Friday Night Dinner (2011-present) is a sitcom written by Robert Popper that centers around one family’s Friday night dinners. (What can I say? It does what it says on the tin.) There have been two seasons (totaling 13 episodes), and a third is in production. It stars Paul Ritter, Tamsin Greig, Simon Bird, Tom Rosenthal, and Mark Heap. There are a lot of episodes on YouTube, to be honest, but you can watch it on Amazon Instant for just $10/season or Google Play for $11/season. If you have a region-free DVD player, there is a region 2/PAL box set of seasons 1 & 2 (and separate seasons if you prefer). If you have a geo-blocker, you can watch it on channel4.com. iTunes has it, but only in HD, so it’s $16/season. Vudu has season 1 for $10-15.
Jonny pours salt into his brother Adam’s glass when he isn’t looking, causing Adam to spit take all over the nice meal (a lovely bit of squirrel?) their mother has prepared. Adam rubs whipped cream in Jonny’s face. Before you chalk up the boys’ wayward pranks to being typical of 10-year-olds, let us re-imagine the brothers as 20-somethings who’ve already moved out and are only enjoying their mother’s home-cooking (assuming they’re not forced into a salad and fruit diet again) as part of their Friday night ritual. It’s possible the Goodman boys are high-functioning members of society outside of Friday nights–Jonny must have some maturity to be dating his 40-something-year-old boss, after all–but when they’re with their parents, they revert to children, and this is the only version of them we get to see.
If you think that’s enough foundation for an absurdist family sitcom (and by family I don’t mean it’s kid-appropriate), just wait until you meet the parents, Martin and Jackie. Martin is the kind of guy you find in the woods, living off the land, and you bring him inside and try to domesticate him. He’s often without his shirt, sometimes trousers too; he spends most of the time in the shack he built in the backyard; and he dries his fish in the cupboard under the stairs. Martin and Jackie are always butting into their sons’ lives. In fact, each meal is preceded by Martin taking Adam into the bathroom to ask, “So…any females?” to which the answer is always no. Gossipy mum Jackie tries to keep the family respectable, but it’s difficult when her adult sons are wrestling on the sofa, her husband is hiding cheese in the toilet tank, and she’s being stalked by her neighbor, Jim. Ah, yes, Jim.
If you thought the impish brothers and their odd parents were enough foundation for an absurdist family sitcom, just wait until you meet Jim and his German Shepherd, Wilson. Played by Mark Heap in thick glasses and unsettling speech patterns, Jim shows up on the Goodmans’ doorstep (and sometimes back window) every week, looking for Jackie. He seems pleasant enough, but always sounds as though he’s waiting for an invitation to dinner. On Wilson’s birthday, Jim gets drunk, buys a balloon inscribed to Lydia, and feeds the Goodmans a cake made with dog biscuits. Oh, the antics are never ending!
as Jackie Goodman
Part of the reason this show works, beyond clever writing and an excellent cast, is that viewers can relate to it. Every family has its quirks, its traditions, its catch phrases (the Goodmans include “lovely bit of squirrel,” “females,” and “shit on it!”) They have loving nicknames for each other, including Bambino, Pissface, and Pussface. And despite their differences, they unite when there is someone else in the room because they’re so familiar with each other. If you’ve ever moved out and then visited home again, you’ll feel right at home with Friday Night Dinner. A definite recommendation!