Outnumbered Review: Three Strikes And Out

May 19, 2010 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

OUTNUMBERED: Thursday 20th May, BBC1, 9.30pm ALERT ME

It’s a family sitcom that’s very much divided opinion. Some are calling it a bona fide work of genius while others can’t seem to see what the fuss is about. I’m going to come down square in the middle on this one unfortunately.

Sue (Claire Skinner) is still angry at Pete (Hugh Dennis) for getting drunk and kissing another woman, but she’s preoccupied with debating the intricate rules of swapsies with another parent.

Meanwhile, inquisitive daughter Karen keeps asking typically perceptive questions about the whole affair, Ben is busy climbing Mount Everest (the staircase) and Jake is infatuated with his babysitter.

Those familiar with the show will recognise the fact that very little actually happens over the course of an episode; most of it takes place in the relatively mundane surroundings of the family living room. It’s a brave decision as it places a lot of the emphasis on what the characters say rather than what they do.

To its credit, the semi-improvised dialogue of the children is a very hard thing to capture and the child actors do extremely well with the material – consequently, their dialogue mainly comes across as natural rather than the stilted, almost theatrical delivery that you get in shows like My Family. There are also very few telegraphed jokes – laughs seem to come out of nowhere.

However, what laughs there are few and far between and don’t always come where they’re intended. It’s hard not to feel constantly aware that the show’s premise is half sitcom and half “Kids Say The Funniest Things? – a gimmick which gets old quickly.

It’s phenomenally well observed; everyone knows kids like these – relentlessly inventive like Ben or penetratingly observant like Karen. The parental frustration at trying to explain something in such a manner that a child can comprehend without going into the minutiae of exceptions that populate adult life is something we’ve all had to deal with – that end-of-day resignation to your kids’ endless antics is captured perfectly by Hugh Dennis’s expressive eyebrows.

But that said, just because it’s true doesn’t make for good comedy and frequently you feeling that conversations are being deliberately steered into cul-de-sacs from which a precocious child will spring a loaded question. The very thing that made it funny – its unpredictability – is being undermined by its repetitiveness.

It might have been funny when it started but this being the end of series three, the formulae are starting to show and the kids’ innate cuteness is starting to grate. It was fun while it lasted, but the writers should quie while they’re ahead, lest it sink to unforgivable depths of The Life Of Riley.