Mirth mothers: Mums are no longer doomed to dud roles as Raised by Wolves and The Goldbergs prove

Once doomed to nagging bit-parts, mothers are beginning to steal the show in family sitcoms

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Truth-teller, soothsayer and stand-up comedian Chris Rock has won many fans with a series of plain-speaking interviews given to promote his new film. While we wait for Top Five to come out in the UK, here’s another reason to admire him. Everybody Hates Chris, the 2005-2008 show Rock created based on his own days growing up in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn has inspired a new strand of family sitcom, and these shows, in many ways, are a big improvement on what came before.

The flashback family sitcom is best defined as a series, told from the point of view of the child in the family and based on the real childhood experiences of its creator. Many television scripts incorporate elements of real people into the characters, but in flashback family sitcoms there’s no attempt to disguise the real-life influences, rather they’re a key part of the appeal.

Take The Goldbergs, E4’s new acquisition from the US, which was named after the family of writer Adam F. Goldberg (not to be confused with Fargo and Friends actor Adam Goldberg). The action is set in the 1980s, which means lots of REO Speedwagon, big hair and enjoyable nostalgia gags about the Mr Frosty machine everyone wanted for Christmas, 1987. Fresh Off The Boat, a series based on the memoir of US TV chef Eddie Huang is set in the mid-nineties, when 11-year-old Eddie (played by Hudson Yang) was first cementing his love of hip-hop and is rarely seen without a Notorious B.I.G. t-shirt.

The period setting is not, however, a crucial element of the family flashback sitcom, as demonstrated by Raised By Wolves, which starts on Channel 4 in January. If you saw the pilot last Christmas, you’ll know Caitlin Moran’s series is set in the present, although it was co-written by her and her sister Caroline and based on their home-schooled adolescence in late-1980s Wolverhampton. If it still has a nostalgic warmth about it, that’s because the stories told - of first crushes, sibling rivalry and singing the Divinyls at top volume in the back of your granddad’s car - are the ones everyone remembers from their own youth. (Okay, maybe not the Divynals).

What the Morans’ series does absolutely share with other similar series is a scene-stealing mum. Della in Raised By Wolves, Beverly in The Goldbergs and Jessica in Fresh of the Boat have all been singled out for praise by fans as the funniest character in the pilot. This might be something to do with the tendency of male-dominated writers’ rooms to underwrite female roles during the traditional sitcom development process. When there’s a real-life model to work from, this problem can be side-stepped. Or it might just be because these writers all happened to have exceptionally hilarious mothers. Either way, it’s good news for the mums - no longer are they doomed to get all the dud lines.

Let's lift the veil on a new format...

After fears that BBC Three reality show Don’t Tell The Bride would be left standing at the altar when its home channel closes next autumn, beeb controllers have chivalrously stepped in. The show will now be “re-imagined” for an older BBC One audience, which means older couples, typically aged between 30 and 55 as opposed to still in their 20s. There is, however, one glaringly obvious update which apparently wasn’t in the pre-nup: Don’t Tell The Groom. In this version, it’s the slobby, incompetent bride who gets the flower arrangements all wrong and the perfectionist, prissy groom who consequently spends their honeymoon in a huff. Yes, it would challenge traditional gender stereotypes, but then so do many real-life couples these days.


Drink Drive Office Party Cartoon, BFI Player

Fancy something Christmassy, but feel uninspired by the TV choices? Venture into the British Film Institutes’s archives, where you’ll find plenty of festive-themed shorts, many of them free to stream. The selection includes this jaunty animation from 1964, which wisely cautions against drinking eight whiskeys before getting behind the wheel.


Black Mirror: White Christmas

The return of Charlie Brooker’s technophobic horror series is the perfect antidote to all the schmaltz which usually covers the Christmas TV schedules like a snowdrift. Rafe Spall and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm co-star as two workers at an Arctic outpost exchanging depressing stories of a not-so-distant future.


The Missing

This year, three different people have told me they’d watch The Missing were it not for a certain Northern Irish actor in the lead. Well, those Nesbitt naysayers have been missing out. He’s brilliant as the tortured father of a missing boy, pushed to his very limits in this week’s series finale.


The Fall

The BBC’s other great thriller of 2014 also came to an end this week with an episode which finally saw DSI Stella Gibson and serial killer Paul Spector in the same room. And does that last scene count as a cliff-hanger? It certainly left enough wiggle-room for a third series.