I’m sure it will come of no surprise that I’m not much of a fan of Mrs Brown’s Boys. You’d be hard-pressed to find many armchair critics who are. But while most of its critics argue it’s too broad, out-dated and that this kind of comedy needs to be retired (if not taken out to a field and shot) I would argue the opposite. I don’t think the show is broad enough.
I grew up on a steady diet of BBC sitcoms – My Family, My Hero and Birds of a Feather. These were the shows on which I built my comedy chops. Sure they may not be critically-lauded shows, and watching them now might not make me laugh like it used to, but I have such fond memories of sitting around the TV with my family and laughing together.
As comedy fans we watch a LOT of comedy. As such we’ve seen many jokes dozens, if not hundreds of times. I’m 27 and would confidently say that in my life I’ve watched more comedy than both my parents combined. Such is the benefit of DVD box-sets, online streaming and going to university meaning I didn’t get a “real job” until I was 21.
When this is the case you notice patterns, you see things that have been done before and broader comedy becomes formulaic. Lots of critically-acclaimed comedy is designed to de-construct the very nature of humour, with ingenuity and wit, or to ask questions about what it is to be human. Deep comedy, with lofty ambitions. By comparison Mrs Brown’s Boys is a man in a dress falling down. But without such shows to teach us the rules of comedy, how are we meant to grow beyond it?
Instead, my criticism of Mrs Brown’s Boys is that it takes this potential for shared family experience and points it squarely at adults. The DVDs are classified 15, so while it’s possible for families to watch it together (and I know some who do) it’s perhaps not advisable.
But, ultimately there seems to be a market for the show, with 9.1 million people making it the most-watched Christmas programme. And of course if you were to remove the adult themes and swearing from Mrs Brown’s Boys what you’re left with is an entirely different show.
Maybe what cuts closest it that it’s on the BBC. Arguments that the BBC should make such programming because it’s popular scare me. The BBC shouldn’t gain popularity by appealing to the base instincts in people, but instead educate and provide the best by offering something new, and challenging people where necessary, and building an audience because of quality.
Look at the news – the BBC is regarded as one of, if not the world-leading outlets for news. But it’s not the most popular. The day they start focusing on the latest break-ups or photos of celeb weight-gain they’d probably see traffic spike. But the BBC is more important than that.
It should be providing light entertainment to offer families something to watch together, your Keeping Up Appearances, My Family, or Citizen Khan. And it should be offering a chance to niche comedy – The Office, Blackadder and even Monty Python, all started off as a gamble.
Watch the Philosopher’s World Cup sketch by Monty Python. That’s what the BBC should be making. But it’s far less likely to exist in today’s world. Or at least be hidden away on BBC4 at some obscure hour before being retired for low ratings.
Mrs Brown’s Boys was never a gamble, any more than putting bikini-clad A-listers on the news would be. But without even gambling, somehow it still feels like we’re losing.