Hebburn, which began a second series on BBC2 last night, is a relic from a different era. Well, that's a bit unfair, but if you saw Vic Reeves's name on the cast list and assumed you were in for some proper comedy, Hebburn has been a disappointment. We should have looked closer. Whenever Vic Reeves is credited by his real name, Jim Moir, it usually signals his intention to put his feet up and fade into the background.
That's exactly what he does as Joe, the father of the Pearson family, from the titular Northumbrian town. Joe's in recovery from the stroke he had at the end of last season, which is all the excuse he needs to quietly eat quiche in the corner. Meanwhile, a funeral had put Granny Dot in malevolent high spirits (she could be the twin of Deirdre's late mum in Coronation Street) and Jack's pregnant wife, Sarah (Kimberley Nixon from Fresh Meat), was growing ever more desperate to move out of the family home and into their own place.
Hebburn has some of the sentiment of The Royle Family and some of the wit of Gavin & Stacey, but it really belongs to that breed of untaxing sitcom in which the gentle laughs are so predictable that you could set your pacemaker by them. The evident fondness of writer Jason Cook for the town he grew up in means the humour is good-natured, at least – or it usually is. This week, there was something mean-spirited about making dim Geordie Vicki the butt of all the jokes in a conversation between her and her posher, PhD student sister-in-law. It broke a cardinal comedy rule: always be on the side of the underdog.