Mic Wright’s Remotely Furious: Whatever Wollaston, Outnumbered Is Alright By Me
I’M not supposed to like Outnumbered. I’m meant to pull a Jeremy Paxman-style rubbery horse face of disgust [(c) The Thick Of It]. But I won’t. Because I quite like Outnumbered. It’s a slightly shabby suburban Seinfeld in which a fairly ordinary family’s life plays out quite slowly albeit it with rather more gooning about than the average mother with accept on any given day. Andy Hamilton and Guy Hamilton are a talented writing team and their cast are solid actors, including the youngest of them who have grown up in the show.
In The Guardian this week my bête noire, The Guardian’s Sam Wollaston, churned out one of his usual half-chewed rants on why the show is terrible. His conclusion? That some things in a SITCOM were not quite true to life and that the only people that like Outnumbered are “smug metropolitan middle-class Farrow & Ball families”. He should avoid throwing his organic hummus like that given its just very smuggos that keep his wage coming. And do we really expect TV execs to only serve up Scandinavian crime drama with subtitles to please snobs and snarkers like Wollaston?
Outnumbered is not perfect nor is it ever successfully edgy but it’s a mainstream BBC1 sitcom for a family audience. Critics regularly express sentiments similar to those farted out by Wollaston – “If I wanted to watch families like this I could just go round and watch them in the flesh” – because they want to seem above the fodder of the early evening schedule. They’re too busy banging on about the latest import from Netflix and whatever unwatchable shit they can strain out of BBC4’s current diet of repeats and nostalgia.
Wollaston’s other problem with Outnumbered is that it foregrounds mundane problems. But that’s life – mundane problems. Beckett covered mundane problems in almost all of his greatest work. Girls, so beloved of TV critics – me included – is about the relentlessly mediocre problems of a set of pretty mediocre New Yorkers. But it’s that last bit that gets it a pass. Lena Dunham isn’t writing about suburban England but urban New York, somewhere almost all the grouchy TV critics wish they were, tapping away at their MacBook Air keyboards with a decent view of the skyscrapers.
On the topic of Girls, Dunham’s masterpiece has returned for Season 3 on HBO, Sky Atlantic and illegal download streams everywhere. The characters are becoming richer as time goes by and while some – hello Jessa – can stumble aimlessly towards irritating, others such as Hannah’s brilliantly grunt-happy boyfriend Adam and the philosophically morose cafe proprietor Ray have hit their stride. Dunham’s character, Hannah, is increasingly likeable too and her scripts zing with attention to detail and phenomenal phrase-making.
Girls aside, the other show I’m watching without fail – beyond the often-delayed Agents of Shield – is the startlingly original and energetic Uncle. Nick Helm’s character is a disaster but endearingly so and his nephew, played by Elliot Speller-Gillot, avoids the usual tropes of quirky/cute kids in sitcom-land. Their adventures are dark and morally dubious but the only truly offensive thing about the show is the occasionally overly-forced inclusion of Helm’s songs into the show. Sometimes the skewed music videos work but at others it’s like your EPG is malfunctioning mid-broadcast. Still until Game of Thrones brings its night full of darkness and terrors back to our screens it’s laughter that’s getting me through.