review

Share
I'm bored," drawled one of the children in Next of Kin (BBC1). You speak for the nation, I thought, and this was only five minutes into the BBC's desperately lame sitcom. Already a stunned torpor had descended as the actors struggled with lines as crisp as a waterlogged cream cracker. The mind tends to stray while watching Next of Kin. Mine strayed to possible explanations for its presence on the network but I could come up with no adequate solution, only wild notions of conspiracy. Is it a calculated attempt by the BBC to goad young scriptwriters into action? Or is it the result of some guerrilla band operating in the comedy department, fighting a bitter rearguard action against the modernising forces of Geoffrey Perkins?

The Radio Times, either through corporate loyalty or some covert association, has been waging a muted campaign on the programme's behalf, pointing out that, whatever the critics say, the audience figures are good and murmuring quietly about the possibility of a third series. This claim about viewing figures is worth inspecting closely. Next of Kin is currently getting around 7.8 million viewers, which is neither terrible nor very good. Later on the same evening, for example, Men Behaving Badly is picking up well over 8 million, despite the fact that it is a repeat. A series with a bankable star, like Penelope Keith, should not really be pottering along in the slow lane like this, which suggests either that the script is not up to much, or Penelope Keith isn't quite as bankable as everyone believed. Allowing for the fact that quite startling numbers of people would watch cows grazing in a field, if it preceded the Nine O'Clock News, I don't think there is any great comfort to be found in the figures.

And it would be difficult to argue that the comedy is going above the heads of the audience. It is not even on speaking terms with plausibility. The machinery of the plot creaks like an ancient windmill in a very light breeze, grinding out predictable gags and exhausted comic set-pieces. Last night, for example, offered another chance to see that old stalwart "A Quiet Night In, Ruined By Unwanted Guests", a routine recently performed with infinitely greater skill by One Foot in the Grave. Here the writers managed to combine callow snobbery (the visitors had a sitcom Essex whine and children called Justin and Sapphire) with cardboard psychology. When a joke is perceived to be working, it is simply repeated - the cleaning lady's confusion of "cerebral" and "celibate" was deemed so richly comic that it appeared no less than three times, as if returning for an encore. If anyone is contemplating a third series, the words of Oliver Cromwell come to mind: "I beseech thee in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you might be mistaken."

Local Heroes (BBC2), a deter-minedly jaunty exercise in popular science, is much more palatable. Its presenter, Adam Hart-Davis, pedals around the country in fluorescent rain-gear, bellowing out facts about his favourite scientists and engineers. He has more heroes than is healthy for a grown man, but his enthusiasm is generous and infectious and he illustrates his points with the sort of jolly, yoghurt-pot experiments familiar from children's science primers. Last night's episode, centred on the north west, began with him sitting at an outdoor cafe next to Lake Windermere and plunging a bicycle pump into a cream-covered sundae. This was to illustrate a device used to take sample cores from the bed of lakes. Given that he has all the qualities of a television "natural" (a term, one is often reminded, which used to be applied to the mentally retarded) his manner is surprisingly bearable. He also does proper honour to men whose inventions are so obvious, once in existence, that one can scarcely believe they had to be invented at all - men such as Joseph Whitworth, before whom every nut and bolt in the world was made to measure.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn