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Saturday, 3 September 2011

Outnumbered: Not the run of the Mill Family sitcom

The cast of Outnumbered
The term “family comedy” has taken a beating in recent years. Its almost become a dirty phrase. Oh its not a family sitcom is it? I prefer my comedy a little more highbrow. A comedy about family life should be one of the easiest things to pull of given that we’ve all lived in families at some point. What tends to happen though is that families are painted in an unrealistic manner and every single time a new family sitcom appears it follows the same predictable and stale “comedy by numbers” format. The dad is the buffoon who is always hiding something from the wife, the wife is the concerned parent always sticking her nose in her children’s lives or she’s a high powered businesswoman who runs the house in a mad panic and the kids are either precocious little so-and-sos who know far too much for their own good or sulky teenagers who only appear on screen occasionally to tell us how embarrassing their parents are who difficult their lives are. The problem with all this though is that whilst its based on something we’re all familiar with it doesn’t ever feel like we’re watching a real family. Its not so much watching a family like those who might live next door but one which has been over exaggerated and therefore ends up resembling a family of stereotypical clowns rather than Mr. and Mrs. 2.4 Children. With the axing of BBC1’s long running joke My Family this year we are at least minus one of these banal attempts at hilarity but the BBC1’s other series to never stray to far away from the format Life of Riley appears to be returning a new series. Ah well.

You can imagine my absolute delight when one evening in 2007 (don’t ask me specifics on the evening but I believe I was wearing a black jumper) when I happened upon a brand new family comedy. Admittedly I’d missed any news on this in the listings, otherwise I’d’ve probably gone out for the evening. Entitled Outnumbered, on the surface at least appeared to be yet another attempt to use the same old format with a new cast. The truth is though Outnumbered attracted my attention almost immediately as it quickly dawned on me that whoever was behind this show had done it! They’d made a comedy that felt real, that was relatable and even more amazingly it strayed away from the plots and the pit falls that so many before it had fallen into. Unusually here the children were the stars of the show. Right from the word go Outnumbered felt real, warm and like we were watching the first truly relatable comedy family. Delving a little a bit deeper into the background of the series I discovered that the show was partly improvised which is what gave it its off the cuff and real feel. The children are told the storyline and where to go with it but not asked to memorize any lines. This was a revelation, bordering on genius because what it meant was that instead of some 40 year old writer sat in office trying to remember what kids were like what was portrayed here was something we’d never seen before in family comedy. Put simply it was genuine. The one flaw of Series one was the odd scheduling. The BBC seemed unsure where Outnumbered fit and so they strangely placed the first 3 episodes over consecutive evenings and then the last three in a further slot of consecutive evenings.



Needless to say by the end of the first series I was hooked. I’d never seen a family comedy that appeared so effortless before. The Children were so loveable and everything about it was likeable and unpretentious.

Four series in Outnumbered has gained popularity and the seat of the pants style still works as well as it did back in 2007.

On Friday night as BBC1’s My Family limped to its finish, Outnumbered returned for an impressive fifth run. As a fan of the series I looked forward to it but wondered if a show that relied on the innocence and believability of its young cast could work now that the kids are getting older.


Of course things have changed since the last run, Ben’s voice has broken, Jake has become a proper teenager and Karen’s older and wiser. These changes don’t appear (based solely on the first episode that saw the Brockman Family head to Uncle Bob’s funeral) to have had any damaging effect on the quality of or the partly improvised feel of the show. If anything it was a bit more relatable now that the children are older. Daniel Roche, Ramona Marquez and Tyger Drew-Honey are still the stars with highlights including Ben confusing a Hog roast for a cremation and Karen’s obsession that uncle Bob may not actually be dead.

The series is warm, genuine, naturally funny and lives in a world we can all relate to and that’s why it works so brilliantly. Outnumbered makes it OK to love family comedy again and for that I will enjoy it for as long as the Beeb wants me to.

More on the Show
Buy Outnumbered on DVD

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