Les takes in Series 9 of this popular BBC sitcom…
Back in the days of clockwork television when home-recording was strictly the stuff of science fiction there was a phenomenon known as The Clips Show. This usually occurred late in the life of a long-running TV series and was normally confined to sitcoms. In these episodes the regular cast would find some excuse to assemble (in The Golden Girls it was usually around cheesecake in the kitchen) and start reminiscing about times past. The producers’ motive was always financial – it’s cheaper to assemble some clips from past episodes than to make a new one. And with a suitable frame story it’s not technically a repeat. And to be fair, it’s also a good excuse to show the audience some of their favourite moments at a time when they had no access at home to previous episodes.
So you would think that in the 21st century when we’re saturated with digital channels that show endless ‘classic’ repeats, most homes have a video/DVD/Sky+ recorder and you can download just about anything from youtube, the Clips Show would be a thing of the past. Not so. As recently as May of this year, the BBC, no doubt in a spirit of accountability and willingness to demonstrate to the Daily Mail fiscal responsibility with the licence-payers’ money, dared to transmit a Clips Show at the end of Series 9 of the popular sitcom My Family. Big mistake.
The continuing success of My Family is one of those phenomena that defy rational explanation. Routinely lambasted by critics the show still racks up, nine years on, significant viewing figures. So it must be doing something right. Well, not necessarily – look at how long Last of the Summer Wine has wheezed along for. The sits in this series have already been done by other, better shows and there isn’t that much com to be seen.
The basic setup is the usual dysfunctional middle-class family of eccentrics living in a large studio set who get themselves into all sorts of misunderstandings. There’s a Dad (Robert Lindsay), a Mum (Zoë Wanamaker) and of the three original children only two are left in the show – Michael (Gabriel Thompson) and Janey (Daniela Denby-Ashe). Dad’s a dentist and constantly bemused by the complications of modern family life, Mum hates cooking, Michael’s a geek and Janey is a slut. So think Butterflies meets Bless This House with Noughties trappings – Mum has milf tendencies and Janey is a single mother.
So what’s wrong with having a Clips Show? Well, they’re kind of shooting themselves in the foot as, on the pretext of helping the grandchild with a school family history project, they recount tales of Family Life Past. And it becomes quickly apparent that the best character the show ever had has long since departed – oldest son Nick played by Kris Marshall. Who became so popular after five series he left to exploit the career possibilities and is now doing ads for BT… It’s not to say the rest of the cast aren’t any good. Robert Lindsay started his career in sitcom and was the star of a hugely popular show in the late 70s called Citizen Smith (Power to the Pee-pul!) before going straight and headlining a variety of grim dramas. Zoë Wanamaker is a very skilled actress in any genre and works damn hard in this. But she’s 60 now (and looking fantastic on it!) and it’s a sad fact of modern media life that mature actresses (unless you’re Dames Judi, Helen or Maggie) have almost disappeared from our screens. So I can’t really blame her for hanging on to a popular success like this. And it’s quite remarkable that now, in series 9, she manages to look better, even dare I say younger, than she did nine years ago…
But the show’s best days are clearly behind it and the remaining young cast have now turned from speccy wee brats into truculent musclebound twenty-somethings. Gabriel Thomson is a very capable young actor but appears to be stuck on cruise control in this. And when they start bringing in celebrity guest turns (John Barrowman) we’re getting into late-season Friends or Will and Grace territory. But without the sharp scripts.
The nine episodes, each lasting about 29 minutes and split into 5 menu-accessible chapters, are split over two discs. The image is in standard TV anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1). In style the show sticks to one of the oldest tried-and-tested formats still in use in television. Each episode is shot entirely in the studio in the multi-camera format pioneered by Lucille Ball in the 1950s with a live studio audience in attendance. The few sitcom recordings I’ve attended were always shot in continuity to ensure greater ‘spontaneity’ from the studio audience whose laughter is kept in the sound mix. But which could possibly be augmented in post-production? Call me cynical.
Clear stereo soundtrack. The audience laughter doesn’t overwhelm the dialogue and the cast are seasoned enough to work around them.
Just English subtitles which are, on the whole, excellent but there are occasional typos which completely undermine the joke eg ‘Puppies’ transcribed as ‘Poppies’ on the subtitle. Kills the line.
For fans only.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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