There will be a hole in Monday nights.In shape of Grandma’s House.

Since a few weeks ago, on Monday nights, something miraculous happened. For half an hour, I encountered pure comedic genius and great writing thanks to the brain of Simon Amstell and his collaborator Dan Swimer.

At first glance, the idea to simply use Amstell’s break from TV as the plot for a sitcom may seem easy and not very innovative, but all doubts are shattered with the first instant of the ensemble interacting. Again, one might argue that the style of Grandma’s House, with the action taking place only in the very confined spaces of a suburbian household is anything but fresh, it’s in fact exactly what made The Royle Family so distinguished. The focus in Amstell’s comedy, however, is laid upon other, very specific elements of family life and human nature.

There is Simon himself. Highly intelligent and strutting with, as expected, sarcasm filled to the brim, but also confused and blissfully desperate about the (pointless) nature of humanity and mundane life. He struggles with these expectations of him based on his Popworld-self and his longing for integrity, which are projected so naturally it makes me as a viewer almost uncomfortable due to the feeling of invading his privacy, something lying at the source of good comedy. Apart from this dilemma, he is also faced by his family’s demands to go back on television and stop being so clever, his grandfather’s fears of having cancer and the following diagnosis confirming them, the conflict between him and his stepfather-to-be and his attempts at finding forgiveness in his parents’ break-up. Quite a handful, even for a television sitcom.

His family add to all this by bringing in their own demons. His mother (portrayed by Rebecca Front) is about to enter a marriage with ever-charming Clive (James Smith in an exceptional role), which her son openly disapproves of not out of jealousy as assumed, but due to very well-disguised worries for her true happiness. She also deals with a sister (Samantha Spiro) stuck in sibling rivalry mode whose main obsession is to change her teenage son (delightfully antagonistic Jamal Hadjkura) from school to school. Overlooking all this are Grandma (Linda Bassett), a traditional, but thankfully not bitter, eternal housewife believing that a cuppa can still smooth over the most deadlocked argument, even if she knows better, and Grandpa (Geoffrey Hutchings), a quiet but perceptive soul personifying good old patriarchal diplomacy.
It may be noticeable that I love very single character on the show, one outshining the other. It’s the ensemble’s interactions, fuelled by each personal predicaments and their subsequent judgement of each other which make the viewer laugh. But at the same time, no character ever really takes centre stage, because in real life, other family members won’t let you.

This feeds into what is so great and refreshingly honest about the series. Even though the above mentioned issues lead to absurdly hilarious situations and conversations, the beauty of Grandma’s House lies in its calmness. ‘It’s funny because it’s true’ never applied better and at the same time does not do it justice. The characters and storyline do not need to rely on the show’s status as a sitcom , the performances are almost organic. No need for over-planned and elaborate set-ups a la Seinfeld. There are flickers of crises of masculinities (Simon’s homosexual, Clive’s mid-life and Grandpa’s physical), but these don’t overshadow the female, the age-related or familial ones. Grandma’s House is literally an agglomerate of real, everyday life. Simon’s often bleak outbursts condemning the futility of human nature seem to subvert this, but also constantly re-affirm its dramatic potential. At the same time these moments allow a peek into the depths of Amstell’s intelligence which make me think that I could never dare attempting to conceptualize his creativity. I believe that this is why many of his ‘victims’ during his Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcock-era did not dare to confront him; because behind such sarcasm is always a genius-like perceptibility of people’s motives and agendas.

Mr Amstell I salute you, and it’s those peeks into the workings of your mind and the resulting, so believable picture of family reality which I will crave from now on until I hear any whispers of a second series.


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