It’s hard to believe but there was once a time when BBC1 ruled the roost when it came to sitcoms but over the past decade most of the comedy hits , The Office, Peep Show and The Inbetweeners to name but a few, have come either from BBC2 or Channel 4. BBC1’s successful comedy output seems to consist of Have I Got News For You? and Miranda however certain horrible sitcoms such as Mrs Brown’s Boys do incredibly well in the ratings. BBC1’s latest sitcom is a ground-breaker as it is the first ever to feature a predominantly Asian cast and has been written and created by its lead actor Adil Ray. Ray, who also a DJ on BBC’s Asian Network, first appeared as Mr Khan in the sketch show Bellamy’s People back in 2010 and since then the character has been used in several small skits including a commentary on the last general election. Now Ray has successfully bought the character into his own sitcom with problems both at home and at work but as you’ll see below it doesn’t quite gel together.
Mr Khan is the self-proclaimed community leader in Sparkhill, Birmingham which he describes as the capital of British Pakistan and a place in which he one day hopes to be the president of the business association. His days seem to consist around working in his small mosque office, pretending to be disabled so he can park anywhere and generally rejecting the advances of single women who for some reason find him utterly irresistible. This first episode centred around the wedding of his older daughter Shazia (Maya Sondhi) to the dippy Amjad (Abdullah Afzal) who is almost the Father Dougal of the piece. As seems to be the way with sitcom housewives Mrs Khan (Shobu ‘Gita from Eastenders’ Kapoor) seems intent on outdoing Amjad’s mother when it comes to preparations for the upcoming nuptials so she is shocked when her husband has failed to book the mosque for the ceremony. Khan thinks this won’t be an issue but is unaware that the Mosque has a new manager in recently converted Muslim Dave (Kris Marshall) and when he finds the day of his daughter’s wedding is fully booked he can’t seem to convince his new boss to switch the days around. This leads both Amjad and Shazia to question if they should get married at all while Khan is secretly happy that he won’t have to pay out for a ceremony at all.
Citizen Khan has very few redeeming features as a sitcom which is a shame as Mr Khan himself is a classic comedy character in so far as he is someone who has delusions of grandeur thinking he is much more important in his local community than he actually is. I feel that in self-contained segments Khan is a funny guy but the character falls apart when he is in sitcom-land and has to act opposite other people. Khan is a hard guy to like as he is a skinflint, we often see him bulk-buying toilet roll from the local cash and carry, while he also has a habit of clearing his throat in a way that is fairly disgusting. As is often the way with sitcom men it is the women in their lives that are really in charge, something that is mentioned several times throughout Citizen Khan, but in terms of comedy matriarchs Mrs Khan is no Sybil Fawlty because while she does criticise her husband’s attributes she does spend most of the time cleaning the lino on the sofas. The smartest person of the group seems to be the younger Khan daughter Alia (Bhavna Limbachia) who swiftly puts on her hijab and pretends to work whenever her parents are in the room but has a secret life that they are unaware of.
It’s a shame that very little work has gone into making Citizen Khan a success as everything from the jokes to the set feels tired and it is almost as if it is spoofing the British idea of Asian stereotypes. I was a big fan of Goodness Gracious Me back in the 1990s and I feel that Citizen Khan almost comes off as a sketch from that show almost parodying what would happen if the BBC made a sitcom about a Pakistani family. As someone who briefly worked in Southall I know that there is a lot of comedy to be had from the British Asian population however for some reason Citizen Khan doesn’t pull it off. If I were to use the characters from the show I think the better sitcom would be from the viewpoint of Dave a white man trying to run a Mosque in a predominantly Asian community and the difficulties he faces as a minority in that environment. Indeed Dave does point out the hypocrisy in Khan’s constant insults towards him pointing out that calling him ginger is a form of racism only for the character to hit back by telling him that as he’s racial he can’t be racist. As a sidenote I’m not really sure why Kris Marshall is appearing in this programme at all, maybe he needs the money after the BT gig finished, however after starring in this travesty I’m thinking he’ll go back to starring in commercials for whatever brand will have him.
Overall Citizen Khan feels incredibly dated with its drab décor and cast of characters that we’ve seen plenty of times before. The only praise I can offer is that Adil Ray is convincing as this pompous Asian patriarch while in reality he’s a rather cool character in his early 30s but then that’s like saying Mrs Brown’s Boys is a masterpiece because Brendan O’Carroll is convincing as an old woman. Judging from the fact that well over 3 million people watched Citizen Khan in the post News at Ten slot there’s a good chance that it could be re-commissioned but judging from the poor critical reception it has received I highly doubt it.
Contributed by Matt Donnelly Follow Matt on Twitter