18 January, 2007



Written by Heidi Thomas

This was excellent and enjoyable drama. It had believable characters, story and dialogue.

What I noticed was that she had a number of stories but they were all connected in some way: the swimming trials, delivery office, corset business, pianola, white feather. Billy gets another white feather at the swimming, the boss at the delivery office ends up buying a corset. What could have seemed contrived and complicated was simple and seamless.

It was Ruby and Billy's episode primarily. We were introduced to the family and the world through Ruby very simply, in terms of information giving. For instance we know Walter was killed during the war not by her saying "Oh, I still miss Walter who was killed in the war, curse that wretched war for taking him and so many of our young men across the country away from us" but in an argument when Rose says he's not coming back to claim the job so she should be able to keep it.

We know the mother's dead not by someone saying "Oh, I still miss Mother dearest, who has died and is now in heaven with the angels and is watching over us," but in conflict because they need the pianola but it was hocked to pay for the mother's funeral. Dadda doesn't say anything about his grief over his wife's death he just refuses to let anyone use her parlour which speaks volumes. It gives just enough room for the audience to think and make connections themselves.

The other sisters, Iris and May, had less to do but we know enough about them - Iris (mature, subsitute mother) and May (independent, takes risks). And the same for Dadda. He is unsympathic towards his son's post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But we still like him because we know that PTSD wasn't to be recognised properly for another 50 years. He's a man of his time.

The between-the-wars period feels authentic because of things like that and also because of subtle things like the Olympic athletes smoking and eating fast food.

Each character has dreams and aspirations and problems to overcome. They've started on journeys that are unlikely to be finished by the end of the series. That only happens if you spend a bit of time creating complex characters.

BBC1, Fridays, 9:00pm


After You’ve Gone

Written by Fred Barron

Primetime 8:30pm sitcom on BBC1? I admit my expectations were very low which is probably why I enjoyed it. It's strange because I didn't laugh much but I admired the set-up and the attempts to be funny.

This is by the creator of My Family. What was good about My Family was that you had a simple set-up that was familiar. It's a family. You have a mom and dad story, a younger kids story and a wacky older kid story.

It quickly became Europe's most popular spec sitcom script (to try and get work on established sitcoms) because it was so simple. If you failed with it then it was to do with you and not the show. It is perhaps much easier to create comedy out of a more high-concept show, about aliens for example. Though I'm not sure. I've been debating that one in my head.

Anyway, Barron's new sitcom has the same simple qualities. It is about a family but is similar to My Family only in that he has the same wacky older son character. Otherwise it has a bit more depth in that the father has avoided responsibility, and is in recovery with AA. As TV scribe Marc Pierson pointed out to me "this 'serious' aspect of the set-up gives the chance for some emotional big stories."

I noticed that Barron made the children younger as that was definitely a problem with My Family where they grew up too fast. If you're negative you can imagine your sitcom won't ever be commissioned but thinking more positively you can try and future proof the concept, just in case.

While After You've Gone isn't massively original in concept, it is relatable, as most of us have families and understand the parent/child conflicts. We might not all have direct experience of the mother-in-law/son-in-law conflict but we've all heard the hack jokes and buy into it easily and quickly. Barron's added another level of conflict, to do with class, between the ex-husband and the ex-mother-in-law to help with creating gags.

So while I like the set-up, just as I liked the My Family set-up, it's down to how the individual episodes are written as to whether I'll enjoy it.

BBC1, Fridays, 8:30pm

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