I gave this new BBC1 comedy another spin last night, having been impressed by its raw energy and foulmouthed verve the week before. It was appreciably less manic, which was nice, but I think I have a better grasp on why it's still not working for me.
It boils down to two things:
1. Brendan O'Carroll is so good as Mrs Brown that the rest of the cast can't compete, nor does the script want them to. None of the characters are as colourful or memorable as Mrs Brown. I can't even recall most of their names. The only character who also feels like they've been torn from the pages of Viz is the half-naked "Grandad" -- and he's really just a gormless sight gag, not a proper character. The only other actor doing decent work is Jennifer Gibney, playing Mrs Brown's oldest daughter Cathy (O'Carroll's real-life wife), who works nicely as the voice of reason.
2. The plot gets lost in the mix. It's hard to care about anything going on, because the storyline's little more than an excuse for Mrs Brown to do her thing. O'Carroll's performance is so captivating that you find everything else about the show melt into background chatter. I can barely recall what happened at the end of every episode, as Mrs Brown's presence itself is such a big distraction. And it's hard to feel any connection to her ill-defined brood of middle-aged dopes, for the aforementioned reasons.
I was also alarmed that some of the outtakes the show keeps in, to give it all the feel of a comedy play, looked rehearsed this week. Maybe that's not the case, but that's how it felt to me. And at times you wonder why they even bother to burst the bubble of reality as it tends to feel like someone's inserted a blooper reel into finished recording and it drags you out of the moment. Imagine watching Father Ted and suddenly seeing Ardal O'Hanlon fluff a line, then have Dermot Morgan chastise him as the studio audience laugh in the background. Funny? Maybe. But also detrimental. The audience probably enjoy it when Mrs Brown goes off-script, because it just confirms that they're watching a recorded stage-show, but for viewers at home it feels lurching most of the time. I say stick to the fourth-wall breaking, as that's enough to keep audiences aware Mrs Brown knows she's in a TV show.
There are certainly some funny moments and good old fashioned gags, of course. Mrs Brown, reading a magazine article: "Sarah Pippelin got laid by five thousand men." Her daughter Cathy reading the page herself, to correct: "Sahara pipeline."
I laughed out loud once or twice (usually to hearty jokes like the one above) and always seem to enjoy the first 10-minutes, before the plot starts to takeover and you slowly lose interest. In the rare instances when Mrs Brown's off-screen, you should go make a cup of tea, quick, as the show dies without O'Carroll around. Simply ensuring Mrs Brown's family were as flamboyant and outrageous would have fixed that particular problem, but O'Carroll clearly loves being the star attraction, so everyone else has to play straight man to him. But there are too many straight men for my liking, and most are really bad actors. I mean, really bad.
Are you watching Mrs Brown's Boys? Is it tickling your funnybone, or does it leave you cold?
written by Brendan O'Carroll / directed by Ben Kellett / 28 February 2011 / BBC One/HD