Tuesday, 27 August 2019

A Comedy On These Days: Outnumbered - The School Run/ The Special Bowl/ The City Farm (28/29/30 August 2007)



 A comedy on these days... It's been serendipitous that the first episodes of this came up first, and instructive to replicate the original pattern of transmission. You might think that stripping three episodes over three consecutive nights on BBC1 would be running something of a risk, but it actually works really well, achieving something like optimum viewing conditions.
 
 Seeing this as three daily episodes means that the parts are close enough together for the viewer to retain all the information, but also spaced enough apart to build up some reflection about what you've seen and anticipation as to how the story might progress. There are a lot of strands in this programme, which get built up gradually, and the series sensibly introduces one new major family member per episode in parts two and three (Sue's sister and father).
 
 A strange thing about the cumulative effect of watching is that (even though I was enjoying it) I hardly laughed at all in the first episode, but was laughing a lot by episode three. This might be because the first episode, which establishes the family and what sort of programme this is through showing a workday morning spent rounding up the children and getting them to school, is intensely stressful to watch. The continual effort of having to keep track of multiple children, and constant distraction from any grown-up concerns that you have to deal with is one of the most effortful common experiences, and the style of the episode conveys this busyness through a very short average shot length that I found exhausting to watch.
 
 By episode three things have calmed down a little, and the rivalry between the two sisters and managing the doddering father creates a different type of tension on top of the parenting. David Ryall is one of those actors whose performances I saw I often find myself thinking back upon - the first role I saw him play was God (!) in a thinly-attended Katie Mitchell production of The Mysteries at the Barbican Pit, the last one as Feste in Twelfth Night in what I think was his last stage performance. He always seemed to exude a distinctive sense of morose authority, also seen here in the part of the grandfather, even through a haze of dementia.

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