Words: Paul Dean
'Grandma's House' Episode Four: 'The Day Simon Decided He Was Forlorn'
SYNOPSIS: "Simon is having a life crisis and is depressed. The situation is exacerbated when a guest he interviewed on his show attacks him in the press. Tanya moves into Clive's house, much to Simon's irritation. Meanwhile, Grandma and Grandpa plan a cruise."
It's been pointed out to me that so far I've largely avoided writing about the plot or finer details of 'Grandma's House'. Much as I detest spoilers and the ruining of good jokes by quoting them out of context, I must admit that I've only avoided mentioning specifics simply because I never thought they were going to matter all that much. I now find myself alert to all the subtle details in this show, the quips instead of the quarrels, the asides much more than the arguments. No matter how brash or blatant they might seem, both the plot and the characters are largely built from very fine parts, the latter shaped so that they can never really fit together but will forever be jarring.
The central character, Simon Amstell's fictional alter-ego, is largely out of place amongst the rest of his family, as the sensitive TV presenter's own aspirations to perform more artistic and thought-provoking work than he presently does are forever at odds with his mother's demands, demands that he only raise his profile and, by extension, make her life all the more exciting and celebrity-centered. His mother's image concerns are leading her towards remarriage to a rich but boring businessman who Amstell finds clumsy and brash, while also being the cause of the perpetual rift between her and Amstell's aunt, the latter on the end of offhand deprecations about her clothes, her weight, her hair.
Amstell perhaps best relates to his grandfather, played wonderfully by the late Geoffrey Hutchings in a role that is particularly touching as it is soon revealed that he has been diagnosed with cancer, a detail the family would often prefer to overlook and any concern for their patriarch is often put aside or lost altogether among the family's constant bickering. Some of the show's gentler moments manifest themselves whenever Amstell and his grandfather are able to speak alone together.
At the other end of the family tree is the young cousin Adam who, though sheltered by his mother, is nevertheless brash and uncouth, behaviour that Amstell finds refreshingly straightforward and no-nonsense. I have the feeling that if the family get-togethers consisted of only his cousin and his grandfather then he might enjoy them a lot more, but instead the meetings that provide the only scenes and location for this show are always a test of his endurance, a mashing of the misaligned.
This week, the first real cracks in Amstell's patience and perhaps even in his stability of mind finally began to show. This isn't just a program about his suffering at the hands of his family - his mother insisting he should take a balloon ride with Wyclef Jean, his aunt bashing him for failing to do anything significant, his grandmother insisting he should simply be agreeable - it's also about his committment versus his alienation.
All this is manifest as much amongst the little as it is the large and, as I know I keep saying, the best thing about this show is simply how subtle it can be, in its dialogue, its characters or its sudden moments of hilarity or of humanity, with many of those moments still being ones I don't want to give away.
If I'm going to keep writing about 'Grandma's House' I think I'm going to have to raid the thesaurus for alternatives to the word "subtle". As I'm sure is also the case with your own family, it really is the little things. I'll be keeping my eyes open for them again next week.
[WATCH] until 10:29pm, Monday 20th September 2010.