Friday Night Dinner has returned for a sixth season, and it’s with a heavy heart that I say I wish it hadn’t. The show takes place in the Goodman family living room where each week Martin and Jackie, played by Paul Ritter and Tamsin Grieg, are visited by their two adult sons for a customary Jewish dinner. The evening gradually descends into absurdity, interrupted by Jim and his dog Wilson’s dependably funny intrusions, alongside a vast array of weird and wonderful characters. Each series of bizarre events is conveniently resolved some twenty-five minutes later, with a reliably contrived punchline.
The show is written solely by its creator, Robert Popper, who has worked on such comedic staples as The Inbetweeners and South Park. However, comedy writing in groups does seem to work best. The writers pool their ideas and filter out that which is… not funny. With Friday Night Dinner, the audience has no such luxury in the aim of keeping the show raw and unfiltered. Sometimes this gives the characters an endearingly natural feel, but occasionally, the audience has the cringe-inducing sensation of watching a comedian test his material.
The show is fun and familiar, but the premise is limiting. The first two episodes of the new series attest to the idea that only so much can happen around a dinner table. Friday Night Dinner was never about continuity or character development, of which there is none, but the characters were comical enough for this to be unimportant. Mark Heap is still laugh-out-loud funny in his portrayal of Jim, the eccentric and prying neighbour. However, the boys’ humour has started to wear thin and they have little believability in their brotherly repartee.
There have been redemptive moments in the first two episodes, but the writing feels tired and half-hearted. The season six characters seem less like real people and more like caricatures of their earlier selves. Moreover, we see the same old jokes recycled, including the now thoroughly exhausted salt in the drinking water gag. Accusing Friday Night Dinner of recycling material may be missing the point of a show that is clearly conscious of its monotonous structure. Nevertheless, the return of Jim and his new dog, Milson, is probably indicative of what season six is going to offer. Martin, who was once a believable oddity, has been somewhat reduced to his ridiculous obsessions. Meanwhile, Jackie’s character has taken on the unfortunate role of killjoy. Episode one was a funny, though unremarkable, episode about Martin trying to trick the unenthusiastic family to have dinner in his ‘new’ caravan. Episode two, by contrast, simply fell flat.
Friday Night Dinner has always been a family favourite, but as season six continues, the show feels increasingly past its prime. Quirky characters in farcical situations does make for good television, but as of late, the show has begun to lean on the success of its earlier ideas.
Image: Alison Martin via Wikipedia