Anthony Nield has reviewed Eureka’s region 2 release of the first series of 2 Point 4 Children. A cosy product of the early nineties, the gentle humour of this series may not stand up well against today’s edgier sitcoms, but it is well acted and largely agreeable if unlikely to provoke a big reaction.
The current state of the sitcom is one in which those on the receiving end of the critical plaudits are the edgier proponents of the form, either in terms of content or execution, so much so that it is debatable as to whether the term ‘sitcom’ should apply at all. Given this climate why then should we return to (or, from the point of view of the DVD producer, re-release) a product from a much safer era? For, if you can get past Howard Goodall’s hideous piano theme (which, be warned, is smother over the various menu screens), that’s exactly what 2 Point 4 Children is; a cosy prospect that allows itself only one or two risque gags per episode courtesy of the character of a sex mad neighbour. Indeed, the series’ title is perfectly fitting, reflecting as it does an average, a norm of the times. This is a wholly middle class, televisually familiar venture, set in a three bedroom house with one son, one daughter and a loving, together mother-father unit; in episode four there’s even the comedic cliche of the visit from the mother-in-law.
But then should operating in a safety zone be seen as something to criticise? After all Dad’s Army and The Good Life, at least retrospectively, do exactly that and, personally speaking, I rarely miss a repeat. Moreover, 2 Point 4 Children shares with these examples the same level of professionalism. There may be a staginess inherent in the form despite a reasonable amount of location (a High Noon pastiche in episode three comes off as especially poor), but it is counterbalanced by two fine lead performances. It’s a most fortunate result for the producers as Bill and Ben, the mother and father played, respectively, by Belinda Lang and Gary Olsen, serve not only as the principle figures in each episode but also the audience surrogates. All of the jokes revolve around the pair or occur from their point of view, the force behind them being audience recognition. The side effect of this is that, for all the nuance found in the two leads, every other character who doesn’t fit into a vaguely similar category (in terms of age or class) is drawn in extremely broad strokes; the majority being either hugely dislikeable (snobbish and yuppyish tendencies being a favourite target for writer Andrew Marshall) or, in the case of the kids, a compendium of every available cliche.
Thankfully, there are fumblings towards depth with the regards to Lang’s character as she slowly toys with the idea of an extra-marital affair. It’s a welcome development in another respect as it also serves to bulk out Marshall’s scripts. Almost fifteen years down the line, they now prove more fitfully amusing than laugh out loud hilarious. He has obvious skills as a writer, and each episode is nicely structured, but the overall response is likely to akin to that which greets the end of every show, namely a warm, polite applause.
Television series often prove troublesome on the presentation front when it comes to DVD releases, so it is pleasing to announce that 2 Point 4 Children’s first series comes off surprisingly well. The original 4:3 ratio and stereo soundtrack are maintained, but both remain largely crisp and clear. Indeed, the prints used for the transfer are almost wholly lacking in damage of any kind, although there are moments (especially during darkly lit scenes) when artefacting becomes apparent.
Given that six episodes are present are the disc, we perhaps shouldn’t expect much in extras. There are special features present but these are largely negligible: a collection of publicity stills from 1991 and a tribute to the late Gary Olsen. The title of the latter is a bit misleading as the piece is essentially a spoken work profile of the actor, listing his various stage and screen credits, read out of a compilation of clips from the six episodes found on the disc. (Unlike those episodes, this featurette is without English subtitles.)
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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