Words: Paul Dean
'Grandma's House' Series 1, Episode 1: 'The Day Simon Told His Family About His Important Decision'
SYNOPSIS: "Sitcom written by Simon Amstell and long term collaborator Dan Swimer. The series stars Simon Amstell playing a version of himself - a television presenter searching for something more meaningful to do with his life. Each episode takes place at his Grandma's house, where Grandma welcomes her family, desperate to see everyone happy.
When Simon tells his mum Tanya that he's quitting the entertainment show he presents, she is less than happy. While Simon struggles to make his mum realise that her new boyfriend Clive might not be the right man for her, Grandpa has discovered something that will leave Grandma in a panic. Meanwhile, Auntie Liz is struggling with her son Adam, who appears to be starting a teenage rebellion."
I'm not entirely sure what the normal register of Simon Amstell's vocal range is. From what I remember from shows like 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks', he speaks within a fairly standard range for an adult human male, but in 'Grandma's House' he sounds unusually shrill, possibly verging on the soprano. This might be because many of his lines, I assume, are supposed to be delivered with a sense of shock, surprise, shame or some other manifestation of severe discomfort.
And 'Grandma's House' is clearly supposed to be about domestic discomfort, about how awkward it is for Amstell's fictional self to spend time with his not-quite-dysfunctional family. Everyone has their quirks, of course, while Simon is the calmer, more composed type, at odds with his family's various quirks and neuroses. Obviously, the humour comes from his having to tactfully handle them as best he can, balancing his loyalty to them against their strange decisions, or the various oddities they manifest, as well as the fact they can never quite relate to him. He is the squeaky, sensible black sheep of the family.
The thing is, his family's various oddities aren't always all that funny and their characters are not terribly well defined or interesting, something particularly surprising when the cast includes such capable actors as Rebecca Front and James Smith. Someone has forgotten to write amusing things for them to do and much of the dialogue and, indeed, the show, is taken up by what seems like petty bickering or unpleasant arguments on the tritest and most unamusing of topics. It's not wholly necessary in comedies like these for everyone to be a sympathetic character, but a distinct lack of charm across the board makes it difficult to understand why this family spends their time together and what qualities, beyond pettiness, some of them possess It makes you feel like you're watching a particularly snide episode of 'Big Brother'. Throughout this, Amstell occasionally chirps his disapproval in a voice that, I guess, is supposed to suggest constant disbelief or mild impatience.
Not everything about 'Grandma's House' is bad and I'll freely admit that it has a lot of potential to improve as the series continues. There were one or two amusingly awkward moments, difficult pauses or slips of the tongue, the kind of social faux-pas that we loved in shows like 'The Office', so if these can be better developed then I think the show will be something to keep an eye on but, based on its debut, it has so far simply forgotten to be funny.
[WATCH] until 10:29pm, Monday 20th September 2010 (UK users only).