Life Of Riley Review: Living In The Past

March 16, 2010 by  
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LIFE OF RILEY: Wednesday 17th March, BBC1, 7.30pm ALERT ME

Sitcoms have got a bad reputation. Canned laughter, contrived plots and bad gags. Extras found it easy to poke fun at the genre with fictional show-within-a-show ‘When The Whistle Blows’.

Desperate to avoid flopping into the same old format, shows like The Office, Blackadder and The Mighty Boosh have done their all not to be another Terry and June or Keeping Up Appearances.

Life Of Riley though, hasn’t bothered at all. It’s happy to sink into the mundane depths of domestic sitcom, completely lacking in laughs or inspiration.

It follows the life of Maddy Riley (Caroline Quentin), a multi-tasking mum who lives with her kids, her new David Cameron look-a-like partner Jim (Neil Dudgeon) and his kids. Needless to say the neighbours are always popping round and so is Maddy’s mum. It’s so middle of the road I’m going to coin a phrase here and call it a ‘cat’s eye comedy’.

Take the scene when Maddy and Jim do one of those a trust exercises. I’ll pause here because like every joke in this programme you can see what’s coming a mile off. You’ve already seen this joke a million times before and you only found it slightly amusing the first time. Well here it comes again. The husband tips back, the wife is distracted, man falls on floor.

What’s that? You weren’t ever going to laugh and haven’t laughed at that tired old ‘gag’ since you were four years old? Well screw you. Life of Riley blasts some canned chortles into your earholes anyway. These are the synthetic sounds of an anonymous audience laughing at something other than what you’re watching, probably performed thirty years ago!

Thirty years ago is where this show belongs. But even then we had Porridge and Fawlty Towers. Things have evolved even further since. You’d expect more from writer Georgia Pitchett, she’s written jokes for Have I Got News for You and Smack The Pony as well as Ronnie Corbett’s monologues.

Okay I admit it. There was one funny moment and the child actors are pretty good. But with jokes you’ve heard before, storylines you’ve seen numerous times and a situation that’s been done again and again, it’s clear that Life Of Riley is living in the past.