There was a tricky moment in the recording of last week’s Saturday Review.
Under the chairmanship of Tom Sutcliffe, the panel – Deborah Moggach, David Benedict and myself -were discussing the forthcoming Channel 4 series Friday Night Dinner, which aims to be a new and edgy take on the traditional Hi-honey-I’m-home domestic sitcom. Tamsin Greig plays the part of the dizzy mum, Paul Ritter the put-upon dad, while two annoying sons in their twenties are played by Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal.
They meet once a week – with, as the marketing people might say, hilarious consequences.
The panel, with one exception, felt rather warmly towards the programme. Tom and Debby thought it showed promise. David loved it. For me, it was simply the lamest alleged comedy I had seen on TV. Ever. Without exception.
At one point, David joked that perhaps it was because he was a good Jewish boy that the family and what happened to them made him laugh so much.
Briefly, nervously, I suggested that this was precisely the problem. For an edgy comedy, Friday Night Live seems a bit tentative. For example, the fact the family are Jewish is mentioned once, glancingly in the second episode (one of the son refers to a Jewish dating agency on the internet). Why the shyness?
A slight chill descended on the discussion. David argued that just because a family is Jewish, there was no need for that to be part of the comedy. Debby pointed out that the background of the family was pretty obvious – it was there in the title of the programme. Tom swiftly moved the discussion on.
This little disagreement has been worrying me ever since. Am I guilty of a sloppy kind of racism, assuming that a family’s racial background should be part of the comic mix? Come to think of it, am I the only person in the country who is too thick to understand the title, thinking that Friday night dinner simply means a dinner on Friday night?
I suspect that a certain cultural bias may be at work here. If you are part of the media, and live in north London, all sorts of cultural signifiers might be more obvious to you than to others. For a comedy to make that same assumption seems to me to be taking sophistication rather too far – and nobody could accuse this particular series of sophistication.
If a sitcom about family life excludes an important part of what they all are on grounds of taste, it is surely being unnecessarily guarded and well-behaved.
Are those thoughts racist?
I was relieved to hear Safraz Manzoor reaching a similar conclusion on BBC2’s The Review Show last night. One of the odd side-effects of multiculturalism, he said, was a smoothing out of racial difference, causing a certain blandness.
He and his fellow-critic Rosie Boycott also found the show appallingly unfunny. I may be guilty of low-grade racism and I may have lost my sense of humour along the way, but it is good to know that I am not entirely alone.
Addendum: this part of thee studio discussion was a victim of BBC cuts and was not in the final edit of the programme.