The Weekend’s TV: Fake beards, silly characters...and a family classic is born


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The Independent Culture

Last night on Sky1, a family television classic was born.

If you’ve ever seen CBBC’s excellent Horrible Histories series, which aired its last episode this summer, you’ll know the team behind it are already deserving of a knighthood each for services to parent-child relations. Rare is the programme that can bring mums, dads and children together and that the grown-ups will genuinely find as hilarious as their offspring do. There’s seasons two to 10 of The Simpsons, The Muppet Show, Horrible Histories and that’s about it. Now, the Horrible Histories team have added another to the cannon, this fantasy comedy set in  the puppet-populated world of Yonderland.

Our hero is Debbie Maddox, or “Debbie of Maddox” as she’s grandly styled in Yonderland, played by Martha Howe-Douglas. She’s a stay-at-home mother whose domestic routine is disrupted when an elf turns up in her larder and convinces her to follow him through an inter-dimensional portal. Once in Yonderland, a panel of 12  (or is it 11?) elders informed Debbie that  she’s the chosen one, the only one who  can save them all from the evil Negatus.

All that guff is really just an excuse for the cast to blow the dust of the box of fake beards and have a good rummage around. Even just in these first two episodes there was a seemingly endless parade of silly characters, including the Oracle who’s more like a camp TV medium, the grizzled old lady who’s delighted to be called a slapper and the hippie-dippy wise elder who’s ever-eager to “cast off these cumbersome robes”.

As well as the very pleasing comic talents of Mathew Baynton, Jim Howick, Simon Farnaby, Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard (commit those names to memory, they are Monty Python for the under-10s), Yonderland also has a brilliant variety of puppets. Puppet masters Baker Coogan are long-time collaborators with the Jim Henson Company and, for adults, their creations bring back fond memories of puppet shows past: Fraggle Rock, The Muppet Show and Sesame Street. For children? Well, who cares what they’re thinking? As long as they’re living under my roof, they’ll be watching Yonderland on Sunday evenings at 6.30pm.

On Friday evening, TLC transported us to another distant and mysterious land: the Bronx, New York. Their new series, Mama’s Boys of the Bronx is GoodFellas meets Made in Chelsea, a reality series about the lives of five Italian-American men who still live at home with their mothers – and proud of it.

These are no boomerang-generation unfortunates, reluctantly taking refuge with their parents while they wait for the economic crisis to blow over. These are guys in their late thirties who choose to live at home because no one makes chicken parm and pasta fazool, quite like Mama.

In the first episode, the guys went for a night out at a strangely well-lit night club and we got a little inkling as to why all but one of them are still single. “How YOU doin’ ?” is of limited use as a chat-up line and it’s also pretty hard to bring a girl back for the night without your mama calling her a “putana”. Anthony had a novel excuse when his mother caught him sneaking a young lady out of the house in the morning. “It’s the cleaning lady, Ma.” But unfortunately for Anthony, “Ma” wasn’t born yesterday. “What was she cleaning? Your pipes?”

True, Mama’s Boys of the Bronx is little more than a dramatised cultural stereotype with some casual sexism thrown in for good measure; and true, nothing much happens besides the constant round of pasta eating, hair gelling and nagging, but it’s still worth a watch. If only for the wealth of quotable Tony Soprano-isms it provides.