It’s Friday night. The dreary working-week is finally over, and now it’s time to cut loose, go wild and get a little crazy. Unless, that is, you’re anything like the Goodmans, the fictional Jewish family in Friday Night Dinner, which began its third series on Channel 4 last night, in which case you’ll be sitting down for yet another family meal punctuated by sibling rivalry, revolting jokes and embarrassing parents. Party!
For anyone new to the show, Friday Night Dinner follows Tamsin Greig as a highly-strung and fiercely protective mum Jackie and Paul Ritter as her husband Martin, a man with absolutely no social awareness and a questionable attitude to personal hygiene, as they try to cajole their two twenty-something sons, Adam (a classically nebbish Simon Bird) and giddy prankster Johnny (Tom Rosenthal), to gather each Friday evening for a Sabbath meal free of religious tradition.
Such enforced gatherings rarely improve familial harmony, but they are good for a fair few laughs and FND combines elements of the traditional family sitcom with the dark farce and grotesque schoolboy humour of modern comedy hits – a sort of My Family meets The Inbetweeners – to great comic effect.
There’s a touch of the familiar about the show, with creator Robert Popper repeating situations from previous series, such as the door that cannot be opened because it hides one of Johnny’s disgusting jokes. These moments never feel like tired running gags because Popper endeavours to infuse them with new, unexpected twists.
Last night’s episode, for example, featured the classic domestic sitcom trope of Adam brining his girlfriend home to meet the family, but rather than draw the comedy from the new couple’s desperate attempts to impress, the calamity actually derives from Adam trying to conceal the flirty texts he received from Emma’s sister and from an eight-year-old girl who blackmails Adam into being her boyfriend.
Most of the show’s joy lies in this escalation of social embarrassment and desperation for self-preservation. The Goodmans’ attempts to appear like a normal family are always scuppered by a tangled web of white lies, misconception and blackmail; the payoff coming when they’re inevitably found out by an unsuspecting visitor who stumbles across the family at their worst moments, like when Martin, in nothing but his pants and with ketchup smeared across his chest, is caught with his foot in the toilet washing-off dog faeces.
These situations are, of course, completely ridiculous, but the show still manages to maintain the perception of a convincing family unit thanks to the believable dynamics and performances from its central cast. Bird and Rosenthal come across as real brothers, engaged in a never ending prank war but often banding together to rile against their parents, while Greig’s mum speaks in the permanently-exasperated tone that tells of years spent dealing with petty sibling squabbles.
Even if a calamitous dinner with your odd parents and annoying brother doesn’t sound like your ideal Friday night, Friday Night Dinner, with its dark twist on the family sitcom and brilliant performances, is still worth staying in for.
Click here to watch the trailer for Friday Night Dinner