At a time when many of us have to stay away from our families, it’s as usual at Goodmans – in other words, collective chaos.
If you’re not familiar with this quartet, these are the fictional stars of Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner – an anarchic sitcom where the degree of farce borders on madmen.
As the title suggests, the configuration is in theory benign, comfortable even. A secular Jewish family – mom, dad and their two grown sons – meet weekly in the family home to mark the start of the Sabbath.
Soup, chicken and crimble are always on the menu and yet the Goodmans never eat.
Mayhem follows a few minutes after the brothers cross the front door. It starts with their compulsive prank. But over the course of the evening, a series of random surreal events leads to family breakdown – and ruined dinner.
The show, which begins its sixth series this week, is the creation of Robert Popper, whose previous credits include Peep Show, South Park and The Inbetweeners.
Popper, who is Jewish, got his Eureka! time for a comedy that plays with the quirks of family dynamics, especially those of a Jewish family, while meditating in the bath.
“I decided that I wanted to do a family show and the feeling you feel when you get home, you become kids again,” he says.
“I came home on Friday evening, which is like the equivalent of Sunday lunch, and my brother and I became children again.
“And, whenever I had seen Jewish comedies or scenes, they seemed over the top or overly emotional, with a fiddle playing and blurring the candles, so I wanted to do something where those things were just a backdrop.
“But the intensity of the Goodmans and the way they are very argumentative and everyone knows everyone’s business – all of this is very recognizable to the Jews.”
These Goodmans are Tamsin Greig, like mom Jackie, Paul Ritter is dad Martin, the eldest son Adam is Simon Bird with Jack Rosenthal like his brother Jonny.
Sitting like sardines on a sofa, they seem relaxed and in a good mood – unlike their characters in comedy, which for nine years has followed its own particular formula.
Mom is desperately trying to stay in control; characteristic topless dad – the family quirk – has a strange new obsession; the strange neighbor Jim shows up at the door with his dog and Jonny’s gags always take over Adam.
While Bird and Rosenthal are jostling around on the couch a bit, you might assume they’ve adopted their own model of sibling rivalry in real life.
“Well, he just put a box of popcorn on my head. But I already have three siblings, so I’m really on top of them and I don’t need another one.” says Bird.
“Between shots, we try to throw the grapes in each other’s mouths. The action and the off-camera tracks are really quite similar,” adds Rosenthal.
Although the essential ingredients of the series have not changed, the extremes to which the stuffing goes have intensified over the years.
The first episode of the new series does not disappoint in this regard, featuring fire and hearty excrement.
Popper admits his pleasure in “pushing things to the limit and making family horrible every Friday”, which usually involves cursing – and violence.
“Jackie is considerably more violent in this series and there is greater intensity,” says Greig.
“It’s not good and it’s not good, but Robert said, ‘it’s just funny’.”
She remembers hitting Ritter with a stick, he adds “and a punch”, while Rosenthal displays a bruise and tells how Bird, who is “much stronger than it seems” made him spring once the ligaments in my leg – which was apparently very painful for everyone. “
And a lot of food is thrown away, which leads Jackie (and Greig) to despair on the carpet.
“I worry about the trash because the carpet is trashed,” she says. “But I also find the inappropriately moved food very funny.”
Television critics seem to like the gags. Mark Lawson in The Guardian said: “Pleasure … is in Popper’s expert escalation of the hopelessness and social embarrassment that drive the farce. Plots become twisted chains of deception, misunderstanding and blackmail. ”
While Veroncia Lee of the Arts Desk called the show “a delightfully stupid comedy”, adding: “There is nothing revolutionary or edgy in Friday evening dinner, but as a favorite meal, it always satisfies, even if it repeats itself. “
Despite all the nonsense, the show isn’t always an easy walk for the actors, says Greig.
“We are stuck in this house and it feels like a big Jewish brother because you cannot leave and you cannot go out until it is dark so as not to disturb the neighbors.
“It’s filmed in winter, so if you’re outside and the Beast from the East comes, you think, ‘I really hope someone finds it funny’ – the experience is often not.”
And for the invited characters – whose series includes actress Miranda Sally Phillips – it’s also “quite stressful,” she adds, especially since they don’t know the territorial protocol on the seats of the Green Room.
“If someone is on my couch, I have to pretend to agree with that, but I’m not a very good actor,” added Bird.
Unfortunately, the usual character of Jackie’s nice mom will no longer be in the series after the death of “brilliant” and “brilliant” actress (Greig evaluation) Frances Cuka.
- Friday night dinner star Frances Cuka dies at 83
Popper says it would be “a bit rude” to have a funeral in the series, but a tribute to the screen will increase at the end of the last episode.
Popper does not think the show should address anti-Semitic sentiment, which has been more and more debated in the UK due to accusations that this is a problem within the Labor Party.
“My intention was never to put Jewish issues on the show, I wanted it to be silly and funny,” he said. “But I touched on it in the last series (when Jim’s girlfriend made an anti-Semitic comment) because I thought I might as well do it once.”
The absence of political commentary is one of the attractions of the show, which, according to Popper, has an increasingly young audience.
And despite the insults and often disgusting scenarios, it quickly became a family watch.
This is what “was attractive when we started all these years,” says Rosenthal.
Greig adds: “What captured the imagination was the idea of coming home and the feeling that there is always a place to go. It’s interesting to watch and experience.”
Friday evening dinner can be seen on channel 4 at 22:00 GMT from Friday March 27.
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