Auntie clearly has faith in Father Figure. It originally began as a pilot on BBC Radio 2 in 2010, followed by a short 4-part series in 2012. Despite only broadcasting five episodes on radio the BBC, working alongside Ireland’s RTÉ, has now decided to bring it to TV. This is a big risk.
For starters, it is not the sort of show that will please the critics. It features the one thing that critics of TV sitcoms hate the most – the sound of a studio audience laughing. The kind of sound that makes critics assume the show is using canned laughter when a quick bit of research shows it was actually filmed in front of a life audience. The humour in it is also old fashioned, based on a sort of heightened reality with plenty of slapstick. Also, the first episode broadcast seems to be the worst of the six, so people might be put off it without giving it a chance.
However, Father Figure does have plus points.
The series is co-written and stars Irish stand-up Jason Byrne as Tom Whyte, a stay-at-home dad looking after two chaotic sons while his wife Elaine (Karen Taylor) is busy working. Tom also has to put up with his interfering mother Mary (Pauline McLynn – Father Ted’s Mrs. Doyle) and his confused father Pat (Dermot Crowley – one of many Irish actors seemingly famous in Britain for making a cameo appearance in one episode of Father Ted), as well as Tom’s close friend Roddy (Michael Smiley – Tyres from Spaced).
As stated, the first episode is the weakest, but the latest episodes do get better. As the series progresses there are plenty of good moments of visual humour, and occasionally the odd moment of word play and comic confusion, mostly evidence in the second episode. It also gets better and better, with the final episode being the best of the lot. There are also decent turns by guest performers such as Peter Serafinowicz and Isy Suttie.
You do get the feeling though that the BBC has picked this series up because they are hoping that this Irish domestic situation comedy will mirror the success of another BBC sitcom, Mrs. Brown’s Boys. However, Father Figure is not extreme or bizarre enough match it, and it is not realistic enough to put it alongside a show liked Outnumbered (the child characters are too heavily scripted to be believable). It just hangs around somewhere in the middle of the two and is worse off for it.
Father Figure is a sitcom with much to laugh at, but because of the old-fashioned humour, the somewhat weak start, and the fact that it will not be popular with the more trendy comic trendsetters, the chances of a second series hang in the balance.
Father Figure starts on Wednesday 18th September at 10.35pm on BBC One.