Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Grandma’s House 1.6 ‘The Day Simon Finally Found the Strength to Accept that His Mother Was Getting Married’

“…Who’ve you got lined up for us next time? Charles Manson…!?” – Simon

Simon Amstell’s sitcom Grandma’s House has kind of passed me by and if I’m honest I wasn’t overly gutted I’d missed this debut writing effort from the former Buzzcocks host.

But after rave reviews from certain people whose opinion I value a great deal I decided that before the show ended its first TV run I needed to at least sample one episode. As it happens by the time I finally made this decision the show had almost reached the end of its first season (if you can call six episodes a ‘season’) so last night’s episode was the season 1 finale.

I should point out that I’m writing this review completely ignorant to what has come before last night’s finale so if I make any mistakes here I apologise, but here goes anyway…

I’ve never been a huge Simon Amstell fan, and I don’t mean that in a negative way I just mean that I like him – he’s a funny guy – I just don’t think he’s the second coming of YHWH as some people do.

Given Amstell’s Jewishness Grandma’s House was always going to be compared to its American counterparts Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld, from the pens of fellow Jewish comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld and the former I guess is what Amstell was shooting for. Unfortunately the show comes off more like a pretentious version of Lead Balloon, the Jack Dee starring sitcom that was previously dubbed ‘the British Curb’, rather than being in a league anywhere near the genius observational comedy of messrs David and Seinfeld.

Everything, from each show’s overly long title, to the camera fades in and out and the shoe-horned in sarcy dialogue makes it feel like Grandma’s House is just trying too hard and for the first half of the episode at least I was comparing the show more to Frank Skinner’s Shane than to a Curb or a Seinfeld, not in terms of quality because Grandma’s House is by no means that bad, but in the sense of the show feeling like it was written more around Simon’s one-liners than actual well thought out stories and plot arcs.

But as the show got going this became less apparent and by the end of the episode Amstell being there with this dysfunctional family didn’t feel nearly as odd as it did at the start of the episode and his humour and sarcasm was quite a nice little commentary to the bizarre shenanigans that were going on in Grandma’s house.

Although I hadn’t seen the show prior to last night I had read that Amstell’s acting wasn’t exactly setting the screen alight and I can now concur with those sentiments. That said, by his own admission Jerry Seinfeld was never an actor and is visibly poor on screen for Seinfeld’s earliest episodes. It also amplifies Amstell’s inabilities on screen that he has assembled an impressive roster of fine comedy actors to play his fictional family, British comedy stalwart Rebecca Front in particular.

Front was recently seen in The Thick of It as Malcolm Tucker’s latest verbal punching bag and her Thick of It co-star James Smith also popped up as her fiancé Clive in a scene-stealing, alcohol-fuelled performance.

Amstell is essentially playing himself on the show and in a unique post-modern twist is struggling in his career after quitting a show (I’m assuming Buzzcocks?) if Grandma’s House itself fails this will be a nice post-modern parallel but as such the real life Amstell isn’t struggling – he has a BBC2 sitcom so it is kind of difficult to buy him as being at a low ebb. This kind of thing worked on Extras with a fictional character and it has worked before in this type of show – Kirstie Alley’s Fat Actress being one example, but Amstell as a failure? – Not yet anyway.

Grandma’s House isn’t a disaster by any means though – it is a well-observed family dynamic that is mined for the best laughs, it just felt a bit awkward at times with Simon Amstell sitting there on the sofa with them almost like a win a dinner with a celebrity type of deal.

The kid – Simon’s cousin – is very funny, in a kid says inappropriate things kind of way and I thought the Grandfather character was very endearing.

Given the show’s title and the fact that the action all took place at Grandma’s house last night I assume that each episode is confined to the house which will inevitably draw comparisons to The Royle Family. This is so much more than that though, The Royle Family was quite broad British humour in a Gavin & Stacey kind of way where as Grandma’s House definitely has a more American sitcom feel to it. The writing is sharper, the pop culture references more obscure and the gags are better crafted than many of its British peers.

By no means did I hate Grandma’s House, but I didn’t love it either. I did expect more from Amstell – maybe if I give the whole season a go though I’ll feel differently – so my expectations may have been too high last night.
There was enough there in this episode to make me want to see the whole season it just didn’t grab me as my new favourite show, as other recent British comedies like The Mighty Boosh and The Thick of It did the first time I saw them when they were at their peak.

Given the choice last night though between this and The Inbetweeners I think I definitely made the right choice…


  1. While Simon may not be a great actor, (he did remind me of early Seinfeld)over all, I thought it was brilliant, with far more genuine laughs, than I have gotten from most sitcoms.

  2. It did have its moments in the episode I saw and I'd definitely put it up there as one of the best new Brit sitcoms... But I just expected a little more


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