British situation comedy series come in all shapes and sizes. There are those that litter the airwave alleys which should have been commissioned for another season but weren’t for some unexplained reason (insert Whites, Dirk Gently and Grass here), there are those that have hung around too long (insert Two Pints of Lager and a Package of Crisps, My Family and My Hero here) and those cut down in their prime for one reason or another that you wish would have gone on for years (insert Black Books, Father Ted, Fawlty Towers, The Office and Supernova here).
With the news recently that Outnumbered will return for a Christmas special this year and a fifth season in 2013, you have a series that is walking the fine line of being both a series you want to continue forever and one that is endanger of sticking around too long.
When we were first introduced to the Brockmans, we watched in horror as Pete (Hugh Dennis) and Sue (Claire Skinner) struggled to control some of the most unruly children on the planet. There was Jake (Tyger Drew-Honey) living in a 15-year old world filled with sarcasm and an obsession with girls, Ben (Daniel Roche), a hyperactive, pathological liar who lives for hypotheticals and Karen (Ramona Marquez), a precocious 9-year old who asks too many questions and who imitates a lot of what she sees on television. The adult Brockmans never stood a chance.
The Gospel According to Ben
While there’s nothing new to the equation of this concept in situation comedy, Outnumbered was different….and brilliant. What made it brilliant is also what caused it to not be to everyone’s liking, including critics. The cool thing about the series is the semi-improvisational scripting with much of the children’s parts unscripted. The writers used the improvisation in order to achieve convincing performances from the child actors, creating a realistic portrayal of children and family life. Hugh Dennis explained that, “In most sitcoms all the lines for children are written by adults. So they are speaking the words of people 30 years older. And you really want kids to have their own voices, and say their own things.” So far, it has worked to perfection. With each series, I keep thinking that the kids are going to outgrow their parts and lose the ‘cute factor’. Hasn’t happened yet, but secretly, I’m hoping that the fifth series is the last and that we don’t find out that they should have bowed out at the end of the fourth.
The Gospel According to Karen
The one category we failed to mention, that of a situation comedy that should never be made, the Fox Network in the U.S. announced plans back in 2010 to produce an American version. At this point, thankfully, only an un-broadcast pilot exists along with several scripts, but no updates beyond the fact that the series was to star Cheech Marin, Cliff Chamberlain and Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty). There’s still hope…..