Grandma's House, BBC2
My Mum and Me, BBC3
Four Sons Versus Four Daughters, Channel 4
It's hard to avoid drawing parallels between 'Grandma's House' and 'Seinfeld', even when the BBC sitcom breaks the 'no hugs' rule
Sunday 15 August 2010
Comedian with stand-up experience but few acting skills co-creates sitcom in which he surrounds himself with seasoned performers and puts a character, whose name he shares, at the centre of a distinct lack of action. Hmmm.
There's a premise to launch Simon Amstell's post-Buzzcocks career. If only Jerry Seinfeld hadn't got there first.
That said, last week's first episode of Grandma's House made up in charm what it lacked in originality. As if that meta-premise weren't enough, such drama as there was wove itself around Simon's feeling that there might be more to life than being mean to people as the host of a pop-panel quiz show. "I'm lonely," he told his mum (The Thick of It's Rebecca Front). "How can you be?" she asked him, "when you've met Michael Bublé?"
While it's always a risky business to judge a new sitcom while it's still establishing itself, the early evidence contained many positives: seeing recognisable London-Jewish characters who didn't have to shout their cultural background; the authentic bickering warmth of extended family; and above all the performance of James (In the Loop) Smith as the excruciating Clive, Simon's mum's new shoe-polish-dyed, combed-over fiancé with a reputation as something of a "comedian" himself. "Simon doesn't like dark chocolate," announced Grandma. "Once you go dark, you can't go bark," riffed Clive to strained smiles.
A sort of smoked-salmon bagel to The Royle Family's bacon butty, Grandma's House, as if to announce its difference to Seinfeld, broke that show's golden "no hugs, no learning" rule early on, and the nature of that embrace said much about the show. "What are we doing? Oh really? Is that what we do now?" said Amstell's "character" as Clive moved in for a manly embrace.
There were other telling embraces last week, not least in the excellent My Mum and Me, a one-off documentary fronted by Tulisa Contostavlos to highlight the fact that there are some 80,000 young people in the UK looking after someone with a mental illness. Tulisa, whose mother has schizoaffective disorder, was the perfect person to walk us through their plight. When not keeping an eye on Mum, she sings in the hugely successful N-Dubz, the UK's twentysomething answer to the Black Eyed Peas (the Black Eyed Petits Pois?).
Again, the hug told you much about Tulisa. In her "multicultural London English" (or what the youth would call "Jafakin'") accent, she invited Mia and her bipolar mother Tanya into her arms with a chirpy: "Let's get emotional, people." That warmth, honesty and approachability meant Tulisa came across as a sort of urban Princess Di, reaching out to people society might otherwise sweep under its carpet.
But if we are to congratulate Tulisa's "bravery" in speaking out, do we not imply that there is a cowardice attached to any carers who are unwilling to meet their problems head-on? If only because Hannah, 15 – whose mother suffers clinical depression – was encouraged by Tulisa to join a young carers' support group, My Mum and Me could proudly add "lesson learnt" to the necessary air of touchy-feeliness.
The same could not be said of the week's other much-trailed documentary, Cutting Edge's Four Sons Versus Four Daughters. Sticking to its remit, Marian and John Tibbett swapped their four pink-loving girls for the boisterous male offspring of Karen and Steve Cafearo. And what did they discover? Boys like guns, football and go-karting, while girls like dancing, make-overs and shopping. Can I get a refund on that hour of life, please?
But while it may have ticked the box on the second half of the Seinfeld rule, the programme would not have been complete without flaunting the first. And how did Steve take his leave of someone else's four lovely daughters? "Give us a hug. See you, mate."
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