I keep meeting people who tell me they haven’t seen Simon Amstell’s new BBC2 sitcom, Grandma’s House, yet. That’s probably because I ask everyone I meet. Say what you like about Amstell; he’s an acerbic, self-obsessed recluse who cheers himself up about having a nose shaped like a penis (his words) by shooting articulate bullets of piss at other people’s anxieties – but he’s funny as hell.
He’s put a stop to all that now, the bullying, by co-writing an autobiographical sitcom about weekend visits to his grandma’s house. Newspapers have slated Amstell’s acting, but he plays the plagued grandson of a jewish family from Gant’s Hill. Is it not a little bit absurd to assume he is acting? For Amstell, playing this character must be the most natural thing in the world.
The amount of emotional bribery and affectionately wicked exchanges per episode go some way to explaining where Amstell’s sense of humour stems from. You don’t get an acid tongue like his from nowhere. Everyone plays their part, even the grandparents (“ave a tangerine, Simon”) who it’s hard to believe tolerate such an argumentative atmosphere.
‘Take your coat off, show your grandmother you’re happy’
“Why d’you ‘ave to ‘ave such a long coat?!”
There’s no rhyme nor reason to the characters’ flared tempers. They’re a million miles away from Prozac. A therapist would do wonders with them (but they’d never go to one of those). I’d love Simon Amstell to tell me why they spend such a lot of time together if they all wind each other up so much, but he doesn’t do many interviews. As someone who laughs into their lap with the familar-ness of it all, perhaps I can answer that myself.
For, it is inexplicably comforting and strangely addictive to walk through the door and be blamed for something that happened five minutes ago by the people who love you most. A bit like they do in Seinfeld. They’re the best of friends but boy does that fuel a good bust-up.
Each week, Simon enters his grandma’s living room wearing a half-smile, fully committed to an afternoon of constant bickering.
“Go on, go up in a balloon with Wyclef Jean!” pleads Tanya. “You’d look so lovely in a balloon. One tiiiiiime…”
“Two tiiiiiiiiimes. Strumming my face with his fingerssss”….
In an article he wrote in the guardian, co-writer Dan Swimer pre-empts the inevitable comparisons to Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld. I can’t decide whether my response is – you should be so lucky! Or, make eight more series, then we’ll talk.
Anyway, let’s forget about US sitcoms for just one patriotic minute. Maybe Simon Amstell can do Larry David better than Larry David. Hmm? Grandma’s House is, as Swimer put it, unique. Let’s hope Simon Bird’s new sitcom Friday Night Dinner hits the same right notes.