Posted by: Paul | September 3, 2010

Grandma’s House

It’s taken a few weeks, but I’m really warming to Simon Amstell’s exercise in meta self indulgence, Grandma’s House. That’s getting on for half a dozen new comedy IP’s the BBC have impressed me with in recent months.

In it, rather like a suburban, cheap Curb Your Enthusiasm, Simon Amstell plays a fictionalised version of himself – also a TV presenter on a comedy pop quiz – in the midst of a very close, and rather dysfunctional Jewish family. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a British programme quite so overtly Jewish before, which in all honesty is a breath of fresh air.

But that’s beside the point. Simon is having an existential crisis. He’s quit his lucrative, high profile show in order to find a more meaningful path through life and art. He toys with the idea of writing a play, perhaps with a certain winsome gay actor in mind (the character of Ben Theodore, whom not-real Simon idolises). His family are of course distraught, especially his doting mother, played by the always brilliant Rebecca Front. Every show takes place in and around the front room of his Grandmother’s house, where the whole family habitually gather to share news and occasions. The sense of family and the chemistry (if on the acidic side!) is palpable, and for me the best moments in the script come from the exchanges of cross-talking, several conversations occurring at once and referring back at specific points to things which might have happened ten minutes ago. The timing of the cast is impeccable and its quite cleverly written, by Amstell himself and Dan Swimer.

But the focus of the show is on Simon’s reaction to the interloper, Clive – his mother’s new fiancée. Clive is an unwelcome intruder into Simon’s tightly controlled world, in which he is the centre of attention. He’s a threat, and Simon would be willing to go to extraordinary lengths to discredit him. Until, that is, it comes to the crunch, when Simon backs down and retreats into his shell.

It’s a nicely observed slice of life, and the subsidiary characters are by turns repellent (Aunt Liz and cousin Adam) and engaging (Grandma and Grandpa). Unfortunately, with the sad death of the actor playing Grandpa, Geoffrey Hutchings, there may not be any more 😦

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