Six half hours in the company of Dawn French and Alfred Molina may promise a lot but Roger and Val Have Just Got In is a departure from the BBC’s sitcom successes of the past; this definitely is not Terry & June: The Next Generation.
Sitting in the schedules, somewhere between Carry On Alan Bennett and the more morose offerings of Mike Leigh, this sitcom focuses on the first half hour Roger, played by Alfred Molina, and his wife Val, Dawn French, spend together after their day at work.
It’s not laugh out loud comedy, nor does it have an endless stream of gags, but it isn’t ‘gentle comedy’ which is PR speak for terminally unfunny. In fact you may not laugh for much of the time it’s on, and wonder what it’s doing with the term ‘sitcom’ hanging around its neck.
There’s tension, and there are years of loose ends and half finished arguments behind them, but at the heart of the series is the happy marriage of Roger and Val. The writers and performers succeed in convincing us that this is a happy couple, with much that goes unspoken. While many of the classic, and the not so classic, sitcoms of the past half century have founded their comedy on the same basic premise: stick a number of people together in a place they cannot escape from and then mine the deep well of hatred and resentment for face ripping laughs. The happy marriage complicates this, and makes for a different experience.
The real time aspect of Roger and Val’s happy marriage are two elements which show the Beeb looking to set this sitcom (or narrative comedy drama, as co-writer Beth Kilcoyne has it) apart and it succeeds, to a point.
You know the performances will be first rate – Alfred Molina may be leaping from one blockbuster to the next but he is just as at home here batting inanities back and forth with Dawn French, who is just as you’d expect. In fact, she is the one element of the whole shebang which remains true to expectations.
While it’s admirable that new directions are being sought in a genre of TV which has lagged behind the vast advances made by its dramatic cousins, Roger and Val may turn off a lot of people expecting Molina and French to spark hilariously about the nonsensical make up of the modern world, instead its slow burning and sometime directionless narrative builds, but does so slowly and my main feeling at the end was a faint whiff of ambivalence. I admired the writing, but didn’t warm to it, I enjoyed the blend of drama and comedy, yet thought it fell inbetween the two too often, without a clear idea, at least to me, of where it wanted to be.
Great performances, but to little end, and it certainly isn’t for everyone.
The DVD, with all six episodes, is out today.