sun 14/07/2024

Hold the Sunset, BBC One, review - this is an ex-sitcom | reviews, news & interviews

Hold the Sunset, BBC One, review - this is an ex-sitcom

Hold the Sunset, BBC One, review - this is an ex-sitcom

John Cleese and Alison Steadman star in the exhumation of long-lost genre

Return to Middle England: John Cleese, Jason Watkins and Alison Steadman in 'Hold the Sunset'

You need to be of a certain vintage to have any memory of the traditional suburban family sitcom. Like the Raleigh Chopper and the Betamax video, like amateur athletics and glamrock and key parties, it is an extinct cultural artefact. What did for it? The internet, mainly, and the kids not watching scheduled telly any more, and maybe the rise of stand-up.

After one episode of Hold the Sunset (BBC One), the suburban family sitcom is still dead. It’s as dead as a well-known parrot whose demise was pronounced by John Cleese. Mystifyingly, Cleese has chosen this moment to return to sitcom for the first time since 1979.

Where to start? The idea is that Edith (Alison Steadman) and Phil (Cleese) are near neighbours who have spent so much time together that, eventually, on the very day we happen to be introduced to them, they decide to cease pussyfooting around and tie the knot. Hurrah! Age is no barrier to romance etc. Then the doorbell rings, as doorbells always used to in suburban family sitcoms. And who should it be but Edith’s son Roger (Jason Watkins)? Roger is a child man who has decided to leave his neurotically nice wife Wendy and horrible teenage children and boomerang back to live with his old mum, under whose roof he will return to boyhood.

This is a weary exhumation of sitcom's more incontinent old tropes

Watkins is a brilliant comic actor who could make the phone directory funny, but Roger's extraordinarily dismal midlife crisis is beyond the reach of even his talent to amuse. The comedic climax of the episode found Roger attempting to avoid Wendy (Rosie Cavaliero) by clambering through a window and, like Pooh visiting Rabbit, getting stuck. There have been funnier plagues of locusts. The problem with Roger is that he is a gurning exaggeration, an unrecognisable gargoyle who barges in from a completely different script.

In the truest examples of the genre, comedy arises from a recognisable situation from which there is no escape. There is no character development, only eternal stasis. If the situation is funny enough, and the writing robust, it works. We remember the good ones but a lot of them were crap. Hold the Sunset pilfers the DNA of sundry sitcoms from the Jurassic era: As Time Goes By, Sorry, even a spot of One Foot in the Grave. What it doesn’t have, despite the presence of Cleese, is one jot of the manic genius of Fawlty Towers.

We first met Phil as he acidly lectured a neighbour (Peter Egan) about repeatedly allowing his dog to foul the base of a particular tree. This humourless overture (“the tree has lost its snap, crackle and pop”) left Cleese high and dry. Steadman, meanwhile, whose comic chops were so wonderfully exercised in Abigail’s Party and Gavin and Stacey, is wasted as a mumsy feed.

The writer is Charles McKeown, born in 1946 so familiar with the business of knocking on, but much of his scriptwriting thus far has been in collaboration with the zany mindscapes of Terry Gilliam - the wonderful Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, all of them a long way from gentle half-hour stints in suburbia. You can understand the rationale for commissioning Hold the Sunset. The average age of BBC One’s audience is 61. Middle England’s baby boomer demographic has a right to see itself reflected on screen, its hilarious confusions over recycling bins and ribtickling penchant for tea and homemade biscuits. But this is a weary exhumation of sitcom’s more incontinent old tropes. Probably it’ll be a massive hit.


Roger's extraordinarily dismal midlife crisis is beyond the reach of even Jason Watkins' talent to amuse


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article


I wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer, terrible script, Steadman and Watkins are wasted on this, Cleese is well past his sell-by date but probably needs the money for alimony, etc.; I gave it up after 15 minutes of cringe-viewing and I'm 66 going on 67!

I'm a baby boomer and the exact right age for the 'target market' and I thought it was the biggest load of crap I had ever seen. Sitcom without the com.

The biggest load of rubbish since reeves and mortimer did house of fools. You would be a fool to watch either of them. John cleese should hold his head in shame.

As a forty-something who remembers Fawlty Towers first run, not to mention The Young Ones and other such greats, this was pretty nondescript, bland and unfunny. Uninspiring and forgettable.

