Sunday, 17 August 2014


This article was originally published in The Courier on 16th August 2014.

Boomers: Friday, BBC One

Almost Royal: Sunday, E4

Paul Whitelaw

I magnanimously welcome the idea of a sitcom aimed at older viewers, but I'd prefer a funnier example than the lacklustre Boomers. Set in a quiet seaside town inhabited by pensionable baby boomers, it contains nary an original bone in its body.

The setting for this first episode was a funeral, which in more capable hands can be a fecund source of black comedy and pathos. Unfortunately, such pleasures are beyond the reach of writer Richard Pinto, whose most notable credit to date is the bland Citizen Khan.

I can't argue with the quality of Boomers' all-star cast – including Alison Steadman, Stephanie Beacham, Russ Abbot and Phil Jackson – but I can easily take issue with Pinto's second-hand script. Unforgivably light on gags, whenever it does attempt a funny line, e.g. Paula Wilcox saying of the deceased, “Most of my memories of Jean are mainly power walking-based,” they come across as self-consciously sculpted and clumsy.

Pinto also made the schoolboy error of building up a character before he arrived on screen, with inevitably anticlimactic results. That character is Mick, an ageing lothario played by Nigel Planer who was the subject of every conversation within the first ten minutes. The subtext was: wait 'til you get a load of this guy, viewers. Someone even described him as “a real character”.

Of course, when Mick finally arrived he was a mid-life crisis stereotype with – God help us from this knackered cliché – a much younger eastern European wife. Does Pinto really think this is an original, funny character? Even the dire Little Britain based some sketches around an older British man with a mail order bride, and that was nearly ten years ago.

Still, at least Mick's wife gave the ever-reliable James Smith, alias Glenn from The Thick of It, a chance to perform his repressed bumbler shtick. It was the only mildly amusing highlight.

The problem with Boomers is it's gentle to a fault. Low-key character pieces of this kind require the wit and observational depth of an Alan Bennett or Victoria Wood. Pinto has all the right pieces in place, but he lacks the inspiration to crank them into life.

The cast are as solid as you'd expect, but they provide the only hint of sparkle on an otherwise dull and unremarkable trinket.

Funnier by far is Almost Royal, a Borat-style comedy in which comedians Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart pose as aristocratic British siblings on a mission to bamboozle America. But whereas Sacha Baron Cohen was partially concerned with exposing the prejudices of those he encountered, there's no real point being made here. Free of malice, it's simply an excuse for a welter of daft gags delivered by two nimble comic actors.

While it gently exploits America's love of all things British, no one is made to look foolish. The pleasure comes from watching real people indulge the sublimely naïve Georgie and Poppy Carlton with a mixture of confused politeness and amusement.

The admirably straight-faced Gamble and Hoggart never miss a chance to misunderstand or question their patient hosts. I particularly liked Georgie innocently asking a car dealer, “Where does this car go?” and later, while observing production on daytime soap The Bold and The Beautiful, saying to one of its stars, “Is this set in a different world?”.

It's a neat, breezy twist on the innocents abroad formula.

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