sun 21/07/2024

Grandma's House, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Grandma's House, BBC Two

Grandma's House, BBC Two

Self-indulgent and fails to amuse: Simon Amstell's new, self-referential sitcom

Simon Amstell: Sitcom Simon aspires to higher things, but the acting's a bit leaden

There are many for whom Simon Amstell can do no wrong. He is clever, he is funny, and he fronted Never Mind the Buzzcocks. What’s more, although his appearance suggests a cute, geeky vulnerability, his exquisite sarcasm can skewer the most inflated, the most inured of celebrity egos. The egos queued up to be guest panellists on that cool music quiz, only to get shot down by some clever, insightful putdown.

He’s like the Lynn Barber of pop telly, only he still looks barely out of adolescence.

But what if Amstell goes home to bed every night feeling really bad about being so mean to people - people who haven’t even offended him personally, but who simply present themselves as a cheap shot?  Every week we had pop personalities lining up with the audacious idea that they just might be the ones to escape the inevitable. They tried to look effortlessly cool, but were betrayed by their puppyishly eager faces: clearly they wanted to be Amstell’s best friend. And Amstell seems to have developed a conscience about this.

So, in 2007, with collaborator Dan Swimer, he created a spoof Imagine, in which Alan Yentob interviews him and neatly turns the tables: Yentob exposes Amstell as a right old meanie, while Amstell’s defensive responses sound self-justifyingly hollow. The piece was terribly self-indulgent, and not very funny (Yentob can’t act, even as himself, and ditto Amstell). But it obviously gave Amstell the idea for creating a sitcom in which he again appears as his same-name alter ego.

Table.GMIn Grandma’s House, also co-written by Swimer, Sitcom Simon wants to give up TV and do something meaningful with his life. Meaningful without the mean. He suggests that he might become a Buddhist. “People congratulate me for being mean,” he wails. “It’s not mean, it’s cheeky,” his sitcom mum counters. “You’re a cheeky chappie.” Sitcom mum Tanya (Rebecca Front) shamelessly basks in the glory of her TV son’s TV fame. “You’re on television. What more do you want?” she asks.

The set-up, with its regular family gatherings at grandma’s house in semi-detached, nondescript suburbia, is typical sitcom territory. There’s Gran and Grandpa, mum, auntie (your archetypal childhood auntie: all fluffy moustache and bad hair), irritating nephew, plus mum’s new man, Clive, who thinks he’s funny, but obviously isn’t. Post-modern telly sitcoms are hardly new, so all the self-referential stuff that underpins much of the initial humour gets a bit thin after five minutes. And the script, like Amstell, is leaden. To be honest, he just looks seriously bemused throughout. And he delivers his lines with all the expressiveness of one who’s had a faceful of Botox. Except between the brows. He frowns a lot: when he wants to look aghast he raises his brows, and when he wants to look embarrassed he lowers them. Thankfully, other cast members acquit themselves well.

I’ve heard that episode two manages to settle into its stride. But only a die-hard Amstell fan would wish for a second helping. 

Sitcom Simon wants to give up TV and do something meaningful with his life. Meaningful without the mean'

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No, you're all wrong! The show's a lovely little low key gem. Amstell's performance is super. A precocious young man suffering away because he's the only one in the room who can see how mad / sad everybody else is, and making gently acid remarks to himself to try to maintain his own sanity. He may be 'playing himself' but it's a perfect part for him. I give this 10/10. Small, human, funny.

Was it just me or did Amstell spend the entire programme self-indulgently smirking at his own material? A 24 carat flop.

Simply awful! It's trying too hard to be uber cool, in the style of The Royal Family or The Office. Unfortunately, the script is too obvious to match up to the sucesses of the genre. It has not been thought through carefully: you have Simon who is a lefty, refined middle-class who is parented by a cockney working class mother, set in Jewish suburbia. It all just doesn't 'fit'.

what 'doesnt fit' about a cockney mother having a middle class son in jewish suburbia?

I said I wouldn't but I did - tuned in yesterday, and yes, just as other critics had noted, ep 2 big improvement on 1. I laughed, I squirmed, in all the right places. Rebecca Front is brilliant.The fella playing Clive is great. But Amstell still can't act - maybe he should try stretching exercises to get that face a bit more mobile.

I saw number 2 (I think) and you're all right, Amstell probably does need ot do a bit more than just be himself, some acting might help, but I laughed quite a lot, and the good bits were enough to give it a thrid (?) chance?

Simon as a presenter - brilliant. But he can't act. He really literally cannot act. I can't watch it because I feel so sorry for the rest of the cast.

Agree with Lindsay above. I've watched each episode twice and think there is a lot of subtle work going in the script and in body language between actors which is easy to miss first time round - particularly from grandma herself who is brilliant. I may be the only viewer who has never seen Simon Amstell before but am delighted to have found this extremely funny show.

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