The Week In Radio: No domestic bliss from these safe suburban sitcoms

 

What pops into your head when you think of sitcoms? Middle-class households filled with Ikea furniture? Acne-dappled teenagers slumped on sofas delivering withering put-downs to their parents? Neighbours with personality disorders who don't knock before coming into the house? Scripts so rotten that their terrible stench lingers in the memory for years to come?

There was a long period where the British sitcom, and its slightly smarter sibling the comedy drama, seemed destined to stay indoors though in recent years it has broadened its reach. And yet still the domestic archetype of the suburban family prevails in long-running TV success stories, from My Family and Life of Riley to Outnumbered.

One of the advantages of radio is that the usual backdrops can easily be avoided. Want to set your latest two-hander in the jungles of Borneo? Why not? Want to see a marriage crumbling on the International Space Station? Go ahead, knock yourself out. You might think that scriptwriters would be liberated by such a limitless proposition. With a sound-effects department and our imaginations entirely at their disposal, they can take their protagonist and drop them literally anywhere they like.

And yet radio writers cling to middle-class domestic reality just like their counterparts in television. Father Figure, Radio 2's latest sitcom about the trials of a modern house husband, written by and starring comedian Jason Byrne, at least jettisoned the usual clattering of crockery and the sound of a front door slamming that invariably points to a semi-detached in Chislehurst. In fact, the family in question were on their way to a wedding and crammed into a hatchback somewhere along the M4.

Byrne was Tom, the put-upon father and husband marooned in the driver's seat fielding questions about when he'll get a bigger car, when they will arrive at their destination, will the vol-au-vents survive the journey and is the bride pregnant. Chief moaner was Mary (Pauline McLynn, better know as Father Ted's Mrs Doyle), Tom's God-fearing mother who couldn't hide her disapproval at her daughter-in-law's decision to hire a cleaner and was a martyr to her husband, Pat, and his failing memory ("you can't even find your way about the house"). Tom's wife, Elaine, was only marginally more reasonable, exhorting her husband to use the hard shoulder to avoid the traffic that had come to a standstill.

Of course, a standstill was required to accommodate half an hour of bickering designed to show the cultural and ideological gaps that remain between the generations. An interminable gag around the word "dogging" ("In the old days of dogging, you'd get a prize for best-dressed," declared Mary) not only underlined the shifting patterns of language but also the way that contemporary comedies, despite acknowledging the variable family set-ups, continue to peddle ancient clichés of dotty old ladies, bossy wives and terminally embarrassed teens.

Another sitcom, Mr and Mrs Smith, began a fortnight ago on Radio 4. Its premise is also resolutely domestic, revolving around a married couple, Annabelle and Will, seeking marriage guidance through a counsellor named Guy. A set-up that prompts neat flashbacks to the previous week's events. It had its moments, though, like Father Figure, was similarly short sighted in its vision of a couple hampered by their inability to communicate. My advice to Annabelle and Will? Take a holiday. Go skydiving. Ditch the usual routine. Sometimes a change of scene is all that's required.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all