26 May, 2006

Home Again

The test of a good comedy is if you can dip into it mid-series and you’re still able to understand the premise, the characters and find it funny. And so I watched last week’s episode of new comedy Home Again.

“Failing time and time again to get onto the property ladder, newlyweds Ingrid and Mark are forced to move into her parents' spare room.” The British Sitcom Guide

The premise is a good one which captures the zeitgeist in that grown children are returning home (having flown the nest) for financial or other personal reasons. I suspect many people had that idea but each would have come up with a completely different sitcom.

However A list comedy veterans James Hendrie and Ian Brown got there first. They write for - and then eventually took over running - My Family – the most popular BBC sitcom in years and have years of experience and expertise. However, Home Again has weak foundations and needs re-building if not demolition.

Although it’s a pre-watershed sitcom about a family in family viewing time, it has, surprisingly, lots of jokes about sex and sexuality. According to one review it had an actual unmistakeable blow-job in an earlier episode but surely the critic was mistaken. It somehow feels like cheating as sex jokes are easy and writing something the whole family can watch is difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I love sex jokes but I could do without questions like “daddy, what’s she got in her mouth?”

There was a whiff of desperation about the gagging up – where they try to make a scene funnier. For example, the young couple are in bed and you’ve got to leave the scene on a gag. The gag they came up with was the woman switching off the light and the man complaining that he couldn’t see the lolly he was eating. That’s it. As a gag it didn’t work as even in the dark, in a long-shot the audience could see the lolly and so we don’t quite believe he couldn’t see it right in front of him – or even need to see it to eat it.

The plot creaks around an extremely contrived misunderstanding about the children thinking the father’s dying and the parents thinking that their children are planning a secret party for them.

Throughout the episode, the story requires the characters to make giant leaps in conclusion without any proof. As a trait for one character that’s probably amusing but as a crutch for bad storytelling, less so. Perhaps if the plot had revolved around a character issue – something true and real - rather than an unlikely misunderstanding then it might have been more interesting.

While the daughter’s husband bears some similarity to Nick from My Family (nothing wrong with that as Nick is very popular) it’s a shame that there wasn’t something more distinctive with the other characters and some depth to all of them. At the moment none of them are ‘relatable’; I just don’t care about what happens to them.

One of the first things I learnt was “arguing is not conflict”, that goes for pointless witless bickering as well. I feel there needs to be some proper on-going conflict. But that would mean making it less cosy. But would anyone call the most popular BBC pre-watershed comedy of all time “Only Fools and Horses” cosy? Cosy isn’t a pre-requisite for pre-watershed.

As new writers our natural inclination may be to write edgy post-watershed things but BBC comedy development have been encouraging new writers to try pre-watershed family friendly things.

Rather than be bitter that our weak scripts aren’t produced when the BBC produce other people’s weak scripts perhaps we have to simply get better and try harder.

The next episode is tonight at 8:30pm, BBC1. I recommend watching it critically, writing down what you like and what you don’t like. Do you agree with my points or disagree?

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