Warning: This review contains mild spoilers.
The Brockman kids are growing up.
Regular readers of this blog might be taken aback by the notion that it would feature a review of anything other than the usual fare of Doctor Who, Sherlock and James Bond. But every geek will know that their viewing repertoire, while dotted with the classics, has to be filled with other substance. The bread to its peanut butter and jam, so to speak.
And part of that bread is Outnumbered. The British sitcom started in 2007 with five lead actors playing three young children and their parents. While the format is strikingly similar to that other British family sitcom My Family, the joy of Outnumbered was always its realism. It was so realistic, in fact, that many of the lines were allegedly improvised, with just an overarching story and a few punchlines to guide the actors through.
You’ll notice this is written in the past tense. As the child actors grew up, their ability to ad lib — or perhaps their desire — apparently waned, and viewers were left with a more straightforward sitcom along the lines of My Family.
As Outnumbered enters its fifth season, that’s very much what we get. The plot follows the stories of the three children, starting with Karen. Now a teenager entering her first year of high school, her worries about the migration transform themselves into fretting about a the lost family hamster. Next on the bench is Ben, who has decided to audition for a school musical despite his deep, broken voice. And then there’s Jake, 17 years old and the proud owner of a new tattoo.
These mostly separate storylines don’t get in the way of one another and, like its sister sitcom My Family, the plot often gives way to the gags. The gags, mostly from the Brockman parents, are themselves obvious and less funny than those of My Family, by and large, and their characterisation ultimately becomes bland as a result.
In previous series, it was always Jake whose character seemed more fleshed out than his brother’s and sister’s. Maybe it was because Tyger Drew-Honey was older than the others. Maybe the writers understood his character more. Either way, he was the most interesting. So it’s quite a surprise to see that, in Episode 1 of the new season, Jake’s story is somewhat disregarded, and it is Karen’s, the youngest, who is nurtured by the script the most.
But hile she is the youngest, she’s certainly not young any more. Her dyed hair and downcast demeanor suggest as much.
Overall Outnumbered‘s new series isn’t looking good. While the not-so-child actors are on top form, they aren’t given a chance to shine as the gags take precedence over the story. Most importantly, though, the realism has been lost in lieu of misguided comedy. It’s a shame, because the bread can sometimes be as good as the filling. Sadly, it wouldn’t be so.
Episode 2 will air in Britain tomorrow at 9.00pm on BBC1. In the meantime you can watch Episode 1 on BBC iPlayer.