The Weekend's Viewing: Me and Mrs Jones, Fri, BBC1
Friday Night Dinner, Fri, Channel 4

 

It's an odd thing, comic exaggeration – absolutely essential to comedy but also potentially lethal if you get the dose wrong.

Take Me and Mrs Jones and Friday Night Dinner, for example, both comedies of domestic life, both of them making an appeal to a sense of shared experience. And one of them works and one of them absolutely doesn't. The one that doesn't is Me and Mrs Jones, which is odd really. It's written by Oriane Messina and Fay Rusling, who have Green Wing and Smack the Pony on their CV, and its comic premise is perfectly workable – a single mother who finds herself falling for her oldest son's best friend. You can play this cross-generational attraction for anguished drama – as ITV's Leaving did recently – but its embarrassments obviously have comic potential too. So why doesn't it bite?

My own explanation would centre on something Gemma's daughter says to her as she drops her off in the playground, after a flustered school run full of slightly effortful blunders: "Stop being a geeky loser." You've hit the nail on the head there, kid, I thought. That, or something like it, is what's written in Gemma's character notes, and it's why we've already had to endure one of those unconvincing scenes in which someone stammers and over-protests after being misheard. Is she really this dim, you think, or is she just written this way? The question doesn't go away as Gemma is forced through a number of over-familiar comic set-pieces – the clumsy answerphone message, agonising over what to wear for a date – all the time behaving not as if she's directed by a recognisable inner psychology but by the need to appear as ditzy as possible. At times, it's desperate, as when Gemma appears from a changing room having tried a dress on over what she's already wearing. Sure. That happens a lot.

Even more problematic is her inconsistency. Gemma is flustered when she really doesn't need to be, but unperturbed when awkwardness might actually make some kind of sense. "Uh! I feel like a teenager on her very first date," she confides, as she gets ready for a night out in front of her son's handsome young friend. A couple of lines later she's blithely explaining to him how she'll use her unshaved legs as contraception. So she's reduced to gibbering silliness by a man she doesn't appear attracted to and coolly overshares with one who notionally has got under her skin. I've never been a single mother in such circumstances, it's true, but I'm still not convinced that's how the world works. The casting doesn't help either. Sarah Alexander looks far too young to be convincing as the mother of a grown-up son and isn't the kind of comedy actress who can finesse the thing into caricature. But the real problem is a script that repeatedly requires her to behave with wild improbability. "I may have slightly over-reacted," she says at one point. Just a bit, Gemma, just a bit.

Robert Popper's Friday Night Dinner also contains moments that are tricky to defend as psychological realism. "He looked like Hitler," said odd neighbour Jim, after meeting the grandmother's monstrous new boyfriend. "It's not Hitler, is it?" But Popper's comedy has an internal consistency that makes it work. Jim is strange enough to say something like that. You feel absolutely confident that none of the other characters would, because they stay true to type. The monstrous boyfriend works too, even though he's a kind of cartoon of belligerent old age, because the forms of his unpleasantness are simultaneously unpredictable and credible. "One rule I have when I'm in a vehicle," he barked when driving the boys out on an errand. "Complete silence! Not a word!" After which, he slowly drove into the wall in front of him. Like a lot of good comedy it's simultaneously over the top and understated.

twitter.com/tds153

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot