Last Night's Viewing: Hebburn, BBC2 My Tattoo Addiction, Channel4

 

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The Independent Culture

In one sense, there's not a lot in Hebburn that you haven't seen before. The essential dynamic of Jason Cook's warm and funny sitcom is unavoidably reminiscent of Gavin & Stacey – with young love leading to the introduction of an outsider into a close-knit Geordie family – and the fact that there are three generations under the one roof may also remind you of The Royle Family.

But the happy truth is that Hebburn has no need to fear either comparison. It is quite distinctively its own thing and in any case it stands up well in that company. It's not the easiest thing for a comedy to establish itself in the viewer's affections in just one episode, but Hebburn does it. It has a great cast, but more importantly than that it has sufficient sharpness of characterisation for them to show how good they can be right from the off.

The central figures are the most vanilla – Jack, who has made his escape from Hebburn for a career as a journalist in Manchester, and Sarah, who was his girlfriend until they got carried away while on holiday in Vegas, and is now accompanying him on a stressful double mission: meet the family for the first time and, if the wind seems to be blowing in the right direction, own up to the fact that they've all missed the wedding. They don't really need to be funny though, only wittily reactive as a comedy of culture shock plays out around them. And you knew you were on safe ground when Sarah, turning down the bacon sandwich she's been offered, casually reveals that she's Jewish. "Oh, that's wonderful!" replies Gina McKee as Jack's mother, Pauline and then, after a perfectly timed pause. "I'll just need a quick word with your dad."

Is it really credible that Pauline would then make Jack's dad (Jim Moir) hastily fake some bagels by taking an apple corer to the baps she's got in? Probably not, but it's a forgivable invention given that Cook gets other reactions just right, from the crass curiosity of Jack's sister to Pauline's over- anxious attempts to be culturally sensitive. And Hebburn is warmed throughout by the writer's obvious affection for this part of the world. Jack pretends to be dismissive of Hebburn but it's just pride in disguise. When he reassures Sarah about her lack of smart clothes for a night out – "I've been at weddings where I was the only one not wearing a track suit," he says – there's a kind of boast in the remark. And it's full of offhand delights, from the heckling of the singer in the local club to the unexpected gem that Jack's grandmother delivers when requesting help to visit the disabled lavvy: "I think Elvis is about to leave the building." I loved it.

We are, according to My Tattoo Addiction, the most tattooed nation in Europe, though one has to hope that most of them show more finesse than the souvenirs Matt had returned with from Ayia Napa. Essentially, Matt had turned his body into a toilet wall, covering it with obscene graffiti, which he was now having to cover up with a giant eagle. Karl in Bridlington had recorded his growing obsession with Miley Cyrus with no less than 16 devotional tattoos. These, he acknowledged, might make future relationships tricky: "She'd have to be a Miley Cyrus fan," he said redundantly. And Austin was erasing the record of an ex called Daisy with a giant scorpion that matched the one he already had on the other side of his head. Family dynamics here were a lot less gentle than in Hebburn. "Basically, I tried to shoot my mum," said Austin, explaining his prison record. "It's something I'm not proud of..." he added helpfully, "and we get on all right now." Yonni Usiskin's film was a freak show, but to its credit it got beneath the skin a little too.

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