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TV review: Simon Amstell's Grandma's House
The cast of Grandma's House
In a bold move (by BBC standards anyway), Simon Amstell's comedy Grandma's House has returned to BBC Two for a second run.
That's in defiance of critical drubbings, questions around Amstell's acting ability (at the British Comedy Awards, Jonathan Ross quipped Amstell's performance - as himself, lest we forget - was "so wooden Ray Mears tried to build a canoe out of him"), and ratings that dwindled steadily throughout series one in 2010.
Auntie's no fool though - the show was nominated alongside Miranda and The Trip for the Best New British TV Comedy gong at the same British Comedy Awards, while Samantha Spiro won Best Female Comedy Breakthrough Artist for her role as Amstell's moustachioed Auntie Liz in the show.
So what are the critics missing?
When Adam (Jamal Hadjkura) shouted "Oi !Facebook!" at Amstell I almost spat out my tea. It's an old one, but a good one.
Grandpa Bernie (the late Geoffrey Hutchings, who died before series one aired) will be sorely missed in series two, though he's still very much present in the humour.
Grandma's House is a comedy within a comedy (a meta-comedy, if you will). Deliberately self-conscious and self-regarding, it charts the ups and downs of a partially fictionalised Simon Amstell as he attempts to revive his TV career, from his tiny bedroom at - wait for it - his grandma's house.
"You're back on telly!" squeals Amstell's mum Tanya (the amazing Rebecca Front), celebrating the commissioning of her son's latest series - a sitcom about his family. "I don't care if it's absolute s**t!"
And as mainstream sitcom fans - still, perhaps, bemoaning the loss of My Family - scratch their heads in confusion, a small but significant portion of the viewing public chuckles knowingly into its sleeves. I'm not joking about the "small" part; an overnight average of just 950,000 tuned in for this opening episode.
OK, it won't enjoy the viewing figures of, say, ITV1's Benidorm. However, thanks to sharp one-liners, Grandma's House bears all the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making, due in no small part to the superlative writing and supporting cast.
In episode one (catchily titled 'The Day Simon Officially Became a Very Good and Totally Employable Actor'), our hero wakes up next to a guy half his age. This kid may or may not be called Mark, may or may not be 14 years old, may or may not have drug-raped Simon, and insists on referring to his new amour by his full name at all times. This, trust me, is funnier on screen than it is in print.
Samantha Spiro and Rebecca Front are flawless as Amstell's frumpy Aunt Liz and neurotic mum Tanya. "Former funnyman Simon Amstell," Tanya reads proudly from the TV listings. "I'm still funny, just not publicly," retorts Amstell, deadpan. "It's ridiculous!" she screams in excitement; "They're going to let you act! On television!"
And the meta-humour just keeps coming; a response, surely, to the critics who found little to enjoy in series one. But isn't that always the way? After all, nobody found The Office funny first time around. And it took years for Fawlty Towers to get the recognition it deserved.
It's not normal
"What do you want?" asks Simon, addressing no-one in particular; "Just a load of ludicrous characters wandering in and out of rooms doing something funny?" Right on cue, in strolls Tanya's ex Clive (James Smith) toting a mobile Karaoke machine.
Following a tone-deaf rendition of You Are Not Alone, he offers Tanya tickets for Shrek the Musical, then puts his foot through granddad Bernie's chair. "Oh god, I really sh*t the bed in there," he confides to Simon later.
But it's Auntie Liz who sums up the appeal of this fantastic comedy best when she asks Simon: "Why can't you make something for normal people? Normal people don't have the time to concentrate."
And that pretty much hits the nail on the head for me: either you get it, or you don't. And, if you don't, fear not: word has it that In With The Flynns has been commissioned for another series. Enjoy.
- Eight parts Curb Your Enthusiasm and two parts Birds of a Feather, Grandma's House still feels like a breath of fresh air for British comedy. Four stars out of five.
TV quotes of the week - Grandma's House
"It's not about acting! I'm stiff in real life!" - Simon Amstell spoon-feeds the critics their review fodder with this sterling one-liner in Grandma's House.
"He prefers illusionist." - Amstell rejects Auntie Liz's claim that Derren Brown is a mere 'magician'.
"Do you want me to sleep with Alan Yentob for you?" - Tanya will do pretty much anything to further her son's career.
"If your father died would you be happy with a sh*tty roll?" - Tanya questions the quality of spread at Grandpa Bernie's funeral.
"There's worse things in life than a broken chair; some people have got no legs." - Clive puts the damage to Grandpa's chair into perspective for Grandma.
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