Simon Amstell’s acting and co-writing debut for the telly, Grandma’s House is, not suprisingly, a comedy. It is, however, also a fabulous knife to the aorta of comfy comedy, with spit-yer-tea out moments of genuine horror and incredible amusement lampooning his own Jewish family upbringing. He is also at great pains to point out this is not his actual family. This is just dead brill.
Grandma’s House has no laughter track. It has no expensive locations. It’s cast includes the now BAFTA-winning Rebecca Front, y’know – her off The Thick Of It – as Simon’s mum. She’s fab. The kind of nit-picking, undermining, superficial yet loved woman who is horrified that Simon is considering giving up his job on the telly because he’s not happy or fulfilled. “Maybe I’ll do a play,” he considers. “Will it be on the telly?” she counters.
It’s an ensemble cast. The episodes all occur when Simon visits his Grandma’s house every month but each character has their own foibles and Simon’s not the perfect central character, usually the focal point in family comedies. His is not the voice of reason. They’re all brilliantly flawed, and just plain brilliant. Each one could carry a show alone.
“Some might say The Royle Family has been picked up and dropped in Ilford”
There’s Grandma herself, fussing and insisting Grandpa change his jumper for company. Auntie Liz, much put upon by her older sister – Simon’s mum –?and blessed with an unfortunately dark-haired upper lip. Her son idolises Simon, which seems to mostly manifest in the desire to get his cousin to watch porn with him.
Grandpa is played with delightful comic timing by the late Geoffrey Hutchings, previously known as the sunbed king on Benidorm, capturing the bewildered look of a man in a female household who has learned to keep his head down. In the first episode he corners Simon in the spare room with some bad news. “What can I do? Do you want me to get an adult?” is the young man’s response, followed by, “I did quite well there didn’t I?” There’s no vanity here, and it’s all the funnier for it.
Some might say The Royle Family has been picked up and dropped in Ilford. I say it’s even better than that. The devil’s in the detail, from Auntie Liz’s casual homophobia to Simon’s single plain avocado as the vegetarian option to the others’ Sunday roast. There’s even a darker side hinted at with the arrival of Simon’s mum’s new boyfriend, Clive: not a popular move with her number one son. “He’s got a big house,” she argues. “Would you rather I work full-time and live in a shed?” Such candid gems are what makes this so precious. It’s played completely straight, with the only actual laughs from the family coming from the clichéd puns of Clive and worldweary ’80s celebrity impersonations from?Simon. Such low key black humour has long been missing from our screens. Welcome.
Grandma’s House starts on Wednesday 21 July on BBC2