The idea of a family in crisis is hardly new, but even so, Flowers, Channel 4’s new comedy drama, isn’t your usual family comedy. Set in a shambolic country home filled from floor to ceiling with well-worn clutter and rickety inventions, the non-specific time and place makes this show feel both otherworldly and oddly familiar – like coming home after a long holiday.
Written by the infuriatingly talented Will Sharpe, who had never written anything for telly before, this dark – and I mean dark – comedy about an eccentric family struggling to hold themselves together possesses an intoxicating blend of twisted whimsy and crushing pathos. Think Wes Anderson directing an episode of the Addams Family.
Olivia Coleman plays music teacher Deborah, the desperately lonely wife of depressed children’s book writer Maurice (Julian Barratt). As their marriage quietly crumbles, they seek solace in the lives of their maladjusted twins Amy (Sophia Di Martino), an unhinged composer of piano ballads, and Donald (Daniel Rigby), the world’s most useless inventor, both of whom still live at home at the age of 25.
Also living in the creaky house is Maurice’s eccentric mother Hattie and a Japanese illustrator named Shun (Sharpe himself), who Deborah suspects is having a secret gay relationship with her distant husband.
Both Colman and Barratt play their roles superbly – the former pasting on a chirpy smile to mask her despair, the latter overwhelmed by sadness and confusion. Barratt’s raw depiction of depression is particularly impressive, with Maurice trapped in his shed staring despondently into a void in the bleak hope that inspiration will strike. It’s his emptiness and apathy that repeatedly derails Deborah’s attempts to save their relationship, leaving them both stuck in an open marriage neither of them truly wants to be a part of anymore.
If that all sounds terribly bleak – it is, but Flowers is still not without its moments of levity. Full of bizarre and flawed characters who are drawn into darkly funny scenarios – Maurice’s attempts to conceal his botched suicide resulting in him being suspected of child abuse, for example – the show has the murky and surreal tone reminiscent of the likes of The League of Gentlemen and Black Books.
That’s what is so good about the show – it finds the laughter in the grimness of life. It’s a series that swings from misery to joy to fear within the space of one scene, humorously exposing the pain of loss as the family and their friends come to terms with an unexpected death without ever making light of its characters’ sufferings.
Flowers may be bleak, off-kilter and plainly risky, but it’s also clever, funny and deeply affecting – not the sort of thing you usually get with a family comedy.
Click here to watch a trailer for Flowers