Friday Night Dinner: Ten Years and a Lovely Bit of Squirrel (Channel 4) is a celebration of that show but with a giant helping of sadness because Paul Ritter, who’s “Hello, Bambinos!” greeting at the front door would signal the start of the mayhem, died last month from a brain tumor.
“Lovely bit of squirrel” was another of Ritter’s catchphrases as Martin Goodman whenever his wife Jackie, played by Tamsin Greig, served up the chicken. The programme, she says, centered around two universal truths: the one about dads when they hit their fifties suddenly coming over all weird and also how, when visiting our parents, we immediately revert back to being kids again.
Certainly you couldn’t get more child-like, more ridiculously juvenile, than squabbling siblings Adam and Johnny who called each other Pusface and P*ssface and for whom Friday night was one giant prank-fest. When the other wasn’t looking, toenails would be dropped in drinks and eggs hidden in shoes. Horrible texts would ping back and forth, such as “You were a failed abortion, love Mum x” and if either of them dared bring along a new girlfriend, she would find bedroom walls covered floor to ceiling with photos of nude women.
The show’s creator Robert Popper based the Goldmans on his own family and drew on Fawlty Towers for the physical comedy and the rapid descent into lunacy which in Friday Night Dinner would often be exacerbated by unannounced arrivals including Jackie’s mad mother (“Go to your room!” “But this is my house!”) and psycho-pervert neighbour Jim, played by Mark Heap, who lusted after the chicken-dispensing matriarch and would electrocute himself in the hope she’d administer the kiss of life.
Maybe for Heap Jim wasn’t a million miles from his character in Green Wing and maybe for Simon Bird, Adam wasn’t too much of a stretch after The Inbetweeners but neither was necessarily a bad thing. Bird speculated on brothers up and down the land mimicking the Goodman boys’ mildly sadistic wheezes. The programme finding different uni halls of residence with the show’s catchphrases stuck in the windows seems to confirm this. As Greig laughs: “What’s normal anyway?”
I’m not sure how many times I laugh during Breeders (Sky 1) which given it’s a comedy may not seem promising, but it’s a safe bet that Martin Freeman will be happy with a high wince score.
Freeman who co-created the show, and stars as Paul alongside Daisy Haggard’s Ally as the stressed-out parents of two kids, based it on his own experiences of dadhood. We must assume, for his sake, that he does not hire and fire therapists like his character, who goes through three in the first of the show’s second season. But, as they say in Friday Night Dinner, what’s normal anyway?
The rest of the time Breeders is all too true to life and if you’ve got children you’ll be watching it with a checklist. Attempt to foist your childhood experience on your kids - check. Especially when all they want for their birthday is a new phone - check. Threaten them with no birthday at all when they step out of line - check.
With considerable relief, we take comfort from the fact we’re not like Paul who swears all the time and pontificates to his shrinks about order and discipline and how anger is healthy.
Paul’s son Luke is about to become a teenager. His own dad says of the boy: “He’s not you, he’s own man.” Paul’s mum adds: “Every parent wants their child to stay a child a little bit longer.” The advice seems to hit home and the birthday happens. But Luke has been telling his parents what they want to hear about his friendships (check). Paul has just acquired a whole new state of angst.
It seems a long time since confectionery featured in a crime drama. Indeed, you probably have to go all the way back to Kojak smirking “Who loves ya, baby?” as he sucked on a lollipop. In Before We Die (Channel 4) Lesley Sharp’s fellow detective is never without a packet of Jelly Tots but they’re not crucial to the plot. And, after being mannacled upside down and ducked in a tub of water, neither is he.
Brutal and glum, this six-partner might be vaguely familiar. Not simply in the brutality and the glumness - there’s a lot of that about on the box anyway - but it’s remade Scandi-noir, the location shifting from Stockholm to Bristol.
Sharp is DI Hannah Laing whose colleague - and married lover - gets too close to a bunch of seriously nasty Serb-Croat gangsters running something nefarious behind their nobby restaurant. This is not Laing’s case but her intimate connections with it don’t there.
Son Christian gets dragged into the misdeeds from having been washing dishes at the eaterie since his release from prison for selling drugs at a rave. It was his mother who busted him which, after Breeders, establishes a theme for the week of hardcore parenting.
Tough love is all around, just never in the Goodman house. But it must be difficult to take your dad seriously when he’s flashing his moobs.