I am exactly 61; I have no idea what external stasis is (even the second time) but I didn't see any self-reflection in this sitcom. No doubt, Cleese needs the money but he is being lazy by going along with this embarrassment.

Who on earth would put up with their son coming home and taking over their life? Show him the door and let’s get on with something laughable. The script was grim but the actors did their best with it.

I, too am 61 and remember the openings of Only Fools, Fawlty Towers, and remember watching Cleese in Monty Python. The thing is, the very first episode of Only Fools and Horses was not quite as strong as later on once the characters developed. The characters in Hold the Sunset are OK, Cleese's voice sounded raspy and some of the humour in Fawlty Towers was the way he moved and his manic behaviour. ... both of which were not evident in this Sit Com. The rest of the cast were very good, especially Alice Steadman, but the script was not sharp, or witty, the bit where Jason Watkins was hanging out of the window was really childish and benal! If the script doesn't improve and Cleese doesn't sharpen up, then I think this will end up on the Sit Com scrap!!!

This so-called 'sitcom' was embarrassingly weak and almost painful to watch. Even the voices of the two leads were very unpleasant on the ear. The 'getting stuck in the window' prank was incredibly puerile, too! Absolute clinker!

Terribly disappointing. The character of the son ridiculous. I am myself the devoted mother of a 50-year old man but honestly! I gave up when he got stuck in the window. The whole thing was embarrassing and not funny.

Very sad and tired - Alison Steadman overacting (as she has a tendency to do, much as I adored Gavin and Stacey). What Jason Watkins is doing here we don’t know. He should stick to Inside No 9 and its lk. At 64 my fave current comedies are W1A, Two Doors Down and The Trip so heaven knows who this apparent demographic is. When you look at ‘One Foot in the Grave’ or ‘Dinner Ladies’ and the brilliance of the writing and the characters, even going back to shows like ‘Dad’s Army’ you realise that age doesn’t suddenly mean you appreciate banality and mediocrity. Bloody insulting.

Episide Two was even worse. When you want to punch one of the characters (Roger ... who else) it’s probably time to look away ... permanently. Possibly the only way out is to promote Peter Egan’s character so he can mount a charm offensive as he did as Paul in Ever Decreasing Circles.

I'm with Graham here ! The second episode was embarrassingly unfunny and weak - I didn't even smile once , let alone laugh. This should be taken off air -immediately ! It has tanked already and will be a career low for the three talented leads who can't possibly have read the scripts beforehand - surely !

This writer should study the work of Richard Curtis/Victoria Wood/Derren Litten, etc. to see how it's really done. And by the way, no-one born in 1947 was christened Edith!.

If the suburban family sitcom is supposedly dead, what's been going on with Two-Doors Down? Or Hebburn? Or Cuckoo? Or Mum? My Family was not a product of the era of 'Choppers,' Betamax videos or Glamrock and it was hugely popular. Same for Outnumbered. TV reviewers (usually those not even old enough to remember the things they mention and speak of the 1970s as if they are the 1870s) tend to write a lot of nonsense.

I cannot believe that the BBC think this puerile drivel is entertaining! The cast must be desperate to have accepted the roles. Not funny in fact awful, dumb down television.

As a simple northerner of a certain age I actually found this quite charming and humorous. The chuckles may have been aided by a delightful red. Apologies for laughing.

Embarrassingly awful. Compare it to 'Mum' which has a similar story but is so much subtler, and therefore funny. (Though even that is starting to get tiresome in the second series.)

The comedy genius that is John Cleese should have avoided this puerile and ill conceived dross like the plague. A really strong argument for scrapping the licence fee and funding genuine comedy by other means.

Amazing that both Cleese and Steadman with well proven track records have joined this low humorless production. Imagine watching O'Sullivan playing snooker but unable to pot a ball. Bad beyond understanding.

I find it hard to understand why the acting careers of this fine cast has been wasted on this total dross.

It would appear that the show W1A has come to life and this total codswhallop of a so called comedy (The Title being the funniest part) was passed by a meeting of 20 somethings who all convinced themselves it was the funniest thing they had ever dreamed of NOT ! Stop wasting talented actors like Jason Watkins on drivel like this MR J Cleese should have been pensioned off in the 80 when he was amusing! but NEVER funny!

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters