Skyâs latest Sunday night offering had far less to do with Bill Oddie than one may have thought from a cursory glance through the TV listings mag. But judging by the warmth and generosity on display from this accommodating clan, the ornithology enthusiast would have been more than welcome to drop by for a cuppa chez Starling. Bouncy characters and some carefully observed comic moments make this a top Sunday watch, but it is the beating heart at the core of this family drama which makes it shine.
Lesley Sharp (Scott and Bailey) and Brandon Coyle (Downton Abbey) are the loving couple from the loins of whom this quirky family have sprung forth. In terms of the family tree configuration, the Starlings clan is kind of a cross between My Family and Only Fools and Horses, with some characters seemingly grafted straight in; senile granddad (Alan Williams) grumbles about talking cats in the corner while slightly-crazy-overgrown-teenager Gravy (John Dagleish) lingers about saying stupid stuff, with no job or prospects. Sisters Bell (Rebecca Night) and footy-mad Charlie (Finn Atkins) complete the line-up. And then thereâs Bellâs boyfriend, Bellâs baby and Uncle Lozâ¦and Fergieâ¦ In fact, with so many characters floating about, episode one was more of a meet and greet than a chunky delve into any psyches, but with eight weeks ahead there should be plenty of room to grow.
The family is based in Matlock – NO, that is not anywhere near London – it is in Derbyshire. This unusual setting allows the show to identify its own parameters without the shackles of audience expectation which might otherwise compel an extended northern family into a small semi in the heart of piss-stained Manchester so the show can tackle âsocietal issuesâ? to boot.
This could easily have ended up as a clichÃ©d romp through the encyclopaedia of family sitcom stereotypes, but rather refreshingly the funny factor feels unforced and natural. The absence of canned laughter, a sitcom staple which I for one am entirely ready to see the demise of, certainly encourages this organic approach to gag-identification. But humour ultimately comes from the shared acknowledgement that family life – for all its unplanned, inconvenient, tea-stained messiness – is actually really quite amusing, and can even be rather wonderful if you are all pulling in the same direction.
There is, I suppose, room to criticise the familyâs lack of concern over what appears to be some fairly serious financial predicaments. A supposedly crippling bill for Â£4000 – which tortures daddy Colin throughout the entire first episode – is swiftly and painlessly cleared by mum using some secret stash of cash which he apparently had no knowledge of. But presuming that there are families out there who do love each other enough to bump along despite their troubles, there doesnât seem anything wrong with laughing along with this particular bunch.