Goodbye to beer, birds and football

Hello to wine, joint custody and fitted kitchens
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The Independent Online

Cold Feet may be winding up after one more series, but if you like to watch the urban middle classes juggling the pressures of work, child-rearing and infidelity, you don't have to worry. In sitcoms and comedy dramas, this is the age of the thirtysomething. The New Lad is getting old. Men are still behaving badly, but they're feeling guilty about it afterwards.

Cold Feet may be winding up after one more series, but if you like to watch the urban middle classes juggling the pressures of work, child-rearing and infidelity, you don't have to worry. In sitcoms and comedy dramas, this is the age of the thirtysomething. The New Lad is getting old. Men are still behaving badly, but they're feeling guilty about it afterwards.

As BBC2 repositions itself as a channel for 35-year-olds and over, the holy trinity of beer, birds and football has been ushered to one side by chardonnay, joint custody and fitted kitchens. On the one hand, you could argue that this trend allows lazy scriptwriters to get away with doing almost no research beyond phoning a few of their friends. On the other hand, you might say that thirtysomething comedy has a depth which twentysomething comedy doesn't: it can have all the emotional complexity afforded by contemporary family life, but the producers can still employ actresses young enough to get on the cover of FHM.

One unlikely leading man in this genre is Lee Evans, the clowning stand-up and supporting actor in There's Something About Mary. He writes and stars in So What Now? on BBC1, a sensitive study of a man coping with separation from his wife, while pulling faces and falling over a lot. Almost as improbable a thirtysomething icon is Adrian Mole.

The last time one of Sue Townsend's novels was televised, its diary-writing hero was in his mid-teens. In The Cappuccino Years (BBC1), Mole may not be much more mature, but he is now a 30-year-old single dad and a celebrity offal chef in a top Soho restaurant. His first love, Pandora Braithwaite, is a Blair babe MP played by Helen Baxendale, herself something of a thirtysomething goddess after roles in Friends and Cold Feet.

Adrian Mole's brother in hapless self-ignorance is Keith, of Marion And Geoff fame. Last year's groundbreaking series of ten-minute monologues told the sorry tale of his separation from his wife and two sons. Now the Welsh minicab driver, played by the award-winning Rob Brydon, is back in Keith Barrett Under Observation, this time in the more conventional format of six 30-minute episodes. Also starring is the show's executive producer, Steve Coogan.

Meanwhile, Paul Whitehouse moves from The Fast Show to his first sitcom, Happiness. Technically a fortysomething series, Happiness was scripted by two of The Fast Show's writers and features Whitehouse as a voiceover artist whose marital breakdown sets off a midlife crisis. It's due to be screened in the spring.

Finally, Channel 4's Metrosexuality has its own take on separations and child-sharing, in that both of the parents involved are gay dads. Frighteningly, the show is billed as "a fast-moving, funky, streetwise comedy drama series set in Notting Hill".

But for viewers who don't while away their evenings reading Ofsted reports and Ikea catalogues, a few imminent sitcoms are defiantly concerned with the young ones. Channel 4's offbeat flatshare series, Spaced, returns in February, starring Jessica Stevenson of The Royle Family. And another of The Royle Family's stars, Ralf Little, appears in BBC2's Two Pints Of Lager (And A Packet Of Crisps). It's written by a 22-year-old.

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