My Family Series 3 Review
As the audience under review, we are told that our tastes are more sophisticated than those of earlier generations and that the cosy world of the seventies suburban sitcom would not last long against the cut and thrust of reality television in the opening years of this century. Yet, I can't help but think that television producers, by making such statements, are being persuaded more by glossy Powerpoint presentations made by media consultants than the plain facts of viewing figures.
In the British television landscape of 2005, comedy is as comedy has always been - BBC2 and Channel 4 may flirt with alternative and more selective tastes but the big two channels shall not veer far from suburbia, a man who, in less enlightened times, would have been called the village idiot nor the sight of someone falling into a river. How else to explain My Family? Or My Hero, Hardware or, indeed, that Last Of The Summer Wine is still in production?
In a comment made after a review of Terry And June Series One was published on this site, Phil Q correctly made the point that My Family was very much the equivalent of that show - safe, middle-class family finds itself at the centre of a farcical situation brought about by its own meddlings. An episode like Waiting to Inhale is a perfect example of this - second son wishes to impress attractive older girl and hides a joint so that her own parents won't catch her. This boy's parents find joint, smoke half of it, worry about negative influence on child and dummy up a full joint once again. It all ends with a heart-to-heart talk between parents and son but no one need ever have worried as the joint was only cinnamon and parsley; parents get high nonetheless.
Waiting to Inhale could almost have been written into any sitcom from the past thirty years but, as was also a criticism with Terry And June, such timelessness is actually about having stale material. Even the family is very much an average British sitcom unit, which, given the description, bears next to no similarity to any real family. The father, Ben, is a dentist and is married to Susan, who, with Ben bringing in most of the income, fritters away her time cooking and hosting theatre tours whilst firstborn son, Nick, is an idiot, daughter Janey cares only about boys, fashions and how attractive she is whilst youngest son, Michael, is a budding Tory politician.
So far, so Butterflies, Family Ties and No Place Like Home but My Family, whilst undeniably British, has, under the influence of its creator, Fred Barron, been a diligent student of US imports like Friends, Cheers and Seinfeld. The dialogue in My Family is sharper than the average British sitcom, each season longer - fourteen episodes against an average of six - and the characters are seen to develop. Of course, the reason for this development is due to young actors like Kris Marshall, Daniela Denby-Ashe and Gabriel Thomson as the Harper kids but Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wanamaker bring a touch of class where TV comedy typically has little. Whilst never as funny as a Fred Barron-production credit might suggest - he also produced Caroline in the City, The Larry Sanders Show and Seinfeld - My Family is not completely lacking in good writing and there is a laugh or three per episode.
The best thing to say about it is that My Family does, at least, show that the BBC is committed to a mainstream Friday night comedy in an age where its competition, particularly ITV1, is almost fearful of trying to make people laugh. By doggedly sticking with My Family, the BBC has actually managed to create a hit Friday night comedy that isn't Have I Got News For You or, in Northern Ireland, Give My Head Peace, and although My Family won't ever be regarded as one of the corporation's better comedies, it's simply comforting to know that it's there.
Absent Vixen, Cheeky Monkey (27m44s): With Janey packing to leave for Manchester university, Ben and Susan bicker over who's to get her room but find that Nick is there first. Despite Ben's happiness at having one of his children leaving home, Janey's absence provokes feelings of loneliness in Susan and looks to Ben for reassurance. Unfortunately, none is forthcoming as Ben's only worries are about Nick finding a job in the local supermarket, which results in a roomful of tins of a tuna and the embarrassing question about how to return it.
Shrink Rap (28m55s): All teenagers find their parents embarrassing and Michael is no exception, despairing at Ben when he introduces himself to Michael's friends whilst his fly is undone. This doesn't help when Michael's school organises a fund-raising auction for a drama course and he tries to keep it from his parents. Unfortunately for him, they find out and whilst Susan offers a theatre tour, Ben puts forward a free dental appointment, which attracts the attentions of a blacklisted former patient with terrible halitosis. The Harpers leave the auction with a therapy session for couples but the therapist (Jemma Redgrave) is trying to quit smoking and Ben and Susan are not and never will be in the mood for therapy.
Desperately Squeaking Susan (28m03s): Ben is learning about text messaging and Nick has littered the house with tools from a magic act that he's trying to master but Susan is missing female company now that Janey's left. When she invites her niece Abi (Siobhan Hayes) over for an evening, Abi's gift for having accidents leads to them spending the night in casualty. Feeling sorry for her friend, Susan invites Abi to stay a little longer leaving Ben worried that the peace and quiet that he's craved all his married life is disappearing once again.
Of Mice and Ben (28m50s): With Abi having moved into the Harper's home, she asks Ben and Susan to star in a documentary that she's making for her course at college but neither one is entirely sure. Of greater concern, though, is a rat in the house that is keeping them awake at night and eating through the cabling in the kitchen. Not sleeping at night and with a camcorder in his face during the day, Ben fires his dental nurse (Archie Panjabi), gets caught in a mouse trap, is punched in the mouth and, when it looks like it can't get any worse, is ridiculed on television. And, yet, the rat goes free.
