Friday Night Dinner has returned for its fifth series on Channel 4, to the delight of many. This award-winning series follows a Jewish family and their eventful Shabbat dinners, the events of each episode ranging from simple marital disputes to accidentally locking Grandma in the boot of the car. But what is it that makes a show about family dinner so popular?
The Goodman family consists of two brothers, Adam and Jonny (Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal), and their eccentric parents, Martin and Jackie (Paul Ritter and Tamsin Greig). These characters are satirical stereotypes of familial roles and yet are executed so perfectly it almost feels like watching through a window rather than a screen. These characters are so believable, viewers find themselves recognising their family in the characters: who doesn’t squabble with their siblings for fun?
What makes this sibling rivalry so entertaining, however, is the inventiveness with which they battle. Although the first series mainly consisted of teasing names and tampering with each other’s drinks, the feud escalates as the seasons continue. Ruining one another’s relationships, setting traps in their childhood rooms and using the garden hose for a surprise attack inside the house all leave viewers wondering how far these brothers will go to laugh at the other’s expense.
Whilst the boys can be horrible to one another, they have a bond when dealing with their sometimes unbelievable parents
What unites these siblings, however, is sometimes funnier than what divides them. Whilst the boys can be horrible to one another, they have a bond when dealing with their sometimes unbelievable parents. The boys are understandably repulsed by their parent’s sex life and are often exasperated at the schemes they both concoct. Bird and Rosenthal are convincing brothers and often share looks that only siblings can understand, despairing at their hilariously embarrassing parents.
Martin Goodman is perhaps my favourite character in any comedy show and is the cause of much drama. His inventive conversation starters and unexpected remarks leave viewers unable to predict what he will say next. He is impulsive – buying FAX machines and secretly freezing roadkill to later have it stuffed – and yet his far-fetched schemes are not unbelievable, as it is complimented with stereotypical ‘dad’ qualities (such as mistrusting the internet and pushing the topic of relationships with his eldest son).
[Greig’s] mere facial expressions can leave one giggling
Jackie is, however, equally as comical as her partner. The mother of this dysfunctional family is perhaps the most believable character, overreacting to much of the family’s drama and providing many opportunities for viewers to shout “that’s you” as they watch the show with their own mothers. Greig has won awards for her portrayal and this is no surprise when mere facial expressions can leave one giggling. Jackie also acts as a bridge for many other characters to enter the series. Grandma, Mr Morris and Auntie Val are all characters introduced through Jackie’s relationship with them and offer much comedic content.
By far the most prominent secondary character is their neighbour, Jim. Played by Mark Heap, Jim is a Twitter favourite and is even more eccentric than the Goodman family. Jim often interrupts the family dinner and an episode would be incomplete without him. Heap has mastered the physical comedy needed to perform Jim. His strange habits and permanently confused facial expressions would be disturbing, I imagine if played by anyone else. The unique comedy that follows him (such as accidental fires and near death experiences) sometimes makes it feel as though he has stumbled into the wrong show, as he is so different to any other character. Heap, however, firmly plants Jim as an integral, albeit unique, part of this show and the unusual family it focuses on.
The concoction of physical humour and mumbled asides, utilised differently by each actor, create a show that is as unpredictable as Martin’s train of thought. These characters come together each Friday to create a hilarious and perfectly believable family which has not only survived five seasons but has grown in success and hilarity across them.