Starlings Preview (..From Steve Coogan and ‘Peep Show’s Super Hans)

“They are well-read, they want to investigate the world and they want to contribute to their communityâ€?, says Lesley Sharp of her new on-screen clan, the Starlings. Blimey, she’s right. This northern blue-collar bunch are of the lesser-spotted variety when it comes to TV land; they don’t smoke, they don’t all argue all the time and daddy Terry certainly doesn’t refer to his “arseâ€? every five minutes.

“Actually, to present a really positive image of a northern working class family is no mean feat – there’s usually some kind of terrible thing on the goâ€?, Sharp adds, apparently happy to play the role of proud matriarch both on and off the set. “This isn’t a family who’ve got cash to burn but that doesn’t mean to say that they’re not capable of being generous and kind and also that they’re not unintelligent.â€?

Starlings is the latest comedy offering from Sky 1HD and like the excellent Stella, it avoids the comfy middle-class ground so regularly seen on screen. It’s something that Sky have been doing frequently of late and BBC1 controller Danny Cohen has been spouting a desire for the Been to follow suit.

Judging by a sneak peek afforded to a select audience at Bafta earlier this month, Starlings could be the Sunday night game-changer the channel has been after. For one thing, it’s funny. For another (northern-working-class-stereotype-smashing aside) it is an endearing sitcom about the bizarre routines of family life – kind of like Darling Buds Of May crossed with The Royle Family, with a bit of Gavin and Stacey thrown in for good luck. It is about a clan who – like the eponymous bird of their surname – flock together through thick and thin.

“We wanted to write a Sunday vibe, family show and when we say family we mean, the whole family. Even something that an 18-year-old boy could enjoyâ€?, says Matt “Super Hans” King. Since finishing up with Peep Show crew, he has turned his hand to writing and Starlings is his first effort. The show is produced by Steve Coogan and also co-written by Steve Edge (Star Stories) – some impressive names are driving it forward and their experience shows.

Like all the best sitcoms, Starlings has the potential to make you giggle, and make you sob; plots about serious health problems cosy up to the banality of a lost pet in every episode. Coogan reckons they’ve pitched it right, commenting: “We are very excited about this smart but accessible new television series which will make people laugh and cry in equal measure for all the right reasons.” What with the astronomical success of BBC’s Call The Midwife and ITV’s Downton Abbey it seems that Sky is making its own bid for comfy Sunday night success. “We just wanted to write a feel-good, non-cynical family comedy drama based on some of the experiences that me and Matt, and people we knew, have had growing upâ€?, said Edge.

The loving couple at the centre of this family are made up of Downton Abbey’s Mr Bates (Brandon Coyle) as dad Terry and Lesley Sharp of Scott and Bailey, who plays beleaguered but loving mum Jan. And they make quite the convincing pair *nudge nudge*…“I liked the notion of a couple who aren’t in the first flush of youth who still really love each other and find each other attractiveâ€?, says Sharp with her professional hat firmly on her head, “it’s actually about a family who like each otherâ€?.

Calling their Matlock Bath home with the couple are a bevvy of acting talent including Finn Atkins as footy mad Charlie; John Dagleish as shirking son; Rebecca Night as young mum Bell. Then, of course, there’s the extended family to which writers King and Edge add an important bromantic element which leaves room for some of guilt-free gags.

The feel-good factor is undeniable. But it is the glimpses of everyday stress that plague ordinary people, and the programme’s recognition of the way that families deal with those stresses, which makes this exempt from blustering cliché.

Starlings is due to launch on Sky1HD at 8pm on Sunday 13th May.

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