11 April 2011

Sibling rivalry

Friday Night Dinner cast © Channel 4
One of the highlights of writer Robert Popper's Channel 4 sitcom, Friday Night Dinner, is the reliably infantile bickering and Machiavellian acts of sabotage perpetrated on each other by the two rival brothers, Adam (The Inbetweeners' Simon Bird) and Jonny (newcomer Tom Rosenthal). As the show's premise is rather traditional - two grown-up sons in their early 20s return to the Goodman family home every Friday for dinner with their parents - it's pleasing to see that family relationships are treated with a well-honed sense of black humour.

Adam and Jonny have clearly been engaged in a tit-for-tat game of revenge and counter-revenge for their whole lives, but now that they're grown-up (well, physically, at least) each has to concoct increasingly devious means to humiliate the other. Series one began with cunning attempts to poison each other's water glasses with huge spoonfuls of salt, but escalated to a fine set-piece involving the very single Adam being forced to conduct a speakerphone conversation with an eligible 'female' whilst chasing Jonny around the bathroom trying to prevent him tipping water down the toilet bowl, so as to persuade the girl that Adam's actually making the call while using the lavatory.

Adam and Jonny's parents are played by the always watchable Tamsin Grieg (Black Books, Green Wing, Love Soup) and the Tony Award-nominated Paul Ritter. Grieg's character Jackie is played fairly straight, although she's not above a little manipulative scheming to line up potential mates for Adam, and becomes increasingly frustrated with Jonny's excuses as to why he never brings his girlfriend around to meet the family. (Adam points out that this is probably because either A) she doesn't exist, or B) she's actually seeing someone else entirely). Ritter's character Martin is an enjoyable portrayal of quirk-ridden middle-aged suburban eccentricity - he's continually wandering around shirtless proclaiming that he's 'baking', eating from the kitchen bin, or enthusiastically referring to his wife's cooking as 'a lovely bit of squirrel'.  

The final regular cast member is the ever-entertaining Mark Heap (Spaced, Big Train, Green Wing, The Great Outdoors, Lark Rise To Candleford, i.e. he's in just about everything). Here he's playing a role that befits his awkward energy: the slightly creepy neighbour Jim, whose evening walks with his dog Wilson always conveniently end up at the Goodman's doorstep. This is mainly because he's stalking Jackie and is never short of feeble excuses to ring her doorbell. Heap is the perfect choice for the role, in part because he's worked with Grieg several times before, most notably in Green Wing.

It's great to hear that a second series of Friday Night Dinner has been commissioned by Channel 4. But after the big finale of episode six, which was broadcast on Friday, Popper will have a challenge to top the writing in what has been one of the most solidly entertaining new sitcoms in ages. The final episode excelled in the mortifying social awkwardness stakes, with Adam discovering he's trapped in a dinner date with the lovely Tanya Green (rising star Tuppence Middleton) with his family in close attendance to generate the maximum possible embarrassment, and a smirking Jonny relishing a heaven-sent opportunity to torture his older brother.  




See also:

Oasis - Wibbling Rivalry (legendary 1994 interview) Part 1 Part 2
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