Back to Basics


Stress, work, deadlines, work, arguments, stress, and more work. Getting home is a relief, and this may be why that when people slouch on the sofa with their cuppas and digestive biccies in front of the telly in 2013, they just want to watch nothing but a sitcom with overt silliness and a laughter track to take their mind off less predictable things.

Mrs Brown’s Boys, watched by over 8 million people on New Year’s Day, is one such completely farcical hit. Frequently stopping to break the fourth wall and turn the air blue, Irish grandma Agnes Brown (Brendan O’Carroll) leads a cast of bawdy, ridiculous caricatures, reminiscent of a type of comedy thought long since lost from British TV- it’s like end-of-the-pier Panto. Plots are well-worn but reassuringly familiar- Agnes gets hypnotised, so yelps and prances around like a dog, then begins stripping. Yep. A grandma stripper.

Proceeding this every Monday night is a sitcom even more popular: Miranda. Comedian Miranda Hart plays the titular hero, who is constantly singing and dancing her way out of awkward situations with people too serious to understand that she’s just too fun for them. Along with her best friend and Heather Small enthusiast Stevie, she deals with the opposite sex and formal situations like a fish out of water, confiding her insecurities directly to us, like she trusts us completely.

Indeed, it would seem such trust is well-founded. Receiving over 9 million viewers on New Year’s Day, Miranda has exploded in popularity to the extent that Gary Barlow can take time out to make a cameo, just so that Miranda can snog his face off to get back at Stevie for snogging someone she fancies (also called Gary). However, this doesn’t even seem shocking; Miranda has become such a national treasure that people would willingly queue up to kiss this wonderful woman. Britain adores her, and despite the regularly mortifying nature of the situations she finds herself in, many long to emulate this awkward, childish so-and-so.

The parallel successes of these shows are far from coincidental. They are both simple studio sitcoms, not afraid of getting cheap laughs from silly, rude behaviour and slapstick comedy. They embrace their identity, and the history of the genre; Miranda ends with all of the characters waving goodbye to the camera, reminiscent of the credits to classics such as Dad’s Army and Are you Being Served?, whilst Agnes Brown turns from character to actor, making jokes out of the fact that they’re all on a television set.

In recent times, the trend had been towards more realistic sitcoms like Outnumbered, The Inbetweeners and The Thick of It, who prefer to let us decide when to laugh- but such successes never hit the heights of popularity seemingly being achieved by this studio-based revival. Monday nights on BBC One blow a raspberry at such sitcoms, bringing back the laughter tracks last enjoyed in the 1980s with the likes of Allo’ Allo’ and The Good Life. These shows are an antidote to ‘now’; the jokes may be cheap, but after that long, hard day, it may be all we can afford.


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Sam Day