I review a whole season rather than individual episodes, so there is a chance of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the whole season yet, stop reading now!
British TV has a long tradition of creating cult sitcoms which are fantastic but lack the popularity and fanfare of some of their American cousins. Friday Night Dinner, even though it is now in it’s fourth season, has that cult feel to it. It is also benefiting from not being a huge, ridiculously popular sitcom, taking advantage of the freedom that being under the radar can offer.
For example, even four seasons in, the format and basic situation hasn’t changed. It is set-around every Friday when the four main characters come together for their evening meal (usually at the parent’s house). Other sitcoms may have felt forced to expand, go bigger or bolder with their stories but Friday Night Dinner does well to keep the same, smaller and simpler scenario that makes the comedy feel not just authentic but really familiar too.
This is down to the four central performances. The parents are great, being played by sitcom legend Tamsin Greig and stalwart actor Paul Ritter, who’s eccentric Martin would steal the show if it wasn’t for the eclectic supporting cast.
The best part of the sitcom is the chemistry between the two brothers. Their pranks, antics and general games with each other has developed and grown as the series has progressed and it is no different here. Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal manage to make every scene funny, playing off each other perfectly, almost believably as two brothers.
The stories fit the family dynamic and like any good sitcom, a small, insignificant situation begins to grow and spiral out of control well. Inviting a guest to dinner becomes a farce when the wrong “Tony” was invited, a spill on the carpet is complicated when you have to hide it from eagle-eyed Mum while a funeral becomes the highlight of the series.
In this episode particularly, neighbour Jim, played excellently by Mark Heap, is at his best. His bizarre obsession with the family comes to a great climax here. Heap conveys great physical comedy, from the traditional slapstick to the more subtle movements which demonstrate how afraid of his dog he is.
As good as the escalation in events can be, it can sometimes get away from the writers, and some episodes border on the ridiculous, which was never really an issue before. It rarely happens too much and it is always bought back very well, usually with the help of the fantastic cast.
Overall, Friday Night Dinner is using it’s lack of huge fame to carve out a successful cult sitcom. The characters and cast who play them are great as ever, particularly Mark Heap, and although the stories are becoming more ridiculous, the show is consistently funny.
Best Episode – The Funeral: Each character and actor is on form here, with Mark Heap stealing the show.
Best performance – Mark Heap as Jim
Should there be another season? – Definitely. Plenty of life left in the manic family yet.
Season Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)