Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Royle Family

I feel like an anthropolgist watching it, but The Royle Family remains one of my favorite sitcoms ever. Part of me watches the show as some kind of representation of Northern England, specifically Manchester.

And it is.

And another part of me simply enjoys it and relates to it in very universal ways.

But what started out as a kind of gimmick -- each episode in almost real time as the family watches TV together in their home in Manchester -- turned into a touching and very real experience.

Simply: I went from laughing at the family to laughing with them.

And I suppose -- I hope -- that in class-conscious England, millions more did the same thing.

The original The Office failed (a bit) in its second season for this same reason; the first season was scary and funny-but-painful with David Brent being an idiot worth lampooning; The second season humanized Brent and -- while a great sitcom still light years better than many American shows -- the show suffered in my opinion.

I enjoyed laughing atBrent in Series 1 but didn't particularly want to laugh with him in Series 2 (though I did enjoy it).

The old rule of thumb about illustrating the universal through specificity is exemplified perfectly in the best Royle Family episodes. These half-hours take uniquely Mancunian characters and make them recognizable to this Yank in America.

The show never sold out by pandering to a wide audience and, yet, I think that most people could enjoy it (though some of the accented dialogue stumps even this Anglophile -- thank goodness for subtitles).

Which leads me to The Queen of Sheba.

After 3 series of 6 episodes each, along with some Christmas specials, the Royle Family returned in 2006 for an hour-long finale.

This special episode was the first thing I watched yesterday after receiving my reasonably priced UK box set (thank goodness for all region DVD players).

You can order it here.

At first, the fact that The Queen of Sheba does not take place in real time -- dissolves are used, some scenes obviously not taking place on the same day -- and that the episode is the first one to have major scenes outside the Royle home, was hard to get used to.

But I thought the episode was the perfect way for the show to end -- it works well by itself when viewed outside the other 3 seasons -- and it had emotional resonance for me.

I do not think that this episode will hold up for repeat viewings in the same way that many of the other episodes do. But, I could not have envisioned a better way for the show to end. It felt like this family had grown in believable ways with only one joke seeming too obvious (involving Cheryl's date -- hysterically funny but it felt a touch too obvious and unlikely next to the rest of the show's usual realism)

And the scenes with Geoffrey Hughes as Twiggy and Jessica Stevenson as Cheryl near the end of this final episode were perfectly understated, both funny and touching simultaneously.

Trivia: Creator and star Caroline Aherne was at one time married to Peter Hook of New Order and Ralf Little, who plays her brother on the show, played Hooky in the film 24 Hour Party People.

Here's a clip from an early episode with the Oasis song included: