lads, we wanted a fitting send-off. Thank God, then, that Morris and Beesley delivered exactly that in abundance.

As would be expected, the lads are no different to how they were when we last left them in 2011: Jay (James Buckley) and Neil (Blake Harrison) are still ‘calling “shotgun”’ and branding others ‘wankers’ (‘briefcase-‘, ‘bus-‘ or otherwise), and Simon’s (Joe Thomas) love life is as beautifully complicated as Will himself (Simon Bird). It’s very difficult to give the film a full review and convey how funny it is while also resisting the urge to reveal some of its best gags – verbal, visual and situational. However, the writers, to reiterate, absolutely deliver the goods by throwing up, as always, a surprise or two – whether that’s the unexpected return of characters, stinging one-liners or a bit of deus ex machina (look it up). Unlike in the original E4 series and first film, however, I felt that the pathos in The Inbetweeners 2 worked only intermittently, being perhaps laid on quite heavy in the latter half of the film. It did, though, show us the gentler side to the characters – particularly Jay – that we seldom get to see. In fact, we learn a lot about Jay in this film – most of all, that his crudeness, brashness and general social ineptitude may be genetic.

I’m sure I need not say it but any fan of The Inbetweeners will not be disappointed by this sequel; while perhaps all but one of the scenes stand-out as much as Neil’s dancing or the loss of Will’s glasses, Morris and Beesley have succeeded in writing ninety minutes of the expletive-laden, sex-fuelled, typically immature, but no less finely crafted, comedy that fans of the show crave and deserve. The companies behind a lot of films pack the best bits into the trailer – but all that you see in that for The Inbetweeners 2 is just the tip of the smutty iceberg.

The Inbetweeners 2 is in cinemas nationwide from today

What did you think of The Inbetweeners 2? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer

‘Only Fools and Horses’ (Sport Relief) Review

In January this year, it was announced that the nation’s favourite sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, was to return after an eleven year hiatus for Sport Relief. The show’s legion of fans were divided: some rejoiced, some despaired. I suppose I was in the latter camp; all of the Only Fools revivals (the trilogy of specials from 2001-2003, spin-off The Green Green Grass and prequel Rock &  Chips) largely failed to live up to the original series and, more importantly, writer and creator John Sullivan sadly passed away in 2011, leaving it to his two sons to write the script based on notes that their dad had left behind. Despite all of this, though, I tried to remain optimistic – and my optimism paid dividends as the sketch was a triumph!

Jim Sullivan already had form, having written seven episodes of The Green Green Grass – all of which I remember as being of the same standard as his father’s. Together with his brother Dan, and despite having refused to write a new Only Fools in the past, he penned this brand new ten minute episode, starring none other than David Beckham – who it turns out is actually a canny actor. Who knew?

Unlike Sir David Jason’s other revival, Still Open All Hours, thankfully nothing had changed in the world of the Trotters as Del was still trying to flog a batch of hooky goods with Rodney as his guinea pig and model. In this case, it was boxes of Beckham boxers – with each autographed by Golden Balls himself, a gag reminiscent of when Del tried to sell some cricket bats (‘each one personally autographed by Viv Richards’). However, this wasn’t the only reference to past gems as others came in the form of conversation between Del and Rodney in – what I assume was – Sid’s cafe, and also a fantastic pay-off at the end which for some reason I didn’t see coming but had me applauding – even if I was by myself in the sitting room.

The episode was quite a gem. Granted, it wasn’t packed with the laughs that fans of the original series will have been accustomed to but I’m sure no viewer expected that. The thing that took me most by surprise was how it altered my stance on the possibility of the show returning. I’d still be sceptical if a series was commissioned but Jim and Dan Sullivan have certainly proven their knack for crafting dialogue and situations that are on par with their dad’s, and so – and I never thought I’d say this – perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad decision on the BBC’s part to give the green light to a Christmas special? Judging by this episode, the scripts would be just as good as when John Sullivan was at the helm and David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst certainly wouldn’t have any problem slipping back into their roles as Peckham’s most notorious dodgy dealers – it was as if no time had elapsed between 2001 (when all of the ‘01-‘03 specials were filmed) and now.

Maybe the success of Still Open All Hours and Birds of a Feather, coupled with the overwhelmingly positive reaction to this episode from the Twit tersphere, will convince them and the writers to take a punt on this, the most treasured of TV sitcoms?

All images ©Comic Relief

To find out how to donate to Sport Relief and where your money goes, head over to sportrelief.com

What did you think of Only Fools and Horses? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

‘Nan’ (BBC1) Review

Usually sketch show characters, no matter how loved, aren’t given a chance to break free from the shackles of their five minute skits and be explored and enjoyed in their own sitcoms. Of course, there are exceptions: Mr Khan (Citizen Khan, originally Bellamy’s People), Edina and Saffy Monsoon (Ab Fab, formerly French and Saunders) and Lee and Tim from Not Going Out, who started out as characters in an insignificant segment on The Sketch Show. All of these sitcoms have gone on to do extremely well (yes, I am including Citizen Khan in that statement), and there’s the possibility  that Catherine Tate’s Nan could do the same, as she has taken the much-loved, foul-mouthed Joannie Taylor from her eponymous sketch show and created a thirty-minute, one-off sitcom of which she’s the star.

