Mrs Brown's Boys
BBC/Alan Peebles

Reviewing ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’ 2020 specials

It’s the festive season and, no matter what happens, it means we’ll see some new Mrs Brown’s Boys specials. In spite of it being a new BBC tradition that it’s become fashionable to dislike, I like them and the show always makes me laugh. I settled down this year and wondered how the new Covid restrictions would affect filming, but it proved good fun nonetheless. Sure, neither episode was nearly as good as previous instalments, but it was a welcome pick-me-up at the end of a year needing humour.

On Christmas Day, we saw ‘Mammy of the People’. Agnes (Brendan O’Carroll) is coping with Covid restrictions and the way her life has changed when she receives a bit of good news – she has won the competition to present an alternative Queen’s speech. But Winnie (Eilish O’Carroll) also entered the competition, and Agnes isn’t sure how to tell her about the victory, leading to a clash between the two women.

Where this episode stumbles is the same place that all Covid comedies this year have struggled – it mines many of the same Covid jokes. There are some minor laughs to be had with the accumulation of toilet rolls, and the social-distancing dress, but these are gags you’ll be long familiar with. Fortunately, Mrs Brown’s Boys thrives on breaking the fourth wall, and so it does subvert them somewhat – Mrs Brown telling other cast members to go away because production rules mean you can only have four people in a scene works well.

Where this episode stumbles is the same place that all Covid comedies this year have struggled – it mines many of the same Covid jokes

It all wraps up with a message from Mrs Brown to the nation, telling us that the cast were determined to make the special to put a smile on everyone’s faces, and that comedy has a way of helping us through the bad times. And then, a customary singalong, a reworked version of ‘I’ll Stand by You’ – I thought including every cast member who couldn’t be there via a video-link was really nice. Mrs Brown’s Boys is a show that thrives on humour and family and, even if the jokes were all there, the family element really shone through.

Let’s move onto the New Year’s special, ‘Mammy’s Memories’. It’s the New Year, and Agnes is shocked to receive a letter from a man named Malachy, who is claiming to be the illegitimate child of her late husband Redser. Cathy (Jennifer Gibney) is feeling down as her 50th birthday nears, and Winnie is left heartbroken after her house is burgled and her mother’s wedding ring is stolen.

Comedy has a way of helping us through the bad times

‘Mammy’s Memories’ is the better of the two instalments, benefitting from a larger cast as well as good lines and a bit of heart. I thought it was a shame that the Malachy storyline essentially comes and goes without making the slightest mark, but it’s really a set-up for a heart-to-heart with Cathy about her birth that works well. There’s also another Agnes direct-to-camera ending, speaking of moving through the fog, that’s perfectly tuned for where we are as a country.

More Winnie is always a good thing, and a scene in which she describes the burglar to a Garda is really funny, and we also get a classic fourth wall break – she mixes up her lines and moves into a different scene, something Brendan O’Carroll is very quick to pick up on and run with. I also thought a running gag with Father Damien (Conor Moloney), telling him to go away because he’s not in the script for this episode, was really effective.

I’m not going to be all romantic with you – if you don’t like Mrs Brown’s Boys, you won’t find anything to like here. It’s unashamedly crude at points and it’s hardly novel humour. But its gags make me laugh and its heart makes me smile, and that’s all I need from a comedy at Christmas.

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