Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Friday Night Dinner

Let us begin with a few caveats. The first is that SitcomGeek is in awe of Robert Popper, the writer of Friday Night Dinner. The man was, in no small part, responsible for Look Around You, the first series of which is possibly the funniest television in many years. I always describe it as 'unnecessarily funny'. In one, sense this makes me biased towards him, but also increased my expectations.

Given this, the second caveat is that Mr Popper probably knows exactly what he's doing and, frankly, whatever I say he already knows but he's gone his own way anyway. Fair enough.

The third caveat is to mention that the show really is very similar in set-up to Grandma's House, but that this doesn't really make any difference to anything. They were probably commissioned at about the same time, and it's an unfortunate coincidence, but so what? I'm not sure which I prefer. Given I didn't really buy Simon Amstell's performance in Grandma's House, even though he was playing himself, I would probably veer towards Friday Night Dinner, which has no weak links in the cast. They are all fab to a man. And woman. But I don't have to prefer one or the other. And I don't think the audience cares. They'll make up their own minds whether to watch, one, the other or both. Given the tiny amount of new comedy narrative on TV generally, they'll probably want to watch whatever is put in front of them as long as its half decent.

The four caveat is that there's not all that much point judging a sitcom, and it's success, appeal and longevity, on the basis of one episode.

Therefore, I'm just going to focus on the boring mechanics of that one show and examine why, for me, the show never quite got going, and therefore didn't quite do it for me, even though I'll be back for more.

I liked the nice quirkness of a dad being hot and stripped to the waist - and that no-one bats an eyelid at this. I liked the pace of the show and the dialogue - and the fact that it felt real. The brotherly bickering and banter was believable, although it never quite gave me a chance to get a handle on either character.

But, if I were handed the script asked to comment on it with a 'script/story editor' hat on (wow, you should see that hat in real life. It's quite something) I'd say that I don't really feel I know any of the characters. But most ofall, I don't feel the consequences of the stories quite deliver or escalate enough in this episode.

The New Scientist Magazine storyline was a nice one - and rang true - but where did it end? The Dad was caught out trying to horde them with his son, whilst buying more. Mum tuts and despairs. And that was that. I didn't really backfire on the dad in any satisfying way. I rather liked the implication at one point that the magazines were pornographic. Exploiting that with the sofa-buyer could have been fruitful.

The sofa-bed got stuck, but why? In sitcoms, things need to go wrong for a reason - ideally a character-based reason. None of them were being stubborn or causing the problem, so it just got stuck and it didn't seem to be anyone's fault. (Funny bit when they kept saying "slowly") And then it got stuck for no good reason – and then the consequences weren’t very funny. They climbed out via ladder. A bit of groping by the neighbour. Then back inside and sofa falls and breaks the banister. Is that so bad? Obviously it's annoying to have your bannister wrecked, but what's at stake for the characters?

Finally, the sofa-bed buyer, Chris Parker, presented good opportunities. Gotta love Matt Holness. The fact that he needed the loo and that there was uncertainty was very funny, but it didn't really escalate. It was just an awkward situation. The dad had confused the dates he was coming - but why had he? And then Holness's discovery that his dad had died was good timing, but the fact he no longer needed the bed was quite funny. Should the dad not have kept trying to 'sell the bed' while the man was grieving? Putting a positive spin on it? And then the presence of salt in two drinks was an odd way to go in pushing him over the edge.

It feels like all the ingredients are there, and things are being set-up but not paid off. If I can use a cricketing metaphor, it's like getting to 250 off 40 overs, and then ending up with 295 off 50, rather than going on and getting 325+. I'm sure that's made everything crystal clear.

This show also highlights one other thing. People, critics especially, are very sniffy about mainstream BBC1 comedy, and like to fawn over Channel 4 stuff because it's different, edgy and young. But this is a very mainstream comedy. It's about a white nuclear family - and the storylines were dad hoarding stuff, mum wants to watch the Masterchef final, prankster brothers, a wacky neighbour needing the toilet, and a sofa gets stuck. That could be My Family. I don't say that's a bad thing at all. But it is a thing.


  1. I gather the press preview opted for 2 later episodes - hopefully a sign that it finds its feet.

  2. I'm still not sure I will bother with episode 2.
    I felt it was weak & lacked laughs from the beginning, which is a shame given the pedigree of those involved.

  3. I'm sharing the Look Around You love. I took the DVD of the first series to show an old university friend of mine now living in the US, and we very nearly died from laughing so much. Rarely has comedy given me so much pleasure as it did that evening.

  4. this review and the review pretty much sum it up, will give it another episode to find its feet.

  5. Sarah Ballingal23 March 2011 at 11:50

    I have just skimmed through the first episode of 'Friday Night Dinner' on 4od and from that brief glimpse I have no desire to watch it in full or indeed, any subsequent episodes. From the blog and comments above it seems I have made a sensible decision. 'Lead Balloon', my current(re-runned) comedy of choice, knocks it into a cocked hat (not to be confused with James' Script/Story Editor hat).