I recently watched Simon Amstell’s new sitcom, Grandma’s House, and I liked it.
That’s right, I liked it.
It’s been getting a fair bit of flak. Lots of people have said that that Amstell’s acting isn’t up to par, and that he should just go back to Never Mind the Buzzcocks. And that, I suspect, is the top and bottom of it. He was great on Buzzcocks, and people don’t want to see him try anything new.
But if nobody ever tried something new, then our existences would be so much emptier. What if Paul McCartney had kept performing with The Beatles? We’d have never had ‘Rupert and the Frog Song’:
Shit example. But Grandma’s House is a solid BBC sitcom.
It’s situated somewhere between The Royle Family and Curb your Enthusiasm. What do I mean by that? Well, to explain I’m going to have to use a lot of hyphens. It’s semi-autobiographical and filmed in pseudo-documentary shaky-cam style with Simon playing himself, but it’s set solely in his grandma’s house. The first episode focusses on his family’s reaction when he decided to quit presenting Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Their reaction is a lot like the general public’s: “What else can you do? Nothing!”
A lot of people have been slagging it off, saying that his acting isn’t up to par. And I think this first episode anticipates this reaction, considering a good two minutes are dedicated to his family laying into his acting abilities. But whilst this could have come across as painfully contrived and postmodern, it seems natural. I think this gives testament to the quality of the writing by Amstell and his frequent collaborator Dan Swimer. The actors playing his family deserve credit as well, there were times when I genuinely thought they were a family.
I don’t see Simon Amstell’s acting as so bad as it is intentionally awkward. Awkward acting is difficult to pull off, and if the character’s awkward from the offset then it’s hard to tell if it’s bad acting or not.
Acting aside, the show had some brilliant moments. The whole section about his Mum’s new boyfriend, Clive, was very well-observed. Clive’s one of those bell-ends– we all know one– who try to be dominant alpha males by talking in a booming voice and making shit jokes. He fills the room with vacuous arsetalk, and watching Simon take the piss was genuinely funny.
The one issue I had with the show was that Simon Amstell had the perfect retort to everything. Part of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s charm is that Larry David is sometimes at a loss for something witty to say. Despite his having made millions out of comedy, Larry sometimes says some very unfunny things. The show gets a lot of laughs out of Larry’s inadequacies, and this helps make Curb all the more hilarious. At the moment, though Simon is awkward, he always has the best comeback, and this puts the show in serious danger of turning into a vanity project.
Not that I can talk about vanity projects, considering that I have a website where I frequently upload lengthy opinion pieces and expect that people will want to read them.
I’m not sure where Grandma’s House is going to go from here, nor am I sure it can keep the same setting and characters for a whole series without going stale. But then again, The Royle Family had its characters sat in the same spot for hours and produced some television gold. It’s a promising start, and I think you could enjoy it if you’re willing to let go of Buzzcocks.
You can watch the first episode of Grandma’s House on iPlayer for the rest of this month.