This article is from our archive. It was published in 2012.
Series 2 Preview
Friday Night Dinner is a smart, clever, childishly funny sitcom that will make you want to force feed your sibling cat food mixed in with washing up liquid.
Series 2 will soon be broadcasting on Sunday evenings - a strategy designed to pull in a bigger audience (they're not going to change the title to Sunday Lunch though).
After a preview screening, I got to spend some time with the talented actors and the writer. What a laugh they all are: funny (not as in farm) people.
Robert Popper is the creator and writer (he came up with the idea in the bath). Impossibly smiley, but being newly married, and with a second series of FND about to air on Channel 4, who wouldn't be chirpy?
He says: "I found it tricky coming back with the second series - harder than writing the first for some reason. It was based loosely on my family. Well, a bit... I remember my Dad saying to my wife when we first met - 'are your parents still alive?', she said 'yes', Dad replied 'that's good, mine are dead'. I'd sort of used up all my stories in Series 1 and had to really think of it like 'they're not my family at all', in order to expand."
Episode 1 sees 'Buggy', the beloved childhood cuddly bunny of Adam (Simon Bird), on Jonny's (Tom Rosenthal) murder list. To save his special toy from annihilation, Adam is reduced to using trouser suffocation and a bread burial as means of protection. You see, upon discovering his brother's cringe worthy diary and confession, Jonny is not too happy that his soft toy from his youth, 'Pandy', didn't go to teddy heaven after all. This is war.
In real life, Buggy was Popper's 'Ted' as a youngster, and growing up with his brother (called Jonny), Popper used to fight all the time. "We used to constantly play tricks on each other. One of my favourites is when our Mum would give us food to take home after our dinner on a Friday evening. I'd go to the bin and get all the crap out, chicken bones etc and put this in my brother's tin foil."
Tamsin Greig (mother Jackie), Paul Ritter (father Martin) and Mark Heap (neighbour Jim) were also in attendance at the screening. Greig labels Heap (pictured) as "The Robert De Niro of the Channel 4 world of television", and - it's true - I can't look at Mark without laughing. Adam's cuddly 'Buggy' ends up with Jim in the first episode; it's a last resort to stop his brother Jonny mutilating his 'precious'. If there was a Bafta specifically for a backward hiccup and flinching, Mark would win it hands down.
Asked in great depth and seriousness by another journalist about how he brings his character alive, Mark answered Jim-style and said "God knows". At this point, Greig rushed to his defence, saying "He's completely doing himself down. He gets the words on this page and he does this magical thing where he..." - "Acting!", Mark interrupts.
Did Heap base Jim on anyone he knows? "No, no... My brother... No... All my brothers and my Dad... No... Nobody".
It's great to see Jim go on a date in a later episode in the series. ("Where did you meet this lady?", asks Mum. "In a yellowish room.") We also get the pleasure of seeing Jim drunk - celebrating his dog Wilson's birthday, kissing Jackie (on the mouth!), and finally getting to join the Goodmans for an excruciating Friday night dinner (asking "Martin, are you circumcised?"). What a wonderfully executed character and spot on casting.
Tamsin Greig (Jackie) is funny, funny, funny and full of compliments. "Well look at you, who wouldn't!" she cried, when I said that Jim reminded me of a man that I caught sniffing the seat of my push bike. Tamsin's character - 'lovely' Jackie, a mum who adores her boys - is not the type of lady to say after you've finished eating, "I do hope that chicken wasn't off". But, with her piano playing top and 'shitty basket' lines, Jackie isn't by any means an ordinary Mum. "Of course I didn't read your diary, it's private!" she says of Adam's memoirs from when he was eleven. "Dad, did Mum read my diary?" asks Adam. "Only April, some of May... It was a different woman... I forgot what I was meant to say, Jackie?"
Paul Ritter plays Martin, who is - as always - hot and thus shirtless in this series. He's told to put his 'bosoms' away by Mum, but doesn't. No wonder he's caught a cold and is sneezing on everything from babies to food. With revelations of washing his bits in the sink and reading Adam's September diary entries, Martin keeps on saying and doing the wrong things, but at exactly the right time. ("Well it tastes like cheese" he says, eating cubes of butter.)
Simon Bird (Adam, aka 'puss face') and Tom Rosenthal (Jonny, aka 'piss face') have morphed into almost being real brothers off set too. Simon says, looking at Tom laughing, "You really got in to that whole tie strangling thing. Whenever I hurt him in a fighting scene, he'll get me back a bit more on the next take". With seeing each other every day, Tom says "we have kind of become like a real family in many ways". This, combined with the boys' comfiness with each other, has resulted in what appears to be real lad fighting on screen... or is it just great acting?
For anyone tuning in for the first time, it's worth knowing that Jonny's an estate agent and Adam is a musician (well, trying to be). Dad is still trying to get Adam a 'female'. He was searching dating sites and the like in Series 1, and is now clutching at straws ("Maybe you should consider other options... like divorcees or widows"). Adam does go on a date with a woman, but she smells like Mum.
I've now watched the whole series. The introduction of new guest characters doesn't confuse the plot for new and established FND viewers, it only enriches the experience. I won't ruin every episode for you by giving you a full synopsis - I'll just say that Robert Popper must have very weird, but hilarious dreams.
Series 2 introduces fantastic new bold 'bonkers' characters. There's Nan's 'boyfriend' Mr Morris (Harry Landis), a man who used to work for the armed forces (well, kind of) and is now obsessed with cleanliness. Watching a man of 82 buy 'tight fitting' condoms, and getting the boys to pay for them, is a little unsettling for the whole family!
Then there's Liz (Lesley Vickerage), Jonny's boss at the estate agents. At 43, she becomes his 'Milf'... or, as Adam says, "Gilf - She's old enough to be your Grandmother". Liz appears in Episode 4 (The New Car), and Episode 5 (The Yogurts) as his 'sort of' girlfriend.
Val (Tracy-Ann Oberman), Jackie's 'twin' best friend and confidant, returns in this series when the Goodmans' marriage is shaken by a 'sexual' revelation from Martin. Will they be able to get past it?
There's also a Christmas special to look forward to where we get to meet Martin's Mum, Nan Goodman (Rosalind Knight). 'Horrible Grandma' (as the family secretly call her) is a feisty lady, completely lacking any sense of humour. Dad's terrified of his own Mother, as she hates everything and everyone - apart from her oxygen masked mangy dog, Boadicea.
I think Robert Popper has surpassed himself with Series 2. It's superb and, most importantly, funny. His characters are well drawn and the gag content is kept high. Robert's gentle manner, with a hint of shy insecurity, tricked me into believing that Series 2 may be a bit 'poo' but "It's bigger and better, thanks to the genius of young Bob Popper" says Kenton Allen, the chief executive at Big Talk Productions. I have to say, I totally agree.