The Harper family return but without Janey who, in her move to Manchester, has fallen out of the family and hence out of life. As has the Christmas special between Seasons 3 and 4…
I would imagine that I said all that I needed to say as regards a preamble with my review, a year or so ago, with the release of the third season of My Family on DVD. Indeed, I suspect there’s only really so much that one can write about the background to My Family and although that statement may be proved wrong by the publication of a book detailing the making of the show or a boxset with several discs of extras, I think it will remain true for some years to come. By which time, given the nature of television sitcoms, My Family may well be forgotten about.
However, what needs to be said is that this season does not begin where the previous one left off. Once upon a time, the Christmas special was a one-off that existed outside of the canon of a particular show. Of course, that the Christmas special provided a reason for some dancing news readers was all well and good and was savoured like an After Eight mint by a nation well fed, watered and gifted. But in later years, the Christmas special began to mean something and so rather than see Delboy and Rodney attempt to flog a vanload of nude Santas on the night of Christmas Eve, the Christmas Only Fools And Horses became entangled in their marriages to Racquel and Cassandra. Things haven’t improved any with last years The Christmas Invasion being the moment when we were properly introduced to David Tennant’s Doctor, pyjamas and all, as well as a decent mention of Torchwood. Miss that and you’ll be wondering who the Scottish chap with the teeth is come the beginning of the second season.
Now, none of this would be so bad were the producers of DVDs keeping a track of all this but they, seemingly, are not. My last word in my review of the Season 3 release of My Family is that it did not include the Christmas special of that where, wherein Janey dropped out of university and returned to the family home to announce that she was pregnant. And nor does this Season 4 release, which begins with Fitting Punishment, in which Susan (Zoë Wanamaker) sits at the table choosing wool for a cardigan to Janey’s baby. Now, were you following My Family on television then it’s possible that Janey’s pregnancy came as no surprise but to anyone – and if it happens with other television shows, it’s sure to happen with My Family – who’s only watching this on DVD, that Ben and Susan are to be grandparents will come as something of a surprise. Such viewers will doubtless feel short-changed at having missed the breaking of that news, the inevitable verbal fireworks that followed and the resigned acceptance by Ben and Susan that age and grandparenthood have finally caught up with them. As this two-disc set opens, they appear to be very calm about the situation.
In all other respects, though, the entire fourth season is included here and begins with Susan looking forward to the arrival of her first grandchild whilst Ben realises his own mortality when a neighbouring dentist passes away. Over the next twelve episodes, there are the usual middle-class mishaps, some confusion over sexuality and the arrival of a mother-in-law. Whilst it’s not like alternative comedy never happened, My Family is safe, most often predictable and errs on the right side of smut for a BBC1 audience – no perversions but the occasional sight of a contraceptive is acceptable, is mention of pre-marital sex. It is not, though, entirely without laughs but rather than these being a reflection of the laughs to be had in the situations, they’re much more to do with the comic performances of Zoë Wanamaker and Robert Lindsay, the latter an old hand at comedy but who makes a good deal more of the scripts than they deserve. So, when Ben is brought along to a dance class by Susan when he’s been told it’s a wine-tasting evening, the actors imply that he’s not only an alcoholic but that he’s deeply disappointed by the turn of events (They Shoot Harpers Don’t They?). Better, though, is in Deliverance when, on a mercy mission to Manchester believing that Janey is about to give birth, Ben and Susan think back to the birth of their own children and to the music and fashions of the time. No room, however, for the beret of Wolfie Smith but Robert Lindsay does wear a white disco suit well.
But then My Family gives you some decent sitcom material like Ben undressing and jumping into bed with his mother-in-law (The Great Escape), Ben and Susan ‘trying out’ a bed that’s subsequently revealed to be in a furniture store (Deliverance) and Michael firing an organic sausage out of his window from a homemade gun shortly before Abi enters saying that it’s raining sausages (It’s a Window Filled Life). She has apparently been praying of this day. This all comes together in Friday the 31st, set on the night of Hallowe’en when Ben makes a child cry, the Harpers start a war with the local kids and Susan dresses like a witch, Roger (Kieron Self) as a ghost and Abi as a cheese. It’s the best episode of the thirteen here but that’s not saying a great deal. A laugh here and there but spread too thinly for this to be a great comedy, My Family will probably remain a footnote in the BBC history – how the producer of Seinfeld and a couple of good comedy actors gave the BBC a Friday-evening success.
Looking a little better than when it was broadcast on BBC1, My Family on DVD isn’t bad but contains a noticeable amount of noise in the image, which is seen very clearly during the end credits. Whilst acceptable so long as you don’t set your expectations particularly high, My Family on DVD, and this is equally relevant to the audio quality, does a fair enough job but without ever being that special.
There are no extras on this DVD release.
But having reviewed two seasons of My Family, I expect they’ll keep on coming. What’s noticeable about this season is that Kris Marshall is clearly on his way out but that the producers have brought in Kieron Self to ensure that an idiot remains in the show – Abi would count but that she’s a girl makes her more silly than simply very stupid – but the two central performances remain and continue to be main attraction in the show. A functional presentation on DVD means this isn’t anything particularly special but will, I’m sure, do for fans of which there’s likely a dwindling number as these seasons pass.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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