Friday Night Dinner review: A predictable mix of slapstick, Dad jokes and literal toilet humour

This series, where the central joke is that the whole family is forced to spend time together in a confined space, is strangely triggering during the coronavirus crisis

Friday Night Dinner series 6 trailer

Sitcoms don’t come much gentler than Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4), Robert Popper’s slight send-up of the Jewish weekly family meal. Now in its sixth series, it is a sweet thing, starring Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal as Adam and Jonny Goodman, the two sons of Jackie (Tamsin Greig) and Martin (Paul Ritter). In each half-hour edition, the family assemble in the suburbs and something happens to derail the meal. Sometimes it’s a relative, often it’s their creepy neighbour Jim (Mark Heap). It is an old-fashioned kind of programme, with jokes stuffed in cheek by jowl at the expense of detailed characterisation. This isn’t meant to be a diss. Or not purely a diss. At its best Friday Night Dinner fits in the great British tradition of light entertainment. Not everything has to be True Detective.

In fact, in light of current news, the series feels remarkably close to the bone. The series’ central joke is that the whole family attends this dinner faithfully every week, regardless of how little they want to be there. Tradition and a sense of familial duty trumps Friday night hedonism. Viewers trapped at home in self-isolation, unable to see their families, might find this vision melancholic. Those trapped at home with their families might find it so triggering that it sends them reaching for the gin bottle, as Jackie does at the start of the first episode. Just as aeroplane disaster films were a sensitive subject after 9/11, perhaps the coronavirus will make viewers jumpy about one-room domestic dramas.

For the first time, Adam and Jonny both have girlfriends at the same time, but they can’t tell their mother for fear of how happy it will make her. Her joy, expressed as smothering, would be hell for them. They arrive to find their father in his caravan in the front garden. It is new, but only to him: it is falling apart, with a grim overflowing chemical toilet and cupboards falling off the walls. Martin wants to have family dinner in there, Jackie refuses to step foot inside. Meanwhile, the drains are overflowing. Jim turns up to announce he has named his new dog Milson, rather than Wilson, and then later to complain that his house has been flooded with human excrement, and he needs somewhere to go.

A predictable mix of slapstick, Dad jokes and literal toilet humour ensues, but the weakest link in Friday Night Dinner is Adam and Jonny’s relationship. Bird’s punctilious nerd shtick was perfect for Will in The Inbetweeners, but his limitations as a performer are stark opposite Greig and Ritter, proper actors who deserve better scripts. He and Rosenthal are unconvincing as brothers, which wouldn’t be as much of a problem were not so many of the gags constructed around their fraternal banter. Perhaps that’s meant to be part of the joke, but if so, like many of the others, it falls flat. Friday Night Dinner has had an improbably good run but it’s time for everyone to grow up.

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