The BBC can be a cautious bunch. Though they’re frequently cited as being one of the institutions that Britons are most proud of (bigger than The Beatles according to one survey), they also have to contend with budget cuts, constant ratings scrutiny and shouty Daily Mail criticisms. It’s not surprising, then, that they sometimes hedge their bets when it comes to programme scheduling. Summer 2010 was a perfect example: because we apparently stay almost permanently outside from June through August and it definitely never rains, schedulers seemed to assume that no-one would be inside to see vaguely risky bits of programming like Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of Sherlock, and Grandma’s House, the self-aware sitcom written and created by Simon Amstell and collaborator Dan Swimer. Thankfully, people do seem to watch television in the summer, and both series did well enough to be renewed. Sherlock had millions discussing suicide jump theories earlier this year and this week, Grandma’s House finally returns to BBC2.
A quick recap for those who missed series one: Simon, a neurotic Jewish presenter who has just quit his job as the host of a popular panel show to try and become a serious actor and better person (played by Simon Amstell, a neurotic Jewish presenter who was the host of a popular panel show and is now trying to be serious actor and writer) visits his people-pleasing Grandma (Linda Bassett) in every episode. On most occasions, he’s joined there by his loving but pushy mum Tanya (Rebecca Front), her irritating moustachioed sister Auntie Liz (Samantha Spiro) and his vaguely creepy teenage cousin Adam (Jamal Hadjkura). Most of the plot of the first series dealt with Simon’s dislike of his mum’s fiancée Clive (James Smith) and his mum adjusting to the fact that Simon didn’t want to be on the telly anymore, whilst Grandpa (Geoffrey Hutchings) quietly became very ill. In a tragic case of life imitating art, Hutchings died suddenly of a viral infection before series one aired.
Though Grandpa’s death is addressed, series two finds Simon and the rest of the family trying to get on with their lives, six months after the funeral. Liz and Tanya aren’t speaking and Simon has moved in with his Grandma, bringing home a 16-year old superfan, who makes things much less awkward by walking around wearing just a towel (anyone who’s seen Amstell’s last stand-up tour Do Nothing might notice some similarities between this incident and his actual life). As with much of Grandma’s House, Simon’s narrative does seems painfully autobiographical and Amstell doesn’t seem to be shying away from this for the second series. When fictional Simon announces he’s writing a TV script, his family’s cries of “Is the show a drama or a comedy?” could be pulled straight from numerous reviews of series one, as Auntie Liz whinges, in 140 characters or less, “I don’t know why you don’t make something actually entertaining for people… Normal people don’t have time to concentrate.” Jessie Cave, Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films and the person who forced Amstell on to Twitter (with some fairly funny results), also guest stars in series two.
Grandma’s House certainly won’t be for everyone – it can be tense uncomfortable viewing, and if you’re not a fan of Amstell’s stand-up it may not appeal, but it’s also charmingly written and subtly funny, with a big gag thrown in every so often for good measure. Amstell has managed to turn self-consciousness into art form, and if you can’t see it in person (his latest show Numb comes to Bristol on May 11), Grandma’s House is the perfect chance to watch it in action.
Grandma’s House returns for a new series tomorrow (Thursday 19th April) on BBC2 at 10pm.