As you may remember, we have previously seen Nan outside of The Catherine Tate Show and charity sketches in Nan’s Christmas Carol – Tate’s 2009 reworking of the Dickensian tale. Even at fifty minutes, this special (starring a host of comedy talent) was a real treat – as was tonight’s episode, which saw the 75 year old cause mayhem at the council offices, mistreat a poor hospital patient and host a wedding party for her neighbours.

I was slightly worried about Nan – Catherine Tate’s horribly awkward appearance on The One Show a few weeks ago suggested that she may have decided to stop being funny altogether. Plus, Mirror columnist Ian Hyland tweeted before the episode, ‘I’d love to be able to tell you Catherine Tate’s Nan on BBC1 tonight is hilarious from start to finish. But.’ So it wasn’t looking too good. Thankfully, though, I didn’t agree with Ian – despite there being the odd gag lifted from the original  Nan sketches and a few risky jokes about race and religion, it certainly seemed to me to be thirty five minutes of non-stop laughs. The golden ingredient – the character’s trademark acidity – was present right from the off and persisted throughout, creating the moments of caustic joy that made the character and her scenes such a hit in the first place.

What a treat it was to see rising star Ami Metcalf as Alice (pictured), the teenager who was paired with Nan as part of a ‘Young and Old Buddy-Up Foundation’ scheme. As she had previously proved in Walking and Talking and The Mimic, Ami is a fantastic comic actress and, although she was inevitably in the shadow of Catherine Tate, she did shine as Alice – particularly in the final scenes. Her sweet, humble character acted as the perfect antidote to Nan’s vitriol, and I hope that this – her most mainstream comedy role – has helped introduce her to a lot more people.

So, I loved Nan, it being the perfect follow-up to The Catherine Tate Show. Could it sustain a series? I’m not sure. As I said, some repeated jokes did slip through and there was nothing terribly original about it – which is not a criticism when judging it as a one-off, but for a six-part series or even a Christmas special, Catherine and her co-writers may have to brainstorm a few more ideas for the nation’s favourite foul-mouthed septuagenarian.

Image credits: Thanks to BBC, ©Tiger Aspect

Catherine Tate’s Nan is available for a limited time on BBC iPlayer

What did you think of Nan? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see what’s coming up on TV in the coming week on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.

‘Birds of a Feather’ (ITV) Review

‘What’ll I do when you are far away and I am blue, what’ll I do?’

Ah, I have no qualms about admitting that when I heard Linda Robson sing those words and saw the familiar childhood pictures of herself and Pauline Quirke fade in and out, a broad grin grew on my face. I wasn’t even born when Birds of a Feather premiered in 1989. In fact I was only two when the original series came to an end but still Irving Berlin’s classic stirred up feelings of nostalgia. There was quite a sense of occasion and expectation surrounding the return of Birds, with it having been long-awaited and much-hyped by its stars and the press. The question is, was all of the hype worth it?

To be honest, it seems a bit too early to tell. I know, I know. Saying it’s ‘too early to tell’ might seem like a total cop-out but I genuinely think that what we saw in that opening episode is not the best that writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran have to offer. In fact, the renowned duo’s script seemed to be suffering from a touch of First Episode Syndrome, which sees writers temporarily putting jokes on the back burner in order to establish characters and situations – something which may be less necessary in a revived series but is still quite important. If they’d trusted viewers to dive straight back into Sharon, Tracy and Dorien’s adventures in Chigwell, not only would they have had a rather messy episode on their hands but they’d have been neglecting any possible new, younger viewers who missed the series first time around and aren’t avid viewers of the Drama channel!

As we rejoined the Birds fifteen years after we left them, Sharon and Tracy had fallen out, Dorien was a world-renowned author of erotic fiction (though sadly no longer with “Pussy Golightly” as her protagonist) and Tracy’s son Travis (last seen born in a barn in the 1998 Christmas special) is now  seventeen years of age. There was also no sign of Sharon and Tracy’s criminal husbands Daryl and Chris, and Matt Willis had wisely replaced the rather wooden Matthew Savage as Garth. Other than that, nothing had changed, and by the end of the episode, everyone was reunited in Tracy’s house – with Garth also bringing back his girlfriend and her daughter from Australia with him.

The jokes were admittedly quite thin on the ground – a couple of innuendos and a few moments of banter between Sharon and Dorien were all that really stood out – but I do think that now that the characters have bedded in again and the writers have the first episode out of the way, the hit rate of gags will improve. The truth is, as the return of an old classic it worked reasonably well – it certainly proved popular in the Twittersphere with viewers both old and new – but had it been a brand new, fledgling (thank you!) programme, people would likely not have bothered to tune in. There was, however, an undeniable warmth and familiarity about seeing Sharon, Tracy and Dorien back.

Contrary to what many critics predicted (and probably wanted), it appears that birds of a feather have not flopped together.

Birds of a Feather is on Thursdays at 8:30pm on ITV

What did you think of the return of Birds? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Please comment below or tweet me – @UKTVReviewer.

You can also see what’s coming up on TV in the coming week on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.