With their universal themes and cross-generational appeal, family sitcoms are a staple of the schedules. The BBC has long mined the family-centric archetype, churning out ratings hits like the broadsheet-friendly, semi-improvisational Outnumbered, and the primetime-hogging televisual anthrax My Family. In The Simpsons and Arrested Development, the framework of the family sitcom has paved the way for two of the greatest shows ever made.
The second series may have a rather ironic slot Sunday evening supper slot, but the fact that it will be immediately following the ridiculously-popular Homeland makes this 10 o’clock slot schedule gold-dust. That the comedy secured this slot is a sign of the confidence C4 bosses have in it and on the basis of this series two opener, their faith isn’t misplaced.
Itâs remarkable, all things considered, that Channel 4 didnât make its first family sitcom until 2011, when it commissioned Robert Popperâs Friday Night Dinner. The show was an instant ratings winner with 2.8 million viewers, and in my opinion, frequently hilarious. After an initially lukewarm response, critics came to enjoy the show too, and it went on to win the prestigious Rose DâOr for Best Sitcom.
The concept is straightforward, but remains consistently fresh and inventive. Twentysomethings Adam (Simon âBriefcase wanker!â? Bird) and Jonny (Tom âSon of Jimâ? Rosenthal) visit their parents Jackie and Martin (Tamsin Greig and Paul Ritter) every Friday night for their tea. Despite having grown-up jobs and independence, the Goodman brothers revert to infancy and play endless pranks (pouring salt in one-anotherâs water, etc) when back in the familial home.
That makes Friday Night Dinner sound like a cross between The Royle Family and Men Behaving Badly, but itâs actually more like a version of the aforementioned My Family re-imagined by Vic Reeves, thanks largely to the showstealing, twitchy oddball Jim (Mark Heap). Despite his obvious fear of dogs, Jim inexplicably owns Wilson, a huge fuckoff Belgian Shepherd. He frequently shows up next door at the Goodman family home to flirt with Jackie in his own bizarre way.
At the press launch of the new series, its chaotic first episode had the audience of assorted TV critics in stitches. The superb the one-liners, escalating hi-jinks and Heapian surrealism have all been cranked up to eleven. The Goodman boys are more childish than usual; with the show veering into revenge-tragedy territory, as having discovering that 11-year-old Adam dumped his panda toy in the bin, Jonny seeks to destroy his brotherâs cherished childhood toy rabbit. Naturally, chaos ensues. Martin is becoming increasingly odder odder â sneezing on everything (âHe sneezed on a baby today â so embarrassing,â? says Jackie). Jim continues to baffle and bemuse everyone/thing he comes into contact with.
Friday Night Dinner is back on our screens in a few weeks, and will be served up in a paradoxical Sunday evening supper slot. The show will go out after Homeland, latching on to the psychological thrillerâs high-ratings slipstream. On the basis of this opener, the second series is set to be even funnier than the first.
Friday Night Dinner returns to Channel 4 at 10pm on Sunday 7th October.