Imperfect Strangers (28m46s): When a phone call from an upset Janey leaves Susan worried, she and Ben set off for Manchester on a Saturday night but are met with a much happier Janey who, in clearly having someone in her room, turns her parents away. Ben and Susan take the opportunity to check into a hotel and do a little role playing as strangers meeting for the night but things go badly wrong when Ben can't get into the right hotel room and Susan picks up another admirer. Meanwhile, Abi invites her boyfriend round but Michael has no intention of leaving her alone.
The Second Greatest Story Ever Told (28m17s): It's nativity time at the Harpers and both Nick and Susan are in the running for parts but it's raised eyebrows all round when Nick is cast as Jesus - a mix of innocence and naivety, apparently - whilst Susan only gets Shepherd Number Two. With Michael trying to begin having a love life and Abi working in a coffee shop, Ben is trying to write a speech on Teeth As Fashion but comes down with terrible toothache. Only problem is that, being a dentist, he's reluctant to trust anyone with his own teeth.
Waiting to Inhale (28m43s): Michael is in love with Bex (Gemma Gregory), Abi is taking up art and Ben and Susan continue worrying about their kids. But despite Susan's concerns about Bex, Ben couldn't be happier, particularly as Bex is, according to Susan, fast and slutty. When they find a joint in Michael's room, however, Susan and Ben decide on a new approach to parenting and smoke the joint themselves. Trouble is, what with a half-smoked joint and Ben unable to quit smoking, the 'drugs are bad' talk with Michael is going to sound a little hollow.
Misery (27m56s): Ben thought that he had seen it all until Nick appears in his bedroom wearing a bra and intending to wear one of Susan's dresses. Ben's only lying in bed during the day having had to rest his ankle from tripping over Abi, who was lying on the floor as Ben retrieved his clubs for a weekend's golfing. And the weekend started so well when Susan left for a short stay in Manchester with Janey.
Auto Erotica (28m53s): Nick wins a battered MG in a poker game, which leaves Ben pining for his youth...and a few spare parts as he tries to restore it. All Susan wants is for him to book a weekend away in Dorset for their anniversary weekend but not even writing 'Dorset' on his head is enough to take him out of the garage. Elsewhere, there are sexual tensions and misunderstandings when Abi finds Michael looking in her lingerie drawer or, rather, experimenting with the quick release of a bra strap using her teddy bear. And to think of one's first sexual experience being with Mr Fuzzbudget.
Handful of Dust (29m00s): It's Ben's birthday and no one appears to have remembered but his disappointment is short-lived when things in the Harper house move quickly on. When Janey arrives with a female friend, Katie (Catherine Bailey), who is a lesbian, everyone assumes that Janey is too, which leaves Ben and Susan consoling themselves by listing notable lesbians whilst Michael is simply curious.
The Lost Weekend (28m27s): Ben and Susan get what they've always wanted - a weekend without their kids in the house. With all of their offspring and Abi away, they finally have some time to themselves...but they've forgotten what to do when left on their own. Visit the Tate Modern? Go to the cinema? Have sex in every room in the house? Or just stay in, tidy up and arrange the CD's in alphabetical order. Oh, the excitement.
Ghosts (29m03s): Whilst on the Internet, Michael stumbled across a local government record stating that the Harper house is cursed. Abi agrees, saying that she felt a presence standing at the bottom of her bed just staring at her whilst she slept - Michael, again - but Susan and Ben have bigger worries. An ex-boyfriend of Susan's comes back and although she's not interested and does her utmost to get rid of him, Ben is still suspicious...yet distracted, as Michael and Nick exorcise the house of its ghosts.
One Flew Out Of The Cuckoo's Nest (29m00s): The kids are out of the house and Ben and Susan grab what they can for a game of Strip Scrabble but when Ben goes to put on a record, any that aren't missing are broken...Nick is, of course, to blame. All of this leads to Nick deciding to pack, move out of the family home and find his own place. But as happy as Ben is, Nick isn't exactly far away and independence comes with a price.
Watching these episodes on DVD, my first impression was that the picture quality is as good as it was during My Family's original terrestrial and satellite broadcast...but then the credits rolled. The ghosting on the credits reveals a poor picture, worse even than the original, blocky, noisy broadcast on Sky, and the blame must surely be put on squeezing seven half-hour shows onto a single DVD.
The sound is not bad, however, and is perfectly functional for My Family. Otherwise, English subtitles are included for each episode.
There are no extras on this release of My Family Series 3.
But there's a problem with this release - the final episode of this season, One Flew Out Of The Cuckoo's Nest, was broadcast on 12 December 2002 and two weeks later, on Christmas Day, a festive special was broadcast. This episode tied up the series for that year - Janey dropped out of university and returned to the family home to announce that she was pregnant - and the absence of this show from this DVD release neither completes the series nor feels right.
Otherwise, I'm sure that this is as good as My Family is going to get on DVD as I simply can't see it being so well loved as to get a later special edition. My Family fans - if there are such people - will, therefore, have to live with the lack of this season's final episode and the poor picture quality but, as they're also prepared to live without originality, that shouldn't be too great a burden to bear.
Last updated: 14/07/2018 14:40:43