It’s often been commented on how class-based British society is. It’s probably less so now than previously but class still rears its ugly head on most occasions. I’ve heard that are 12 (or it 17?) gradations of society in Britain. I suppose starting at the Royal Family (although very old, venerable families such as the Spencers consider themselves a cut above those parvenu Germans) on to the major aristocracy, minor aristocracy, the upper middle class, the middle class, lower middle, working class, very poor and the dispossessed. That makes nine so I don’t know where the others fit in. Anyway, the main criticism I’ve heard about the sitcom Outnumbered is that is ‘middle class’
But why is that a criticism? Can’t the lives of people who earn a middling income be portrayed on television? Why is middle class such an insult? Why is being working class so much more worthy? Anyway, don’t let that deter you from watching this show because it’s brilliant.
Apart from the excellent script, one of the reasons to applaud it is because the children act in such a realisitic manner. How many family-based comedies are there where the children mechanically deliver too too clever lines which have actually been written by someone 30 years their senior? Children just don’t speak like that. Annoying background laughter makes it even worse.
Outnumbered was first broadcast in 2007, and the third series will be aired later in 2009. The title refers to the fact that the mum and dad are outnumbered by having three children. The parents are played by well-known comedian Hugh Dennis, and actress Claire Skinner – but it’s the children who particularly shine.
The eldest is 12-year-old Jake (played by the spectacularly named Tyger Drew-Honey). He is already quite cynical and sarcastic, has a friend who’s a girl (not a girlfriend) and is starting secondary school where he may or may not be being bullied. He is also often the voice of sanity and reason, attempting to stop his parents worrying about him.
Second son is Ben (Daniel Roche) – a lively troublemaker with a penchant for lying. Lastly is six-year-old Karen (Ramona Marquez) who many would describe as the star of the show. She is angelic looking with brown eyes and blonde curly hair – but she’s a terror. Her often rambling comments always contain a kernel of logic.
The genius behind the show (written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin) is that the children’s lines are partly improvised. They are given the gist of what to say and then they tell it in their own way. The camera keeps rolling and they edit in the best bits. The adults have to work round what the children say or edit their bits in later. Anyway, the overall effect is a totally natural comedy with realistic lines delivered by the children.
Rather like Seinfeld, it’s a show where nothing much happens. It’s a well-observed slice of life, the troubles and problems of many middle-class families living in south London. The father is a history teacher at the local school. On marking one essay, he exclaims that a pupil has spelled the Ancient Greek leader’s name as Alexander the Gr8.
When he stands on the sidelines with other parents at the Saturday morning football game where his son is playing he realises the extent of Ben’s fondness for lying. One dad asks him, ‘So what’s it like – being Gordon Brown’s bodyguard’. Another woman has been raising funds because Ben has told her his dad has cancer.
But little Karen is just brilliant. Sometimes the camera just shows her playing on her own. She likes to imitate the reality shows and gets all her toys and teddies to play the characters. She might pretend one is Gordon Ramsay complete with the ’beeping’ or a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent who is told ‘ You were just awful, really terrible’.
Other characters include Granddad, Sue’s dad who is suffering from early dementia and has come to live with them because he burnt his kitchen down. And Auntie Angela, Sue’s sister, who does a nice line in passive aggression. She is childless and has man worries, which she explains in detail to Jake, and has been off ‘finding herself’ in various different countries. The animosity between the sisters and the relationship to the ailing father is common in many families.
I read that there will be a US version of this show. I hope BBC American and BBC Canada will air it soon so you can just watch the original. It’s laugh out loud funny.