Because I review a whole tv series rather than individual episodes, there is a chance of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the whole series yet, stop reading now!
Hebburn is an example of a new sitcom taking advantage of two classic sitcom clichés. For starters, it is a sitcom set around a family. I’ve spoken before about how many sitcoms use this and why. Some are very successful but most fall at the wayside, usually because they don’t offer anything new.
Hebburn is slightly different though. The family is at the center of the sitcom but it’s also got a very good, “fish-out-of-water” story thread too. The central female, played by Kimberley Nixon, is a southerner forced to live in the North-East, taking in the culture, the language and the community. This is where the sitcom gets it right.
Some of the best sitcoms use their location as a key part of the story, Father Ted being one example that comes to mind, and Hebburn uses its North-East setting brilliantly. It does have an element of playing to the boozy, scantily clad girls stereotypes at times but in other instances it’s perfectly spot-on, being able to laugh with the location, rather than pointing directly at it.
It helps that the writer, Jason Cook, who also plays the character of Ramsey, obviously knows the location, comes from Hebburn and seems to love the area. It feels safe to laugh at the jokes, obviously mocking the North-East of England, because it comes from someone who lives there as well. Its all clearly done, very lovingly.
The setting being as much a character as the central family saves Hebburn from the usual cliché that plagues other, lesser sitcoms. The other cliché that Hebburn does fall into is casting a successful stand-up comedian in the central, main role and hoping that works.
Chris Ramsey is the stand-up comedian in question and he does a good job. He is someone who comes from the North-East and just fits into the role perfectly. Being a stand-up comedian means he has decent comic delivery, can play up to the silly situations he’s put in but also plays the “everyman” role very well. In a sitcom, as usual, filled with lots of silly characters, Ramsey, and his on-screen wife Nixon, play the “normal” people brilliantly.
The cast they are surrounded by are a very funny support for the pair. Ramsey’s on-screen sister is played really well by Lisa McGrillis, who portrays the North-East, “slapper” fantastically. It’s another example of playing to the stereotype but its done in a funny way that isn’t too insulting.
The person that stands out from the supporting cast more than any other is Vic Reeves, who plays the father, Joe. It’s weird to see him play someone who is relatively normal, compared to some of the more outlandish, crazy characters he is famous for. He gets to deliver some fantastic lines, fitting the grumpy, traditional North-East Dad perfectly.
In fact, it’s the glimpse into the North-East family that gives Hebburn its funniest moments. The Mum of the family cutting the middle out of bread rolls to make bagels for her Jewish daughter-in-law or the costumes that the female characters dress-up in for Halloween, each of them being “sexy-something!” Its great observational comedy without being too outrageous.
Hebburn is another example of how good British sitcom is at the moment. It’s not too corny or cheesy. It’s not in-your-face humour, trying too funny to get constant laughs. It relies on its great writing, subtle situations and good observations to get the laughs which are cleverer than lots of other comedies that are like it.
Overall, Hebburn does a very good job portraying the North-East, despite being a sitcom with two very common clichés. The family is very funny, with Vic Reeves brilliantly taking the spotlight in the center, while Chris Ramsey fills the shoes he is given as the sitcoms “stand-up comedy” star. Its great observational humour while still being able to put the key characters in quite silly situations.
Best Episode – Feeling Dynamic; a great episode which sees Chris Ramsey’s character going for a disastrous interview while his sister breaks down in her new car.
Best performance – Vic Reeves as Joe.
Should there be another season? – Yes, there is enough there for the series to continue for at least another six episodes.
Season Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)